Interview Transcript

Any other points you’d make on what you’ve learned both from your time in music and in business, around fostering creativity and innovation, at scale?

One of the things that is powerful – I’m not sure whether we’ve talked about it enough – and there may be different ways to describe it, but I think it’s the whole idea of workflow. We all have our own ways of working and whatever tools we use to do it. But the thing is, there’s a very interesting book by von Clausewitz, who was a Prussian military strategist and the book was called On War. It’s about military activities and war, but one of the things he talked about was this idea of friction. What he meant by friction was things that seem really small but, when you do it at scale, all of a sudden, it’s not so small. Now it adds up to be a huge cost. So you need to understand what those things are.

Even as an individual, if you do something hundreds or thousands of times and you’re doing it in a way that’s not so efficient, it’s going to kill you in the end. It’s almost this possibility of death by thousands of paper cuts. Recognizing what those things are and finding better ways to do it, that’s so important.

One of the things that I’m often still astounded by – and this happens not just in business, but I even see it in photographers – is that people go out and they don’t even have their basic workflows. They’re doing things in a really clunky, slow way that’s frustrating to them and they’re having to do it hundreds of times, over and over and over. They could just invest some time in figuring out a better way and speeding that up and imagine the massive savings that they would get, in time and in less frustration and so forth. That is something that now, you see a lot of stuff about it, maybe even just on YouTube. Here’s a better way to do this or here’s a tool that you could use to do it. Figuring that out is very important.

All these other things that we’ve talked about, the principles and the culture, are all really key too. But having those efficient workflows are crucial. We all have the same situation, with regards to time. It’s the one thing we can’t get back. To do something in a way that doesn’t make sense and then, even worse, to be doing it all the time, is a killer. Of course, the way I work is not necessarily going to be the way that you work, to do something. You just have to teach people the importance of figuring out those ways. Perhaps give them some examples of the way you work and people learn from that and they evolve their own ways of working. But the point is, they actually look at it and they say, okay, I’m going to come up with a way of doing something. It’s going to be my template and I’m going to do it and it may also evolve. I’m going to find, perhaps, that it doesn’t work after a while and I’m going to change it. But I actually will have some way of doing it and not just, randomly, every time I go to do it, I just try to figure it out.

It’s almost like Amazon productized their friction points, internally, with the logistics and AWS and everything where they wanted to reduce the frictions, they ended up earning cash returns on.

One thing that is interesting is this idea of, we all have things that we do, that we can do on autopilot, that we don’t even have to think about doing. For example, when I’m playing music, if I’m up there on stage, if I have to be thinking, where am I going to put my hands and my fingers and all this stuff, that’s going to kill me and I’m going to spend all my time doing that and I’ll have nothing left over, cognitively, to even be absorbing what’s going on in the ensemble and what’s happening out in the room. I have to have all this stuff on total autopilot, so I don’t even have to think about it. Then I can be doing these other, more interesting, creative things. You’ve got to get that stuff under your fingers and committed to memory, those routines, so that you can get that out of the way.

It’s like the difference between technical versus creative. The technical stuff is a thing that facilitates you being creative. It’s not an end in itself. You can do that, but all you end up with then is something that is purely technical and, perhaps, even perfect, but it’s not necessarily compelling or interesting. But you definitely have to have that stuff at your fingertips. Some people will say to me, Adrian, you’re a very technical photographer and they will say this because they think they are not very technical. I will explain that you only have to be technical enough. You don’t have to be super technical; you just have to be technical enough that it doesn’t get in your way. Then you can focus on all these other things that are more important. Actually, the thing that I see in a lot of cases is that there are photographers who are overly technical and they’re not very artistic or creative. Everything is sharp and in focus, but there’s no room left for anything else. You just need to be technical enough.

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