Entrepreneurship and street photography are two of my main passions. Lately, I have come to the conclusion that both disciplines have a lot in common; much more than anyone could think of. However, I don’t know if I reached that conclusion due to a bias I developed because I love street photography and spend my days training young entrepreneurs or if the connection is actually real. I will let you judge by yourself.
After a similarities’ analysis, I will share some thoughts with you about whether those similarities can be exploited in order to develop new entrepreneurship training techniques.
Similarity nº1 – Observation skills
Street photography is an equalitarian discipline. It’s not like if you can beat your competitors buying better gear, booking a better studio or hiring the most famous model. The city, neighborhood or street you are exploring are there, open and available to everybody. It’s not where you go, it’s how you look at it. This particular way of looking comes from the experience and can be trained. The more time you spend on the streets taking pictures, the more you train your eyes to go from seeing to observing and eventually to discovering. And this training shouldn’t be exclusively practical. The more time you spend studying the work of street photography masters, the more you train your eyes to detect great situations, settings, angles, etc. That culture is fundamental; instead of reinventing the wheel why not standing on the shoulders of giants?
As for entrepreneurship, it works the same way. You cannot create a market, you must discover it. Usually, it has been there for a long time, but nobody has been able to detect it. In some cases, people take advantage of an insider information but most of the time opportunities are in plain sight. The problem is that we lack training in problem detection and customer discovery. We talk when we should listen. We pitch when we should sit in a corner and observe. I believe those listening and observation skills can be learned and trained. Entrepreneurs can acquire that culture by practicing but also by learning from the experience of others.
Similarity nº2 – Technical skills
On Instagram, I define myself as a “poor but enthusiastic street photographer”. My limitations as a street photographer are mostly technical. I would say that I’m able to detect interesting settings and situations, but I lack the technical skills to capture those moments the right way. Even when I know how to do it, I use to do it too slowly and that precious moment just fades away. How frustrating! To improve, I would need to re-read my books and practice much more to make those technical resources become almost automatic.
Techniques allow us to go from the idea to the picture and it is exactly the same for entrepreneurs. What makes the difference between successful entrepreneurs and the others is not the quality of their initial business idea, it’s their ability to execute it and to do it fast. Detecting an opportunity is one thing, being able to take advantage of it is another.
When it comes to technical skills, entrepreneurs have an advantage over street photographers: they can build teams to combine different skills sets. But photographers have a huge advantage, their experimentation cycle is super short and allows an infinitely better learning curve: shoot, measure, learn, shoot, measure, learn…
Similarity nº3 – Empathy and other social abilities
To me, street photography is about people. Empty streets are landscape or architecture photography. Precisely because it involves people, street photography requires social abilities. It’s hard to take good pictures of people if you are not able to connect with them. You do not need to talk to them. And sometimes you just can’t because of the language barrier. However, you always need to find a way to connect or at least disappear. A connection can be established by a simple smile and photographers disappear thanks to patience. Stay long enough in a place and you will become part of the place. If you can’t connect or disappear it will be difficult to capture moments where people act naturally.
Entrepreneurship is about solving problems and fulfilling needs. Behind those problems and needs, there are always people. If you cannot connect with people from the very beginning of your product development process and show empathy, I would not bet on your venture. As Steve Blank said, entrepreneurs must get out of the building, observe and listen to people to discover customers.
The need for social abilities is however not limited to the customer discovery. Entrepreneurship is a team sport, and no one can build a successful venture without building a strong team. Again, you will need to connect and communicate with cofounders, employees, investors, journalists… if you want to succeed.
Similarity nº4 – Lucky Shots vs Consistent Series
Just like a broken clock can be right twice a day, the worst photographer can produce now and then a good picture. Yes, there is a component of luck in all this. Some wonderful pictures can even be taken by mistake. However, a single good shot will never make a good photographer. It’s the consistency of his/her work that makes a good photographer, his/her ability to capture everyday moments others don’t see or to capture them better.
The same way, luck can play a role in the success of a venture but thinking that someone can succeed only because of luck is unfair. Entrepreneurship is a long journey made of thousands of baby steps. Luck can influence a step or two and it’s even possible that those steps end up being crucial. However, two steps will never make a journey and no venture will reach success if thousands of things are not done properly.
Similarity nº5 – Movement and reactivity
Street photographers are not like fashion photographers who can give instructions to a model. You can’t say to a policeman to move a bit to his right. If you want to make him appear just under that road sign, you will have to move to find the perfect angle that will produce the funny effect you are looking for. And it’s the same with that innovative solution you designed. If 95% of your beta users appear not to be able to sign in properly, you will have to redesign that onboarding process. You can’t ask them to watch a 2 minutes tutorial to learn how to behave the way you want them to behave.
The photographer must move and may sometimes finish lying on the sidewalk to find the perfect angle. The entrepreneur must pivot, adapt or adjust until he/she reaches the product-market fit.
Similarity nº6 – Segmentation
One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is to define a too broad target and it is due to a misunderstanding of the concept of segmentation. A product positioned to please everybody is probably also a product nobody is dying for. Most of the time, a strategy focusing on well-defined and small size targets (“niches”) will produce a better result than a “catch-all” one. Moreover, in an early stage phase, ventures will benefit from focusing on highly motivated early adopters who will agree to spend more time and energy giving feedback and co-creating the final product. It’s difficult to find those fanboys when you aim a universal market because your value proposition and storytelling will automatically be more generic, consensual and even boring. To the contrary, when focusing on a niche you can give to your brand a strong personality, pick a vocabulary that is proper to a specific tribe and develop a highly emotional storytelling. To define a target means making choices and inevitably discard entire groups of consumers. It’s a kind of “less is more” thinking.
Street photography works like this too. Let’s imagine a scene in the huge hall of a big train station. Shoot it at wide angle and you will capture dozens of stories and maybe several hundred people. Here you have a cute baby with his father, there you have a tattooed punk with an impressive red crest, in that corner an elegant old lady with her ugly dog and in this other a soldier kissing his girlfriend. Potentially, anybody can feel connected or impacted by one of those visual stories. However, because it’s a random mix and the people appearing on the picture are so tiny, nobody’s attention is really caught. Now imagine a close up of the soldier’s black boots and his girlfriend’s red high heels. And apart, imagine a portrait of this punk guy. And what about a picture of the old lady and her dog shot through the reflection of a window? I think we all have our own tastes but there is a high probability that each of us connects emotionally with one of those micro visual stories. Look at this picture from Vivian Mayer:
Don’t you think it creates more impact and generates more curiosity than one representing the scene with full bodies, more people, and a detailed background?
Why is this important?
Street photography and Entrepreneurship share many similarities and so what? My experience as an entrepreneur combined with the last three years I’ve spent in Entrepreneurship Education using a radically practical approach based on a learning by doing methodology convinced me that entrepreneurship skills could (and should) be trained more than taught.
The biggest challenge of this entrepreneurship training approach is contextual: how can we design a context that is 100% real but cheaper and quicker than startup creation?
Could Street Photography be a relevant Entrepreneurship training context?
I think so for several reasons:
It’s 100% real
Street Photography is a real activity: real context, real constraints, real people, real interaction and real outcome. Because of the many similarities between both disciplines, you can train entrepreneurship by practicing street photography the same way you can train football or tennis by running. It’s partial but it’s real.
Even if digital technologies reduced drastically the cost of entrepreneurship, it is still an activity that involves lots of resources: computers, subscriptions to some Saas, some Adwords or Facebook Ads, maybe a small office in a coworking space, etc.
Street photography is almost free. All you need to train is a “street” and a camera. Considering that 100% of adults and teenagers have a smartphone in their pocket we can say that 100% of adults and teenagers have permanent access to a decent camera.
Training means (at least to me) repetition. You repeat the same gesture again and again until you master it and can do it almost instinctively. The problem with entrepreneurship is that it is a long process. You can hit 100 golf shots in an hour, play 20 times that short piece on your piano in an hour and shoot dozens of pictures in a one-hour street walk. Every shot gives you information to improve the next one. Every time you play the piece you get to know it better and you get to play it with the right digits, tempus, and intensity. Every picture taken can be analyzed almost instantly to improve the settings, the angle or the framing. Lean techniques brought to entrepreneurship this build-measure-learn magic circle but depending on your business, the training/learning can last for days, weeks or months.
Street photography is an optimal activity to learn and train skills that will play an important, if not decisive, role in any entrepreneurship process:
- Opportunity/problem/need detection
- Empathy and ability to connect with people
- Focus and segmentation
Do you agree? Do you have comments or critics? Please, shoot!