Archive for September, 2011

On Aperture, Digital Photography and Leadership

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

For my 10th year wedding anniversary gift for my wife, I’ve decided to give her a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with the intention of diving in to digital photography myself. As I was going thru and testing the features of the camera, an idea initially hit me. Instead of simply knowing the features, I’ve decided to learn more about concepts in photography and how those concepts can be applied when using the features of the camera. Quick searches on Google led me to the term Aperture. Wikipedia defines aperture as a hole or opening in an optical system through which light travels. In photography, this opening in your camera lens defines the level of focus an object can have when you take its picture.

The concept of aperture reminded me of what leaders and organizations in this generation should have: focus.  In photography, a big aperture means focusing on a smaller area but with greater impact. The opposite is also the same. Let’s take this photography lesson in the context of leadership.

  1. Big Aperture,Narrow Focus. We are all prone to focusing at too many things at the same time. We’ve fallen into the myth of multi-tasking, thanks to the messaging around new technologies that can make our lives easier. As leaders and managers, we also feel the urge to accomplish too many tasks at the same time with the feeling that quantity equals quality. But to be really productive, we need to zoom in our focus to a few things. The level of focus that we set on a particular task determines the quality of the output. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of the magnifying lens science experiment.
  2. Select The Important. When taking pictures, we should know which image or object we want to focus on. It’s hard to narrow down our focus if we don’t even know which ones to focus on. This would mean selecting one person in a crowd or an object within a group. Similarly, we need to narrow down our focus on things that have bigger impact. What had the biggest impact on your organizational success within the past year? What was the biggest contributor on your career’s success? Once you know which ones to select, you can then provide the level of focus that it needs to get the best results. I find this really important in my career as well as when managing projects. I’ve identified earlier on that teaching and mentoring resonate as my key strengths. So even when my customers and the technical community perceive me as an expert in my field, they can sense the “teacher and mentor” in me whenever they engage my services. Knowing this gives me the encouragement to further improve my strengths by reading and studying communication, presentation and mentoring skills improvement.
  3. Practice. Just like learning photography as a beginner, it sometimes feels overwhelming to know that we’re walking down an unfamiliar path. This is normal. So, when you felt uneasy narrowing down your focus and selecting which ones to focus on for the first time, do it again.  Make it a routine – every month, quarter, or even once a year – you pick your pace. Maybe you prefer having a pen and paper to list down the things that you need to focus on before you can start the actual work. I’m pretty sure we all need to practice these concepts on a regular basis. I still do. But practice does make it easier the next time around.

I’m about to play around with the new DSLR camera to practice with selecting the right aperture for the right image, especially now that fall is officially here. What do you have on your list of item to focus on? I’d like to hear from you.


Tweet Pick: Risk Taking

Thinking outside-of-the-box requires more than just changing your mindset. It requires taking that step of risk that you wished you wouldn’t

Twitter Post 19-July-2009

Yesterday, I delivered my very first 24 Hours of PASS presentation via webcast.  There’s something about doing a task the first time that generates a lot of butterflies in your stomach. I guess I know how that feels as I try to do a lot of “first time” stuff.

Immediately after my presentation, I started monitoring Twitter posts to gather feedback from the attendees.   Here’s what I saw.

You need to know a few things about my presentation style to really understand why these types of feedback matter to me. First, I use graphics a lot. Simply because I’m a big believer in the concept of visual learning.  That we are hard wired to learn more effectively by visual representation of concepts instead of words. And I use this concept in my presentations. Second, I tell stories. Because we all love stories whether hearing or telling them. So whenever I deliver a presentation, I spend a LOT of time formulating a story line that highlights the concepts that I teach as well as researching pictures that will represent those concepts. Add to that the technical preparation when a demo needs to accompany a presentation – preparing my virtual machines, writing the scripts, testing my demo, etc. Which is why delivering a presentation for me is a labor of love considering the amount of time and effort that I invest in preparation.

Now, you may ask, where do I see risk taking in all of these? I’m glad you asked because it’s the reason why you’re reading this blog post.  Risk always involves deviation from expected results or outcome. If you’ve sat in one or more presentations, you know how it feels like to listen to boring speakers with PowerPoint slides that contain a ton of information. I used to be like that. I bore the attendees with my slides, literally wasting their precious time listening to me. If I did the same things I’ve done throughout the years that I’ve delivered presentations, I’d get the same results. Which is why I call it taking a risk. I was taking steps that I knew would deviate from expected results.
Back then, I wished I didn’t have to make those changes.  They were difficult to make and very time consuming. It required me to think out-of-the-box when it comes to delivering presentations that I wasn’t really comfortable with. It’s like trying to write with your left hand when you’ve been writing with your right hand your entire life.   But I made the decision and took the plunge. Was I aware of the possible results? Yes, I was. I was aware that people may or may not accept the outcome. In fact, the first time I did a presentation here in Canada where I used a lot of graphics, few attendees did not like it. And I’m pretty sure not everyone will like it because it is deviating from the expected results. But I will definitely continue to do it. Why? Because there will come a time when my presentation style will become the norm. By then, I will start to make changes to my current approach and continue taking risks.

If you’ve wondered if the risk was worth taking, I suggest you ask those who’ve attended my presentations from SQLRally 2011 in Orlando or simply catch me live in one of my upcoming presentations.

Have you taken any risks lately? If you haven’t what is keeping you from doing so? Share your story here.