Tonight I flew up to Portland to train for the world championships. This evening flight is always scenic. I looked out the window at magnificent views and wanted to take some photos.
The problem was, the plane windows were scratched. Any beautiful vista I saw was obscured by blurry smudges.
I tried to move my camera lens around the smudges, desperate for a crisp image. Then I imagined something different. What if the scratches weren’t a problem? What if they were the point? What if the photo were focused on the scratches?
My photo shoot immediately transformed. Once I figured out how to tame the primitive focusing abilities of my mobile phone camera, a new kind of image emerged. A more authentic Arthur image. My photographic style straddles the super formal and the worship of imperfection. By letting scratches be not only okay but the reason for the image, I let my creativity loose and reconnected to the kind of art I like to create.
Then a funny thing happened. The flight attendant, Lori, saw me trying to focus and took pity on me. She thought, “that poor guy is struggling so hard to get a nice sunset photo.” She asked for my phone and offered it to the passenger in front of me, hoping he could get a clearer image.
I thanked her and let her know my crazy-looking refocusing was on purpose. I could tell she didn’t quite understand. At the end of the flight, I showed her my favorite image and thanked her again for looking out for me. Not quite sure she believed my appreciation, but I think she got a better idea of the unconventional image I was trying to create.
The flaw – those damn scratches and smudges – were the key to innovation. I’m sure others have taken images like this before, and I’ve used this technique in the past of focusing on an unexpected foreground to create a different composition. Guess I had forgotten. I know I got better results tonight than if I clung to the rules.
It’s a good reminder. When I see something assumed to be a flaw, I’ll be looking for opportunities to innovate.
Photo by Arthur Coddington
In the Elite Action Series, we explore proven strategies elite athletes have used to reach the pinnacle of their sports and how we can apply them to our lives beyond the playing field. Last time, we explored the strategy of assembling your team. This time, it’s about focus.
Strategy 3: Focus
Your systematic plan needs commitment. It needs our belief, the force of your will. There are lots of excuses right now for being unfocused. Few of them matter. We’re either on our plan or choosing not to be.
Focus may demand tradeoffs. As I prepared for this year’s world championships, I re-prioritized my life. Focusing on being the best teammate possible demanded that I step up my physical training, improve my diet and invest time in visualizing our performances. Lots of excuses here: anaerobic interval training hurts, repetitive catching practice is boring, desserts are delicious. All of them lure me away from my focus.
Those tradeoffs were worth it. Both my teams won the world championships. And yet even if we didn’t win, that focus allowed me to show up at the world championships more confident, knowing I had invested in my team. Interestingly, that focus bred more focus. By not worrying about physical condition or remembering our competition routine, I was more likely to play my best by staying in the moment.
Tradeoffs can take different forms. Performance is so important to tennis superstar Novak Djokovic that he’s willing to go more than a year without treating himself to a single piece of chocolate. People at the top of their fields like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs have famously taken distraction out of unimportant areas of their lives. For Obama, he trades off variety in his wardrobe for the focus that comes from not answering the unimportant question “what will I wear today?” Each removed decision allows focus to remain on the highest priorities.
What distracts you from tapping into your full potential? What’s holding you back from focusing? How hard are your competitors training? What tradeoffs are you willing to make to match their focus?