How photograhpy taught me strategy (2)


Simplification has to do with the paradox of reducing information and options to increase understanding. There are two important, well documented researches that despite the fact that have nothing to do with photography or business, give us an insight into human understanding.

The first one is the Hick-Hyman law where American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describe that: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time for a human, logarithmically.” Hence increasing the complexity of the input hinders the human ability to understand and consequently act upon it. This is a fundamental principle for the design of digital experiences or the design of a restaurant menu.

The second theory, has to do with the progression between data to information to understanding. A good explanation of that was given by Spek R. and Spiikervet A. in their 1997 paper(1) where they describe that progression as follows:.

Data: Not yet interpreted symbols

Information : Data with meaning

Understanding: The ability to assign meaning to information

In photography, sometimes simplifying a composition is difficult. It’s easy to find yourself swarmed by the richness of visual stimuli ending up with a composition that looks like a busy beehive; too much action but you cannot tell the protagonists or the plot.

Simplification is necessary to portray the plot and the protagonists, so that the inquiry (story) can be understood and assimilated better. A good example is the Stravinsky portrait by Arnold Newman.(2) The exclusion of space and even part of the object and the protagonist actually makes the end result stronger and the connotations, clearer.

In such photographic instances it is important for me to recall my purpose (meaningful inquiry) and think of the viewer (the shot should portray the purpose to my viewer).

These are very similar to questions we face when we devise a design or business strategy. Frequently, our data gluttony debilitates dissection and hinders undertanding and action. Especially when under time pressure, as with a photo shot, this can be really challenging. Having a simple purpose, a lucid vision and recall the people we are in business to serve, advances our focus and effectiveness, enhances understanding and fruitful action.

(1): Spek, R. v.d. and Spijkervet, A. (1997), Knowledge Management: Dealing Intelligently with Knowledge, CIBIT, Utrecht.