The image-orientated blog about effectiveness, communication and innovation from Andy Gurnett of The Right Angle. Something to look at, something to read, something to ponder. 

Hold Your Focus

On a recent trip to Japan I took this photograph in the grounds of Kyoto’s Eikan-do Temple. It’s a typical Japanese scene, considered, peaceful, tranquil. What you can’t see is that the actual scene was anything but tranquil. There were hundreds (probably thousands) of people in the gardens. I was shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other people taking photographs, squeezed together on a parallel bridge, being buffeted by passers-by. I waited as people walked between the trees in my camera’s viewfinder until I could get a shot where they weren’t so obvious. I worked hard to keep the focus of the image on what I wanted to portray.

With business communication we also need to cut out the extraneous information. Then the person on the receiving end gets the focused message we want them to have. They get the right picture.

I work with a lot of people on their presentations. When I review their slides we almost always decide to cut back the amount of information they are showing because it is not focused on making their point. Unnecessary information gets included because “It might be useful, you never know…”, or because “It’s always in presentations like this” or because “It was already on the slide when I copied it from the other presentation.” Can you hear my teeth grinding?!

If you want someone to support your idea, you need to give them the information necessary to make a decision or take action - and nothing else. Don’t make them work hard to pick out what’s relevant and what isn’t. Don’t distract them. Show them the picture you want them to see. Hold your focus.

Lining Up the Layers for Clear Communication

The other evening, I attended a photography portfolio review and I was lucky enough to spend some time with the fantastic photographer and visual artist John Clang. Part of the session involved those of us being reviewed talking about our work. The series of photographs I was showing had both intellectual and visual layers that I did my best to express. I realised as I reflected later that with so much to say and show I had got wrapped up in my subject and hadn’t given people a simple path to access the work. It got me thinking about complex messages, mixed messages and even contradictory messages. Like the photo above.

Nobody sets out to give an unclear message (at least I hope not) but we still seem to manage it all the same. Look at the photo, it looks like the current message is DRIVE, but looming very large in the background layer is the message PARK. It makes me think of corporate strategy, of vision and values. The corporate message is DRIVE, but the layer of culture in the background says PARK. Or maybe you’re a leader talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Your mouth says DRIVE but your actions say PARK.

The learning here is to always think about the context in which you are communicating, the people you are communicating with, and to be very sure about what you are trying to get across. Can you express it clearly and simply in a way that is consistent with your context and pitched specifically for the people you are engaging with? All the layers have to line up.

Before you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboard, see if you can answer these questions:

Is what I want to communicate consistent with my other messages and our context at work? If not, how am I going to explain that?

Who am I communicating with? What do they already know? How do they feel about this subject? What frame of mind are they likely to be in?

Can I summarise what I want to say into a couple of simple points that are meaningful to my listener/reader?  (You can always expand on that later, but will your main point be clear?)

I’ll be taking my own advice the next time I talk about some photographic work. I will be sure to keep it simple, just talk about why I shot it and let the viewers’ eyes and minds do the rest.

Success: Do You Have What You Need?


A few weeks ago I visited a friend in Australia. He wanted to photograph a waterfall inland from the Great Ocean Road. Not the kind of thing I usually shoot, but I took it as an opportunity to try something new. I even bought a tripod so I could do it justice.

I was very pleased with the results; this shot looking away from the waterfall is my favourite. But so many things could have stopped me getting this image. We miscalculated where the place was by maybe an hour and half of driving. When we realised, we went ahead anyway. When we got to where we thought we were going, it turned out we’d taken a wrong turn. The wrong dirt road. But lucky for us it lead to another waterfall. Except that the sign for the walking track said ‘DANGER! Do not enter. Falling trees.’ We pressed on. I hadn’t anticipated that the track would cross a stream several times. I had the wrong footwear. I got wet feet. We pressed on. I’d never used my tripod before. I’d never taken longer exposure shots. I’d never used the HDR function on my camera before. I’d never adjusted the white balance so specifically on this camera. But we did it. We experimented. We got the shots. But even if we hadn’t, we’d still have learned something: about the environment, the conditions for success, the tools needed to do the job. And the next time would have been easier.

It doesn’t matter whether you think you have everything in place to guarantee success, because you might be successful anyway. And if you don’t get the optimum result, you will still get something valuable.

A few weeks ago I was working with a group on a high-intensity sales presentation programme. There was a part of the programme where the participants had to break into groups of 4 to deliver their presentations to each other using PowerPoint. The organisers suddenly realised that there weren’t enough projectors for all the groups. That could have been a problem for a lot of people, but not the Regional Sales Director. Quick as a flash he helped one group open a laptop flat and prop it up against a whiteboard with the keyboard resting in the pen tray. Not perfect, but it worked. And that was all it needed to do. I got a strong feeling that the Sales Director always felt he had what he needed to be successful. And he is.

Do you have what you need to be successful? You know, you just might. Have a go. Press on. Use the resources around you. Learn from what happens. Stay focussed on the result but value the journey.

Innovation From Another Perspective

Another Perspective

As a three-day photographic project I decided to shoot an old shopping mall. After two long and productive days I felt like I had got all the images I could possibly have taken. I was done. My mentor encouraged me to go back though. Unmotivated, I did, and as I followed my now familiar path up and down the staircases and escalators I suddenly stopped dead, shocked at my unexpected inspiration. I would turn around and walk in the opposite direction. And just like that everything looked new and interesting again.

It is so easy for us to get into a rut, to follow the same path every day. It’s the path of least resistance, the one that makes us feel comfortable. But innovation is about change and innovative thoughts require us to think differently than we normally would. So, do you want to think more innovatively on a regular basis? Do you want to think differently to solve a problem? Do you need to come up with a new idea? Then you need some practical thinking tools and maybe a few little lifestyle changes to lift you out of your comfort zone.

When I work with people on their innovative thinking we push ourselves really hard to approach problems in ways we normally wouldn't. There are lots of great tools you can apply, but one of my favourites is to start by trying to walk in the opposite direction and brainstorm the total opposite of what you are trying to achieve. So, if we wanted to improve communication in our company, we’d start by thinking how we could ruin communication in our company. The freedom this gives your brain is amazing and the radical ideas come much more easily. It’s then a couple more simple steps to turn these new ideas into something useful and, most importantly, different.

You can change your own perspective too, to stimulate your brain and get it out of that rut. Try travelling a different route to work listening to something new - a podcast instead of music, or vice versa. Or eating a different lunch, in a different location, with a different person. Anything that changes your perspective. Rather than say ‘How do we fix this problem?’ try ‘What’s great about this problem?’ There are lots of ways to think differently. Try something new today and see how it stimulates your brain.

Does the photo stimulate your thinking in a different way? What have you tried to stimulate innovative thinking?

To see more of the images from this shoot you can look at Ming Arcade.

Clarity Begins At Home


This abstract shot is of a housing block reflected in some plastic shielding on the inside of a window shutter. What’s appealing to me is the distortion of the reflected building. It got me thinking about communication and about how we all see the world differently.

Use any personality profiling tool and it will tell you that we approach things in different ways. Even the simplest of them will show you four distinct types. Roughly speaking that means that 75% of people approach tasks and communication in a different way to you. Yes that’s a huge over simplification, but what’s important is that we do all see things differently.

Sometimes we think we've been clear with our communication and something totally unexpected comes back to us. Or we’re surprised to find out we upset someone. And it can be hard for us to work out just what happened. Well, barring exceptional circumstances, the answer is that we didn't consider the person receiving the message, just the message itself. Have we got the facts straight? Yes? OK then it’s good to go… No it isn't.

You need to see the message with the other person’s eyes. We tend to write and speak according to our own knowledge, personality, experience, culture and emotional state. Our personal communication filters. But the person trying to absorb or act on that information is doing it through their own set of filters. So, for you to communicate effectively, you need to see how well you can align with their style, needs and preferences.

Do you think they’d prefer to talk in a quiet private place, or chat over coffee? Would you be best to lead by talking about results or process? If they turn up late looking stressed, maybe it would be better to talk about that rather than the changes you want to make to the project? And what about that email; is the person you are sending it to going to get a buzz from you asking about their holiday? Do they have the knowledge required to deal with a particular bit of jargon? Lots to consider.

Will you be able to pitch things 100% right for the person you’re communicating with? Imagine holding your own piece of plastic shielding and trying to match the reflection in the picture exactly. It’s not going to be easy. But the good news is that every little change you make to get you closer to their perspective will make you clearer, more empathetic, more trusted and more convincing.