My Business Organization Law prof started his class (last sumer) by saying that all successful businesspeople are optimists. They have to be. What they are attempting is fraught with danger and the odds are invariably against success, and yet they believe they will be the exception who makes it.
I think I have found the problem with many photographers and their businesses: attitude.
I’m not throwing that out there lightly or flippantly. Photographers, for all their amazing problem-solving and creative thinking abilities, are far too often closed-minded and, well, not optimistic when it comes to their businesses. Rather than seek positive solutions for problems, there is much wallowing in how much work there is and how things aren’t fair, etc. When something good happens, too often photographers will look for the bad in it. It’s like I told a dear photographer friend the other day: you sure can find the fuzzy end of the lollipop!
Here’s a real-world example: on APAnet this past week a call to action was posted, by APA itself, to sign a letter intended for the President (and Veep) expressing the importance of the arts and IP protection. It was written by people involved in the copyright protection struggle (the Copyright Alliance), in consultation with creative groups like ASMP and APA and many others. Many people signed enthusiastically (yea!), but others complained about the wording of the letter — saying it was poorly written, too flowery, whatever. That is finding the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The letter is a good thing, but all these natterers could focus on was what they found wrong with the letter (even though they did sign it) and implied that it would fail because of its defects.
Look, if you want to be successful you have to find the good, the hopeful. Look for solutions, not problems. Rather than say “that’s not the way it has worked” say “let’s try and see if this will work” and when someone offers help, don’t put it down, no matter how imperfect you may think it is. Give others the respect that they deserve. Assume that someone knows what s/he is doing rather than the opposite. Have faith that other people might know more than you.
In the case of that letter, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the person who wrote it had more training in writing than anyone who complained about its wording.
I think photographers are amazing in their skills. I am constantly in awe of what I see you people do creatively. But you do not know everything about everything. You’re not experts in the health crisis or the workings of Congress or the law or medicine or even fields like design and writing. You are experts in photography, and that is mighty impressive in and of itself.
So stop trying to control everything. Let go and have some faith that things will work out. Trust in others. Try things that might look less than for-sure but which might, just might, help. Act like successful businesspeople in other fields who lean on wind of their optimism, their hope, rather than grasping at the possibilities of failure and the risks in every step.
Here’s a secret: you can do everything “safe” and “right,” find every risk and mitigate it, “fix” every imperfect thing in your path, and you may still fail. In fact, I’d wager that you would be more likely to fail. Why? Because you must take risks to succeed. Being an optimist, particularly in business, is your only chance at success. It is saying, at every new challenge (and preferably with a big-ass grin), “I know it’s risky, I know it’s not perfect, but it might just work so what the hell, let’s give it a try.” It’s trying the new and untried. It’s collaborating openly and with hope. And it’s having something not work and saying “Well, I gave it my best but it didn’t work. Oh well. What can I try next?”
So the next time you are tempted to complain or pick at an offering or suggestion given in good faith, the next time you are tempted to be negative about an idea, rein it in. Look for the good in whatever it is. Try to build on the positive. Take risks that things might work out well. And give others the respect of their professions as you would have them respect you in yours.