In a free society, government reflects the soul of its people. If people want change at the top, they will have to live in different ways. Our major social problems are not the cause of our decadence. They are a reflection of it. —Cal Thomas
Progressive reflection is a shortened version of my original title for this morning: We Don’t Do Things That Way Anymore. The whole premise comes from my desire last night to take a few shortcuts with this week’s posts by reconsidering articles I published back in 2008. The idea sounded good. I could fulfill my obligations here without severely impacting the time I spend with my youngest son. Sounds like a perfect plan.
The problem came when I started looking through those posts and discovered that many were based on technical photography information that simply no longer applies. There was an article on black and white conversion whose instruction seems totally inferior now given the advances and additional options that are available. Reading through an article on color correction, the points made were accurate for when they were written, but in the ensuing eight years, the technology both on the camera and in processing software rendered the recommendations there quite moot.
So much for shortcuts.
Reflection and photography go hand-in-hand. Our desire to look back and see how things were is a large part of what fuels our desire to take pictures now. We know nothing stays the same, so we want to capture these moments as they pass. I can’t begin to count the number of times a client surprises me with the type of pictures they want to take and their reasoning is that they want to be able to look back and remember how wonderful they looked at that particular point in their lives.
We can learn from reflection as well, though, and there are times when it can help us to see the way forward a bit more clearly. Memories not only help us remember how things were, they also help us see mistakes we might not have caught and may encourage us to not go down the same path again. They can also be encouraging with the realization that, perhaps, we’ve been through difficult challenges before and we can handle those we’re facing now equally well.
Specifically, I find reflection offers five specific possibilities for pushing us forward. Here they are:
- Find what worked before and consider duplicating it. Fashion designers do this all the time, and it can work quite effectively. Consider, for example, what Karl Lagerfeld has done with the Chanel collection. From the moment he accepted the position as creative director for the storied label, Lagerfeld made his career there by looking back and either duplicating or modestly updating Coco’s most famous looks, specifically her suiting. For the most recent ready-to-wear presentation, he mimicked Coco’s 1960’s presentations at 31 rue Cambon, from decor to styling. You can read my review here if you’re interested. Lagerfeld’s only one of many designers that find the way forward in fashion comes from heavily duplicating what was done before.
- Find what didn’t work before and avoid doing it again. We don’t always realize we’re about to repeat a mistake until we look back and see that we’ve been in a similar situation before. Advertising is a good example of that. Everyone remembers the blunder the Coca-Cola corporation made with New Coke; an error in marketing and advertising that instantly became iconic in so many ways. I can promise you that the New Coke debacle is brought up anytime anyone suggests making significant changes to a company’s core product and its cautionary tale almost certainly has helped avoid similar disasters.
- Find what was wrong previously and fix it. Here is where reflection can lead to innovation. The automobile industry serves as our example in this regard. Manufacturers routinely study how their vehicles performed in real crashes; not just the ones performed in a test situation but specifically fatality accidents that involved real-world situations not duplicated in a test environment. As a result, vehicles are significantly safer now than they were even five years ago. So much so that Volvo has pledged that by 2020 no one will be killed or seriously injured in one of their vehicles. Volvo gets there by letting reflection push their innovation.
- Remember what made you happy and let it inspire you. There are some great things in our past that can’t, and shouldn’t be duplicated. Yet, when we reflect on things that made us happy we can be inspired to do other things that are as fulfilling and enjoyable. A perfect example is exactly what I’m doing with my youngest son this week. I reflect back on many of the conversations I had with my father when I was 17, and while duplicating those topics would be wholly inappropriate, looking at how my father responded to challenges I set before him and questions I asked help me understand how I need to respond to my own son. I can only hope my words are as wise.
- Appreciate the past and let it go. Too often the thing that keeps us from moving forward is our grip on how things were before. The words, “We’ve never done it that way before,” have killed many good ideas before they ever had a chance to germinate. I can’t help but think here of my paternal grandfather, a sharecropper in Arkansas from the early 1900s into the 1950s. He long had a habit of standing up on the buckboard as he drove his team and wagon into town. Finally, though, he realized he needed to put the team in the barn and get a car. He loved that team and buckboard but had to let go of his long-standing habits to move forward. Reflection allows us to appreciate the past, but it also encourages us to move on.
I enjoy looking back through the thousands of pictures we’ve taken over the years, but I often look at how they were processed and know that I would make very different decisions now from what I did originally. Reflection helps to move my skills forward by showing me the discrepancies and inconsistencies of my work in the past. At the same time, though, when I come across a creative piece that I really like, it encourages me to keep fueling that creativity in the future.
I may yet find one or two articles from those old archives that still works. I’ll be sure to label it as such if I do. Reflection is progressive, though, and it’s far more likely they’ll encourage me to write or shoot something new. I don’t have any problem with that at all, and I hope you don’t either.