Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Managing Critical Voices (Part One)

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A friend forwarded me an article titled, "Managing the Critical Voices Inside Your Head." It was written by a guy who is CEO of some company; some company that helps other CEOs develop their leadership skills managing some other companies. It was published in the Harvard Business Review.

You probably won't be surprised when I tell you that I'm not a regular reader of the Harvard Business Review.  First off, I suck at business. No, I mean it.  I really suck at business. I'm not simply a not-very-good businessman, I thoroughly suck at it. In fact, I suck at business well beyond my natural abilities to suck at other things I suck at. So, for me, why bother reading about business stuff? Especially in a prestigious journal like the HBR.  Plus, the only thing I'm a CEO of is myself... and my grand-kids when I'm babysitting them.

Off topic but FYI: Years ago, I was once an actual CEO. Yep. I was the CEO of a taxi cab company for a time. How did I get that job? It had something to do with my best friend being the cab company's lawyer.  Anyway, it was a rather large taxi cab company. One with millions of dollars in yearly revenue and a whole fleet of taxi cabs.

My main job as the cab company's CEO (actually, my only job) was to show up in court or for depositions on behalf of the taxi company-- they were a magnet for law suits and had many of them in various stages of litigation. Upon showing up to these legal Q&A proceedings, I was pre-instructed (some might call it "coached") to say one of two things, under oath, to a judge or a lawyer in response to any question I was asked. Any question at all.  My answers were either "I don't know" or "I don't remember."  Only once did I deviate from the script, I mean those two, honest, answers and, when I did, it was an honest guess, not an uninformed answer as my others answers always were. A judge asked me what color our company's cabs were. "Yellow?" I answered back, questioningly. "Aren't all taxis yellow, your honor." (The judge wasn't pleased or amused.)

Neither of my standard-answers-born-of-ignorance were lies, BTW.  It wasn't like I was perjuring myself. I really didn't know anything -- nothing, nada, zilch, Jack Shit about the workings of the cab company I was CEO of or any cab company for that matter.  I couldn't even accurately verify the cab company's business address. All I knew about taxi cab companies was what I learned from Alex, Louie, Latka, and Reverend Jim on the TV sit-com, "Taxi."

Back to the Harvard Business Review and managing our critical voices...

As photographers, we need to manage those voices in our heads who speak to us about our work and our photographs and... Wait! What? What voices in our heads?  Well, as the HBR article points out, most of us probably have voices in our heads: two major and distinct voices. At least, according to the HBR article. Personally, I think I have more than two; voices that is. I'm not sure how many I have and, fortunately, they don't all speak at once. Also fortunately, I probably don't have enough of them to seek psychiatric help. But that's a personal opinion and better left for another time.

According to the HBR article writer, most of us have two major voices in our heads so I'll go with just two. Just to keep things simple.

One of our two voices is our super-critical voice. You know the one. It's the one who nit-picks the crap out of our photos. The one who is never satisfied. The one who never thinks our work is quite good enough and who thinks no matter how good a photo we snapped might be, it could be better. It's not that we all are perfectionists in our lives. (Some of us are but I know I'm not.) It's that our highly-critical voice is a prick. A total prick. A never satisfied, it's never good enough sort of effing prick. Like a Dad who is never pleased with what his kids do or accomplish, no matter what.

The second voice is our reassuring, feel-good voice. A voice who not only encourages and comforts us about our work, but often tends to hyper-inflate its level of supposed awesomeness. This second voice is like a Mom who thinks everything her children does is terrific. Not just terrific, but incredible! Make that, AMAZING!!! This voice tells us we're damn good at what we do. Better than good! And that the only thing holding us back from wild successes is catching a break. You know, via a big, fat, fucking smile and heavy pat on the head from Ms. Lady Luck herself.

Social media offers opportunities for the voices in ours and other photographers' heads to suddenly show up on everyone's computers, smart phones, and tabs for many to see. (This is me talking now, not the HBR article's CEO/writer guy.) If we spend an average amount of time on social media -- whatever an average amount of time on social media represents these days, in actual average time, that is -- we see other photographers' voices quite regularly. Yep. We constantly see other photographers being either too self-critical or too liberal with their self-bestowed accolades regarding the quality of their work they post.

The guy who wrote the article in the HBR says we should name our voices. We should give them names so that, I suppose, we can get to know them better on a more personal and intimate level.  Become friends with them. Good friends with them so we can hope to understand them in helpful ways and, more importantly, learn to help them help us when they are speaking to us. Okay. Sounds reasonable to me. I'm a goer. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) I've always been a goer in many ways. So, names it is.

I'm going to call my two inner voices Ahab and Twinkletoes. I'll bet you can figure out who's who.

Ahab is, of course, a loud, pushy, could-care-less-for-my-personal-feelings, evil, mean, obsessed tyrant of a prick on a never-ending quest to capture the greatest photo of all time or at least one that he doesn't feel the automatic need to be a highly-critical prick about.

Twinkletoes, on the other hand, treads oh-so-lightly on all my work, smiling broadly, verbally patting me on the back while flitting about sprinkling faery dust all over each of my images-- the good, as well as the bad and the ugly. Twinkletoes pulls rainbows and sunshine out its ass (technically, that would be my ass I guess) and sugar-coats my pictures with them.

Yes. Ahab and Twinkletoes. The two voices in my head appraising my photographs. I'd hook them up with my inner child, Little Jimmy, but years ago, while unhappily enduring therapy as part of a highly futile process of saving a marriage -- that's another off-topic story -- I discovered he, my inner child, is as full of shit as Ahab and Twinkletoes often are. Yet -- and this is a big YET -- they all have value. They're each important in a number of ways and, when I update with Part Two of this blog update -- because it's late and I'm too sleepy to do it now -- I'll tell you how I think those particular voices in our heads can help us become better photographers. Or, at least put us on the road to being one.

Heck. Maybe I'll also talk about other people's voices speaking to us about our photographs. Real people and real voices. You know, the voices of other shooters who look at our work and are either pricks in their manner of offering assessments and critiques, or faery-dust-spreading, make-you-feel-good-for-no-good-reasons, overly-generous-with-praise, rainbow-spilling, sunshine-up-your-ass, sugar-coating well-intentioned types.

The pretty girl at the top is Sasha Grey. Sasha's made the (historically) near-impossible leap from being a porn star to having a mainstream acting career, one where she's getting some decent roles and making a name for herself. You go, girl! I snapped the pic at the top on a location set. The producers rented a large night club in Hollywood. Lots of extras. Big crew. Even a reality-show crew from Showtime.  I wonder if Sasha is trying to catch her inner voices with that netting? Or, at least hold them in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article Jimmy. I am looking forward to Part II. BTW, great photograph of Sasha Grey. I love all the angles, curves, and shapes and complementary colors.