Creativity

Nois7: Limitless Imagination

Robert Jahns, known as nois7, is a photographer, digital artist and art director based out of Germany. His wild imagination, jaw dropping creativity and immense skills have made him a legend on Instagram where he shares his art works with over 752,000 fans and followers.

The following is an interview with Robert Jahns where he discusses about photography, inspiration, compositing, post processing and future plans. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Thank you, Robert, for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Robert: Thanks for the interest Niaz, my pleasure.

Niaz: You’re a photographer, digital artist and art director based in Germany. You’re known as nois7 on Instagram and run a popular account boasting more than 752,000 followers. With your unbound imagination, genuine talent and profound skills, you have become an Instagram Sensation. Before we dig into your art and creation, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Robert: You almost said everything haha. Yes my passion is to create images which inspire the people, to create images which make the people wonder. It’s fun to let the imagination run wild and to exalt someone elses imagination with my work. To reach so many people from all over the world is amazing! I’m lucky to have that chance and I really appreciate that.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: How did you get started with photography and art? 

Robert: I took my first photo when I was 15, that was because my dad bought a new camera and I wanted to test it out. With editing I started even 2 or 3 years earlier. I loved using photoshop and as a teenager I often used it 4-5 hours a day just to see what I can do with it.

Niaz: You have rare kind of imagination and you use it as like as a magician. How do you stay creative? What are the sources of your imagination?

Robert: Thanks man! I always try to challenge myself by creating a new artwork everyday. I see thousands of images a day, listen to hours of music a day and to collaborate with other photographers is a great way to stay creative as well. I also love traveling as often as I can and to meet new people from other countries is so interesting.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Each of the your surreal images are the results of compositing different images by using a number of image editing apps on your iPhone. Sometimes the editing takes two hours and sometimes it takes several days to complete. Hundreds of thousands of people actually do compositing. Most of the time they just do it wrong. Can you please tell us about the rules and laws of compositing images?

Robert: Great to see you’re good informed. Honestly speaking it’s a very long process to get there where I am and it’s a never ending process. There are a bunch of things to keep in mind while editing and taking the pictures. Most important is the right lightning, shadows, perspective, temperature and depth of field. That all has to work together to look realistic what makes it difficult and a lot of planning.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Your concepts are wildly ambitious. And you finish them flawlessly. What are the very instrumental things that make you a perfectionist?

Robert: Glad you think so. I think I just am a perfectionist that’s why my work looks like it does. I put a lot of time into details and always overthink the concept once or twice to see if it’s really a good one. Often I don’t post a new artwork for months until I think it really is a good one.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: The thing that fascinate me most about your arts is your composition. There are a lot of things that go into it. Can you please share us a behind the scene story of creating one of these arts? Like from initiation to finalization?

Robert: Well in the beginning I used to even do some scribbles of my ideas. Nowadays I just write new ideas down or add them to the notes. I got a big image archive from all my travels so if I need any specific image of a city I’ve been to I can use those. If I got an idea in mind which I don’t have an image to I get in touch with other photographers to see if they are keen to collaborate with me. Then it’s about editing. That part happens on my phone with different apps. When that’s done I often overthink the final image again, show it to my wife to have her feedback and then I post it up to Instagram and see how the people like it. Community, so the fans are very important to me!

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: If you were advising a young artist today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Robert: Always dream big. That is what I always do. Always think positive about your ideas and try your best to reach your goals.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Who are some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Robert: Always @RaviVora, he is a very creative dude and his image quality is on another level. Always a pleasure to meet and talk to him. Then there is @Wrongrob, he captures NYC in a very unique look. I always feel like in a movie scene while looking through his work. Honored to have met him in person as well, so great to see his passion for photography. Last but not least @chrisburkard who’s life can’t be more adventurous. To follow his journey is such a pleasure and you should all check out his TED talk, so inspiring that it gives you goosebumps.

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Robert: I still learn from my faults, as said it’s an endless process and I’m glad it is. It’s important to be true to yourself, just do what you wanna do. I often have to struggle with people who just post or copy my work without any credit which sucks. But many of my images go viral and I can’t get in touch with all of them so I learned to live with it most of the time.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Last but not least, what are your current focuses and priorities are?

Robert: My current focus is on my all around the world trip I will start with my wife @galina90 soon. We created a new account on Instagram @Lifeofnois7 to share the adventures so be sure to follow along!

There are many things in line right now, I plan my art gallery in several cities and next year we wanna move to NYC, can’t wait!

Niaz: Any last comment?

Robert: I always appreciate everyone’s feedback and the constant support on Instagram or other platforms. If you got a dream, whatever how big it is, try to make it a reality!

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Robert, thank you so much for sharing incredible ideas with us. We would like to wish you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Robert on Instagram at  @nois7. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity.

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Previous Interviews:

01. Abel Perez on Capturing the Future

02. iamcued on Unbound Imagination

03. Puji Faisal Nawawi on Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

04. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

05. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

06. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

07. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

08. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

09. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

10. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

Daria Khoroshavina is portrait & fashion photographer based in Moscow, Russia. AdobeMax Creative Conference has featured her photography works on October 2014 and she has become a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic Collaborative project. Her works have been recognized and featured by online magazines and blogs such as Cat In Water, Practical Photography, Mehron blog, Designskilz, FGIdeas, NaldzGraphics, PHlearn, The Magnified Life, Total Photoshop and others.

To learn more about her works, visit her Official Website. You can also find her on Behance, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Instagram.

The following is an interview with Daria Khoroshavina where she discusses about her art, creation and photography works. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Daria, I really appreciate you taking time to join us at eTalks. It’s going to be an exciting interview.

Daria: I’m glad to be doing this. Ask anything you wish, I’ve got no secrets!

04We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: I would like to congratulate you on being a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic collaborative project. It’s also great seeing your photograph getting presented by AdobeMax creative conference on October 2014. Please tell us more about yourself and your background.

Daria: Thank you! It’s been a great experience, I really enjoyed working for the mosaic. I’m actually a portrait and fashion photographer based in Moscow/Ryazan, I’ve been doing it for a couple years now. I had a major career switch from an English teacher to photographer!

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Daria: I followed my passion as simple as it sounds. Just one day I quit my day job and focused on photography to make a living from what I truly enjoy. I did not go to any photography school but I did study a lot of internet resources, watched workshops and tutorials.

Niaz: How long have you been taking photos?

Daria: It became my hobby for about 5 years ago, and for about last 2 years it has been my job

03We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: You have cited, “I want my style to be subtle and metaphoric, a mesh from the simplest preciousness of human body and infinite universe of mind.” What do you mean by that? Why do you want your style to be subtle and metaphoric? Please tell us more about your style.

Daria: It’s about seeing a world in a grain of sand, telling much in one word, one image, expression or color. It’s fascinating how you can tell different stories by slightly repositioning a model’s shoulder or hand for example, that’s what I love about photography.

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, tripod ….. ) do you use?

Daria: I shoot with a canon 6d, with a 50 prime lens, right now consider getting an 85. I don’t ever use flash outside the studio.

Niaz: I think you are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Daria: I’m not any different from any other photographer out there, I use Lightroom and Photoshop and retouch with a Wacom tablet.

Niaz: How long did it take you to become a master of using these softwares? Are you self-taught?

Daria: I’m definitely not a master yet! I’m self-taught and I’m still learning

Niaz: What are the best practices of learning new post processing techniques? What are your sources of inspiration and knowledge for post processing works? Please list some of your favorite online sources.

Daria: I’m more about creating something with your hands and taking picture of it than painting it on afterwards. If I’m having trouble with post-processing I search YouTube, it really has it all.

Niaz: What are your advices for the beginners at mastering Photoshop and some other post processing softwares?

Daria: Never stop learning and searching. If you feel that you know enough – watch some professional work and that feeling will go away. Don’t overdo the retouching! and don’t blindly follow the post-processing trends, we all know them, not cool.

06We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Daria: If any time something went wrong I jumped out of the window – I’d spent my life flying. So I try to not give up when I’m not pleased with the result and just start all over. It’s the hardest, but it’s all worth it.

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Daria: AdobeMAX and CreativeLive are the best places to learn.

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Daria: I personally get inspired by art in any form, when I need to find an idea – I explore art, lots of it in different styles, so I don’t accidentally steal.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Daria: I don’t! I can’t be creative all the time, there are days when I feel like dishwashing is the dream job for me. But then I look at the most boring thing in the world and think “I want to take a picture of that!” and it sort of unfolds.

02We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Please tell us about five of your favorite photographers?

Daria: Mario Sorrenti – for his body language, Tim walker – for the wonderland on Earth, Jake Garn taught me to see beautiful textures in everyday objects. There’s also a girl named Ezgi Polat – I love her film, it even ceases to inspire. Oh and Neil Craver’s underwater magic!

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography and post processing books?

Daria: I read everything online, can’t name any books, sorry!

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Daria: Keep yourself inspired and create as much as you can!

01We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Daria, thank you so much for sharing us your incredible ideas. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Daria: Thank you, Niaz! It’s been a pleasure.

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Further Reading:

01. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

02. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

03. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

10. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

Cole Thompson: The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

Cole Thompson is an award-winning black and white photographer who has been creating some of the most amazing and brilliant BW images that I know over the years. His art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous leading publications and has received many international awards.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and read his blog Black and White Photography. You can also purchase his Prints, Posters, Booklets and Folios (click to purchase).

The following is an interview with Cole Thompson where he shares the journey of a photographer who became an artist by gaining his own internal success, which inspires me most.

Niaz: Dear Cole, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Cole: I am more thrilled than you Niaz, and honored that you would invite me!

Niaz: You are a “Fine Art: photographer. Year after year, you have been creating amazing art with the integration of photography, creativity, concept and authentic attitude. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about “Fine Art” photography?

Cole: Well this will be a funny and ironic discussion Niaz, because I really don’t really know what “fine art” photography means! And is there a difference between “art” and “fine art” photography?

Honestly, I only ask myself two questions:

  1. Do I like the image?
  2. Would I hang it in my home?

So why do I call myself a “fine art” photographer? Because people generally know what I’m talking about when I use that title and the term also tells people what type of photographer I am not:

  • I am not a documentary photographer
  • I am not a portrait photographer
  • I am not a wedding photographer

The term “fine art photographer” implies that I am creating something that I consider art and it’s something they may want to hang in their home.

What is fine art? Who cares!

Niaz: You’ve once stated that there’s a difference between a photographer and an artist and you strive to be an artist. I think you’re absolutely right but I would like to hear your explanation of that statement.

Cole: I do think there is a difference and it’s a huge one.

I think of a photographer as someone who documents or “takes pictures” and an artist is one who “creates images” according to their Vision.

For many years I thought of myself as a photographer and felt it was wrong to manipulate an image or to change it in any way.

I grew up believing that I lacked creative skills, and so as a photographer I tried to make up for that by excelling in my technical skills. It seems preposterous now to think that technical skills could compensate for creative skills, but that’s what I thought.

But as I matured with the help of an artist mentor, I started seeing images in my head and found myself wanting to manipulate my photographs to bring them into conformance with that Vision.

“The Angel Gabriel” is the first time that I purposefully “created an image.”

The Angel GabrielThe Angel Gabriel by Cole Thompson

I’d like to tell the story of this image, because I cannot separate the story from the Vision I had of it:

This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. 

He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph, and in return I would buy him lunch.

The pier was very crowded and used a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. 

We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those who lingered long enough for the camera to record their “ghosts.” 

Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands.

I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.

I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; for he had everything that he needed. 

Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.

“Creating” this image was a breakthrough for me and marked the beginning of my transition from photographer to artist. No longer would I document and record, but rather create.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be a photographer, but there were images in my head that wanted to get out!

Niaz: So how and when did you get started in photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Cole: I discovered photography as a 14 year old boy living in Rochester, NY and I’ve never taken a photography class in my life.

I was out hiking one day when I stumbled upon the ruins of a home that was once owned by George Eastman. That piqued my interest and so I read the biography of George Eastman.

Before I had finished that book and before I had ever taken a picture or seen a print come up in the darkroom, I knew I was destined to be a photographer. I know how silly and pretentious that might sound, but that is how I felt then, and it’s how I still feel to this day.

I am self taught, from the age of 14 and until I was 20, I lived and breathed photography. Photography was my entire life and I spent every waking moment photographing, working in the darkroom, reading how-to books or studying the works of the great masters. Photography so dominated my life that I rarely attended classes and almost didn’t graduate High School.

Gull and MoonGull and Moon by Cole Thompson (created when he was 16 years old)

Learning on my own was good for me, it reinforced a life view that I could do anything I set my mind to and was willing to work hard for. I believe it also helped me avoid “group think” and thankfully I avoided learning the “rules of photography.”

At age 17 I briefly considered going to school for photography, it seemed the natural course for me, but then had this premonition that earning a living through photography would eventually dilute my passion for it.

Instead I earned a business degree and that’s how I’ve earned my living for all of these years. I’ve never regretted that decision, for I still love photography as much today as I did when I was 14 years old.

Niaz: As a photographer what is the most complicated issue you experienced & how have you overcome?

Cole: Overcoming the desire to please others and to receive external validation.

For most of my photographic career I created to please others, to earn accolades and to become famous. As I started achieving some success, I noticed that it felt great for 15 minutes, but the next day I was left feeling hollow and empty.

I realized that no matter the accolades, in the morning it was still just me, my work and what I thought of it. If I was not creating for myself and did not love my images, then no external praise could make me feel good about my work or myself.

And so I began to question my motives and asked myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I creating?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • What do I want from my photography?
  • How do I define success?

I found it curious that it was very difficult to be completely honest with myself. But it was only by answering these questions with brutal honestly, that I was able to stop chasing transitory praise and focus on the things that would result in personal satisfaction.

From these answers I was able to define what success meant to me and that’s what I now pursue.

In the past I considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by what others think about my work, but rather by how I feel about it.

While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art…this is an extra benefit of creating but not success itself.

I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.

Niaz: You’ve citedMy art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous publications and has received many awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments.” Why? Can you expand on coming to these perspectives?

Cole: It all goes back to my motivations for creating. For too long I found myself working to create a long resume just to impress: look at all the wonderful places I have exhibited and the awards I’ve won! I must be a good photographer.

But when I found my Vision and defined success for myself, I saw how silly all of that was. My goal is not to impress others, but to please myself by creating images that I love and am proud of.

I’m also against judging a person’s art by their resume. I feel that my images are my resume and that’s all anyone needs to decide if they like my work or not. It should not matter where it has exhibited or what awards it has won.

All I want a viewer to ask themselves is: do I like it? The resume should be irrelevant.

I recently had an experience where a venue wanted to exhibit my work but first wanted to see my resume. I told them that I didn’t keep one and they made it clear that they needed the resume before they could make a final decision.

I think it’s sad that someone cannot judge art unless they know who else has exhibited it, what awards it has won or what critics think of it.

Niaz: What is “Photographic Celibacy”? How has it become your good practice?

Cole: Photographic Celibacy means that I do not look at or study other photographers work.

Why? Simply to keep my focus on my Vision and to not be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to copy others.

I’ve spent much of my life copying others; their look, their style and sometimes I’d even try to recreate a specific image by going to exactly where they created it! (Sorry Ansel)

Here’s the story on how I came to practice Photographic Celibacy: Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.

Review-Santa-Fe

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like your trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better. What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

It was then that I committed to find my Vision and one of the first steps that I took, was to stop looking at other photographer’s work. I figured that if I immersed myself in the Vision of others, I was likely to copy their work, either consciously or subconsciously.

I’ve been practicing Photographic Celibacy for about 6 years now and I’m often asked how long I’ll continue it. The truth is, I still find the practice useful and needed.

Let me give an example of why I still practice it: I had an image published in the book “Why Photographs Work” by George Barr. The publisher sent me a copy and I eagerly flipped through the book looking for my image. Along the way, I saw an image by Brian Kosoff that I just fell in love with:

kosoffThreeCrossesThree Crosses by Brian Kosoff

I contacted Brian, purchased the print and would look at it enviously. And for the next several weeks I found myself driving around looking for telephone poles that I could arrange like Brian’s Three Crosses! I’d stop and chastise myself, but then later I’d find myself doing it again subconsciously.

I’m clearly still prone to be influenced by the Vision of others and so Photographic Celibacy is something I continue practice. Most people who read about it disagree with the practice and its usefulness and recently I had someone write to me to boast that they practiced Photographic Promiscuity!

Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not for everyone, or perhaps it’s a practice that should only be considered at a certain point in ones creative development. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it has helped me a great deal to both find and follow my Vision, and to feel good about the work that I create, knowing that it was created honestly and not copied.

Niaz: You’ve formulated your rule of thirds and I have to fully agree with you. Can you tell us more about your rule of thirds?

Cole: I am self taught and was fortunate to have never learned the “rules of photography.”

Just a few years ago someone came up to me during an exhibition and criticized one of my images for not following the rule of thirds. I was amazed that instead of seeing the beauty of the composition, she could see only rules.

If she would have said to me: I don’t think this composition works or I don’t like this image, I would have respected her opinion even if I disagreed with her. But when someone ignores the image and focuses on some imaginary rule, I have no respect for that opinion.

I think it is foolhardy to think that you can distill great composition down into to a few rules, that if followed, will create great images. It reminds me of the “Paint by Numbers” kits that I loved as a kid.

Paint by NumbersPaint by Numbers – Follow the rules and create a masterpiece!

We were promised that if we followed the rules, we would produce a masterpiece.

Mona-Lisa-Paint-by-Numbers-ComparisonCompetent…maybe…but no masterpiece!

Well, as children we were proud of what we created, but it was certainly no masterpiece!

I have no doubt that if you follow these supposed rules of photography, that you will create “competent” images. But they will be just like thousands of other competent images created by thousands of other photographers who are all following the same silly rules.

If you want to create great images, then forget the rules and create according to your Vision.

So in response to this experience, I created my own rule of thirds:

Cole’s Rule of Thirds

A great image is comprised of 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot and 1/3 processing

A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is a tough concept to describe, but I think each of us instinctively know how we want our image to look and our job as an artist is to bring that image into compliance with our Vision.

When we pursue an image with Vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.

Vision is everything.

Niaz: I think the shot – basically technical skills – can be taught and learned, the same applies to the editing. But what about vision? Can you learn vision? Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Cole: I don’t believe Vision is learned, but rather discovered.

I grew up in a modest home where there was no money for art, music or creative pursuits. Perhaps because of this, I grew up believing that I lacked creative abilities. I came to believe that you were either born with it or you were not…and I was not.

But several years ago I was challenged to find out if I had a Vision. Part of me was very afraid to go down this path: what would happen if I discovered that I didn’t have “it?” Perhaps I would be better off never knowing?

No, I had to let the genie out of the bottle, even thought I knew that I could never put him back in. I decided that I must know the truth and off I went. I was unable to find a “how to guide” on finding your Vision and so I just made things up as I went along, creating a 10 step plan that I followed. (You can read about it here: finding vision)

It took two years of hard work and honest soul searching, but I did find my Vision and learned a lot more in the process. Here is what I learned:

  1.  Vision is simply the sum total of our life experiences that make us see the world in our own unique way.
  2.  Everyone has a Vision.
  3.  Vision is not developed, but rather discovered.
  4.  Finding your Vision is hard, following your Vision is even be harder.
  5.  Vision is what makes great images, not equipment, techniques, styles or gimmicks.
  6.  Finding and following your Vision gives you and your work strength, confidence and independence.
  7.  Vision has less to do with photography or art and has more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent person.

Why do I say that Vision needs to be discovered or found? Because I believe we all have a Vision, but many like myself have buried it under so much “stuff” that we forget that we ever had one.

What is this “stuff” that we bury our Vision under? It’s things like caring what others think, fearing that our work will not be liked, wanting to fit in, trying to please, creating for attention, fearing failure and a whole host of other insecurities.

Once I started to address these issues, I was able to uncover my creativity and find my Vision.

The second part of your questions was: Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Yes, basically they are doomed. If a person relies on technical skills alone, then they are doomed to create technically perfect but soulless images, with the exception of the occasional accidental great image.

I really believe that Vision is everything!

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, and tripod, cleaning equipment other) do you use? Do you use any special equipment for long exposure?

Cole: For the past several years I have been on a mission to simplify everything that I do, which includes my equipment.

I have a very small and simple kit: my camera (Canon), three lenses that cover from 24 to 400, a tripod and an assortment of neutral density filters including my important tool, the Singh-Ray Vari ND filter.

I find that more equipment does not mean a better image, and in fact I could argue that it gets in the way more often than it helps. I say master the basics and only add equipment when there is a specific need to fulfill your Vision.

Keeping it simple also helps me stay focused on what’s really important: the image.

Niaz: What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing, if any?

Cole: As with my camera equipment, I try to use the simplest equipment, processes and software that will get the job done. These things are merely tools and while I want the best tools for the job, I also want the simplest.

I use a PC, Photoshop, a pen and tablet and an Epson printer. That’s it.

I think it’s important to mention what I don’t use: I don’t use special b&w conversion programs, plug-ins, curves, layers, RIPs, monitor calibrators, special paper profiles or inksets.

My workflow is so simple and unsophisticated, that for years I would not let anyone watch me work because I was afraid that they would lose all respect for me. Now I realize that it’s not about the equipment or process, but about the image. Nothing else matters.

I like to show people my before and after images and emphasize that I create them with only six tools in Photoshop. I like to expose the myth that great images require extensive and complex procedures or special plug-ins and programs.

Here is my image Iceland No. 4, before and after:

Before  After

I am not suggesting that others need to process their images using the six tools that I use. But I do want people to know that you can create great images using only simple equipment and processes.

Before AfterThis is “Skelton” and the image on the left is how my eyes saw the scene, and on the right how I envisioned it.

When I show people my before-and-after images, sometimes they come away with the impression that they must improve their Photoshop skills. Unfortunately that is the exact opposite message that I want to convey!

My Vision is what created this image. My equipment and technical skills are mere tools and I use the simplest tools that will get the job done.

There is a great little story told by Sam Haskins that illustrates the role of equipment in the creative process:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’

Camera

He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:

“That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.”

StoveSam Haskins

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Cole: I don’t read any photo magazines, subscribe to newsletters or visit photo websites.

I am self taught and I learn by trying things, experimenting, sometimes failing and many times succeeding.

Instead of mastering a wide range of technical skills that I might someday need, I have approached learning in the opposite way. First I gain a Vision of the image and then I learn the skills necessary to express that Vision.

For example, when I created the series “The Fountainhead” I first envisioned the images in my head, and then learned the skills and techniques to put that Vision on paper.

Cole Thompson 01 Cole Thompson 02 Cole Thompson 03 Cole Thompson 04
The Fountainhead Series by Cole Thompson

I knew that I wanted to portray skyscrapers in a distorted and futuristic way, but didn’t know how to do that. With time and determination, I finally came upon the idea of photographing the buildings reflection off of a bent ferrotype plate (think funhouse mirror).

Cole ThompsonCole photographing the reflection of skyscrapers from a bent ferrotype plate

I do believe that “necessity is the mother of invention.” When I have a need, I will find the technical solution.

Many believe the opposite, that you must have a myriad of skills before Vision can be expressed. I disagree and believe that this puts the emphasis on processes as being the key to the image.

Anyone can be a great technician but it’s hard to be creative.

Niaz: Do you have any photographers/ artists who inspire you consistently? Please share few of your favorite artist/photographer whose work could encourage for creating an art.

Cole: I do not follow any other photographers or artists.

Being celibate, I do not look at others work. The heroes I did follow (Adams, Weston, Caponigro, Cunningham, Strand, Bullock) are all gone now, but they are still influential on my work because those images are forever burned into my memory.

The photographer who has been most influential on my work is Edward Weston, I love his philosophies and the way he lived. In Ansel Adam’s biography he recounts the first time he met Weston and it illustrates one of the qualities I love about him:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered.

Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

I love Weston’s images, but I love his attitudes even more; he created for himself and he did not care what others thought.

Another artist that has similarly influenced me is the author Ayn Rand. I first read her novel The Fountainhead at age 17 and like Weston, she taught creative independence. These ideas were mere seeds for much of my life, until several years ago when they germinated and have grown into my current philosophy.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Cole: These are books from my past that I still treasure:

  •  Edward Weston’s Day Books
  • Ansel Adams’ Biography
  • The Family of Man

And while it is not a book, I am very inspired by the movie “Finding Vivian Maier.” Her work is amazing but even more inspiring to me is the mystery of why she never showed her work to others. I’d like to think it was because she created for herself and did not need external approval.

Niaz: What is your inspiration to do what you do? How do you stay focused and keep making impressive art?

Cole: I can’t explain why I’m compelled to create, I just am. It brings me pleasure and so I do it.

How to I inspire myself? Well, first of all, there are times I feel inspired and there are times I don’t! Those “down times” used to trouble me, but not anymore. I have come to appreciate the down times as much as my up times. Like a farmer who leaves a field fallow for a season to rejuvenate it, so those down times serve a purpose.

In the past I would fret over those dry periods and try to hasten them along, but now I just enjoy them knowing that a creative season will return as certainly as the winter gives way to the spring. And with each returning creative season, a renewed enthusiasm will result.

So, what do I do to find inspiration? First, I have to get away by myself and create alone. I cannot create with others around, even other photographers.

I’ll spend 2-3 days just looking until my eyes start to see, as I call it. I think it takes me a couple of days just to clear the mundane routines and worries of life out of my consciousness.

I’ll read the Weston’s Day Books and for whatever reason, those really make me want to get out and create.

I’ll listen to the Beatles. Why the Beatles? Because they remind me to keep growing and evolving, even at the risk of offending current fans or upsetting a winning formula.

Many people ask how I go about choosing the subject for a new portfolio. I tell them that whenever I get an idea I write it down, and right now that list is about 50 ideas long. Then I tell them that I’ve never yet used one of these ideas.

The truth is that every idea for one of my portfolios has come spontaneously, in a moment of inspiration. The best example is “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” which was conceived and executed in under two hours. Here is the story behind the images:

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 500The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

My wife and I were visiting my son who was serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and while there we decided to visit Poland and took a train to Krakow. Upon arriving discussions began on what to see and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau was high on everyone’s list, but secretly I hoped we wouldn’t visit the camps because I did not want visit a place of such sadness.

However the family voted to go and so I agreed.

We took a bus tour that would spend about 1 hour at Auschwitz and 45 minutes at Birkenau. Even though I had my equipment with me, I had not planned on photographing the camps because it seemed that this might be disrespectful.

The tour began indoors and we saw the meticulous records the German’s kept of their victims and then the iconic piles of personal effects: glasses, shoes and hair.

This was just all too overwhelming and I felt like I was suffocating, so I signaled to my family that I was going outdoors. Breathing in the open air I began to feel a bit better and I began to slowly walk, looking down at my feet.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 1 - Final 2-1-2009 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Then I began to wonder: how many had walked in these exact footsteps and now were dead? How many had taken this same path and then had been murdered? And I began to wonder if the spirits of those who were murdered still lingered?

And then it suddenly struck me that I must photograph the spirits of those who had died here. I instinctively knew how I would do that, I would use long exposures of the other visitors at the camps, who would stand in proxy for the dead.

The enormity of this task hit me as I realized that the bus was leaving in 45 minutes and so I ran from location to location, working incredibly fast. Each location had its own challenges, I had to photograph people without their knowing it, because if they thought I was photographing they would politely move out of my way.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 3 - Final 8-11-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

I quickly developed a technique to fool people into thinking I was not photographing, I would set up my equipment and then talk on the phone or look in my camera bag, and then trigger the camera with a remote shutter release.

I do feel that I was inspired, both in concept and execution. As I looked at each scene I knew in my mind exactly how the finished image would look. However if you were to see the original shots and compare them to the final images, you would be surprised to see the extensive Photoshop work it took to bring the “shot” into compliance with my vision.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a depressing place, but I am glad that I went. I hope my images have portrayed the camps not just as a historical location, but as a place where real people lived and died.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 8 - Final 6-24-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Niaz: There are so many photographers working with long exposure photography techniques in black and white that sometimes it is hard to be original. Yet your work is very original. Can you give our readers any tips for finding an original approach to long exposure photography?

Cole: My suggestion will be predictable: find and follow your Vision.

Do not set out to pursue long exposures or any other style or technique, but rather set about to follow your Vision and go wherever that takes you. I honestly don’t know if my long exposure work is unique or not, I only know that it is original and honest for me.

Sometimes my Vision takes me somewhere that is not so original. For example I created a series called “Grain Silos” several years ago and submitted them to LensWork.

2007-5-25 Silos - Final 6-11-2007 750Grain Silos by Cole Thompson

The editor Brooks Jensen replied that he’d love to publish the work but that they were featuring almost identical images in the current issue by a photographer named Larry Blackwood.

Larry and I are friends and we created an almost identical series without each other knowing it! My point is that my work was unique to me, but not necessarily unique in the world of photography.

I’m okay with that as long as my work came about honestly.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Cole: Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about being a fine art photographer:

Carefully decide if you want to try to earn your living from your art (please note the emphasis). Will you enjoy it if it is your job? From my experience, you will need to focus on what sells and what the market demands, not on what you truly love. Some people can live with that, and for others this takes the joy out of the work.

Early on you should define success for yourself and not just pursue the standard definition that society sells: limited editions and high prices, big name gallery representation, long resumes and book publishing. Perhaps you do want some of that, but be sure to examine that question carefully before you go down that path.

Focus more on finding and following your vision and less on technical skills.

Only create images that you love, not those images that bring praise or sales. You may think you’re winning in the short term, but that that type of success will sour with time.

Be a good person. Success in any field is affected by the kind of person you are. Be sincere, honest, helpful and just plain nice. Those qualities will help you no matter what you do in life.

Niaz: I can see from your portfolio that you are widely traveled, especially within the United States. How important is the contribution of travel to developing your portfolio from an artistic point of view? How has travel helped you develop as a person?

Cole: Travel is not as important as I thought it would be when I was starting off. I initially thought a great location would produce a great image. I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

I have been to unique locations and have not created anything unique and I have been to mundane and pedestrian locations and have created something wonderful. Much more important than location is your ability to see and imagine.

I once wrote an article about this, how with the right eye your backyard is enough. I assembled all of the images I had created within a few miles of my home and to illustrate the point.

Best of Cole ThompsonCole Thompson Photography

But yes, I am well traveled. I’m fortunate that my full time job took me all over the US and my children have lived all over the world, so I’m often able to combine work and family with my photography.

Niaz: What defines a good photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message? What will last longer or is the phrase ‘mood’ just overrated?

Cole: What defines a good photograph, in my opinion, is simply how I feel about it. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s as deep as my thinking goes.

I am terrible when it comes to using words to describe images and the feelings they evoke. I think that’s why I became a photographer, so I wouldn’t have to use words.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I say let it speak for itself!

Everyone’s definition of “good” will be different and that’s why I don’t believe I can define a good or bad image, I can only say which ones I like and don’t like.

Niaz: And what defines a good photographer in your view? Does s/he have to be a celibate, just like you are or does s/he need to absorb all art, all influences and then try to pick out the best of all these influences and combine and integrate it into his then newly created art?

Cole: In my view, a good photographer is one that creates images true to their Vision and which they love. Achieving that does not guarantee commercial or critical success and it doesn’t mean that others will love your work as much as you do. But I do think that it guarantees personal satisfaction, which I think is worth more than money or fame.

As strongly as I feel about the principles and ideas that I espouse, I am not so naive to think that my way is the only or best way. People learn differently and have different experiences, so I have to believe there are many paths that work.

Niaz: With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, sites like Flickr, apps like Instagram and other social media, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world. We’re flooded with photos on the Internet by people who are self proclaimed photographers and artists, and not only are we now confronted with a lot of bad work that I wouldn’t call art but at the same time I see so many artists who are just fantastic and who would never be discovered if they would’ve lived 30 years earlier. How do you look at this and how do you personally see the future of photography? Is this digital era a curse or a blessing for photographic art?

Cole: I think these new digital tools are wonderful for many reasons.

First, more great artists are being revealed. The technical threshold of digital is much lower so that more people can express themselves more easily. This is a good thing, even though at times it seems that there are so many new and great photographers in the digital world that there is no room left for me!

I also think that digital helps people stay more focused on the image and less on the technical process. In the film world, a photographer had to invest such an enormous amount of time, money and knowledge before they could produce a decent print. Back then photographers became such technicians that many neglected the creative element of photography.

And for me personally, digital allows me to do so much more with my images. My work has never looked so good since I switched to digital. It’s so much easier to manipulate my images to match my Vision. I have many, many fond memories of working in the darkroom, but I’d never want to go back!

And then there is the issue of exposure, in the old days my work would be seen by the few who entered the galleries who carried my work, or those who saw my work in a photography magazine. This meant a relative few people in the world ever would see my work.

Now, I have people contacting me from almost every country in the world. I am now more in control of my destiny, not having to rely on the gallery system. There are of course some downsides and challenges, but all in all, I love the opportunities made available in this new world.

Niaz: How can an artist remain fresh, unique, and on the cutting edge (whatever that actually even means)?

Cole: I never seek to be different, but to simply illustrate what I see through my mind’s eye. Sometimes that means my work will not be very different as in the case of my Grain Silo portfolio resembling my friends work. And sometimes it will be very different as in my Auschwitz images.

But I never worry about that, I simply follow my Vision and create for myself. That’s the best way to stay fresh, unique and most importantly: satisfied.

Niaz: How do you define the term success? What and who comes first when you hear the term success? And why?

Cole: One large mistake I made in my photographic career was to not stop and question what success meant to me. I wasted so much time chasing things that didn’t bring about personal satisfaction.

It was late in life that I defined success for myself, and it’s a very simple definition:

To do what I want.

To create what I love.

For me success has nothing to do with sales, resumes, exhibitions, how popular my images are or any other external measure.

Niaz: I believe you earn a living, or at least a part-time living, as a fine art photographer. Do you have any advice for our readers on how they can work towards achieving the same goal? What can they do from an artistic viewpoint to improve their work and a practical viewpoint to selling their work?

Cole: I do not earn my living from my art, but rather support myself through a full time job in business.

You cannot imagine the freedom that gives me, I am free to pursue any idea, any project and to take as long I need to produce my work. I do not depend on sales and so I don’t care if my work sells or not. I am completely free, aside from my vanities of course!

I am glad that I never chose to earn my living from my “fine art” photography and would advise your readers to seriously consider the impact of that decision on their freedom and independence as an artist. I personally think money and art do not mix well.

If you choose to earn your living by selling your work, then be prepared to create images that the market demands, which is rarely the type of work that you love. Selling to earn your living always means compromising and I have chosen not to make that tradeoff.

Now that doesn’t mean that you cannot do both, create one type of image to sell and then also create your personal work on the side. But I have to be honest, many people write me who have tried to do that and complain that they don’t have the time and energy to do both.

And in that situation, guess which one languishes? Maslow taught us that eating always comes before art.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Cole: Niaz, I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world. I have a job that pays the bills and I create art that I love. How could life be any better?

I have my honest views based on my experiences, but I do not suggest that they are right for everyone. Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not the best for you, perhaps earning your living from photography is something you really want and your definition of success is different than mine!

But if any of my ideas resonate with you, then maybe there is something to consider. If anyone would like to ask me further questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Cole: Thank you Niaz, I appreciated your questions, they cause me to think and to analyze my beliefs. Thank you for your website and this opportunity!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Debra Harder: The Art of Photography

Debra Harder is a Portrait and Landscape photographer. She is well respected in photography community for her wonderful works.

As an art student in college, she developed an interest in photography. Originally, inspired by the works of Ansel Adams, she focused entirely on black and white images.

In December of 2006, she was in a position to return to serious photography. She became forever inspired when she purchased her first digital SLR. Her passion for the Photographic Arts has been very steadfast and serious since that time.

You can learn more about her works from 500px and her Official Website.

The following is an interview with Debra Harder about photography, camera, lighting, art and creativity. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Debra, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Debra: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. I married in 1986 and we moved to Medford, Oregon in 1992 to open up a Veterinary hospital (my husband is veterinarian). We sold the business in 2006, which has allowed my husband and me the opportunity to travel more, and for me to pursue photography fulltime. As you can imagine, we love animals. My “children” consist of two Boston Terriers, one American Pit bull, and three cats.

Niaz: How did you get started? Did you go to school to study photography?

Debra: In the late 1980’s, I decided to take a black and white film photography class at Solano Community College in Fairfield, CA. I was inspired by Ansel Adams’ landscapes and focused solely on black and white film photography. I experimented with exposures and the zone system, and the art of printing in the dark room using old-fashioned dodge and burn tools, e.g., a piece of cardboard attached to a wire hanger. Since that class, photography became my passion.

Niaz: How would you describe your style?

Debra: I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to landscape photography, so I don’t go overboard on effects. For example, I have a problem with over-saturation in landscapes. There are a lot of images on-line that really push color for the “wow” factor with some to the point of being garish and losing the rich, realistic tonalities of the scene. Years ago, I took an on-line class from the great landscape photographer, William Neill, and our assignment was to hand in a portfolio of 5-6 landscapes. His honest and valuable criticism of over-saturation has always stuck with me and I do my best to stay within the guidelines he espoused. I’d rather have an image that conveys a mysterious mood than a candy store.

With respect to portraits, I do gravitate towards a ‘Hollywood’ style. I also love Rembrandt lighting to convey an “Old Masters” feel.

Debra Harder - 05Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Debra: I currently shoot with a Nikon D4 for portraits and a Nikon D800E for landscapes. I just purchased the Nikon D810, and am ready to try it out!

Niaz: What is your favorite lens set-up?

Debra: For landscapes, there is no doubt my favorite is my Nikon 14-24mm. I’m always looking to shoot wide before anything else. I’m not suggesting this is always a good thing. I would suggest, however, considering other lenses for a closer perspective. For portraits, I most often use my Nikon 85mm, and with my current studio project, I’ve been using the Nikon 24-70mm so I have the ability to zoom in and out.

Niaz: What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

Debra: It really depends on where I am. With respect to landscapes, I rely on natural light, and depending on the contrast, I bracket my exposures to cover the entire dynamic range. With respect to studio portraits, I use Elinchrom strobes and Westcott Spiderlite Td6s (continuous lighting).

Niaz: What are your favorite editing software and application? How important are they for the final works?

Debra: My favorite is Adobe Photoshop CS6. The processing is very critical in my final works. As Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” The negative being the digital RAW file, and the performance being the digital processing of the print.

Debra Harder - 02Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Debra: There are so many great on-line photography sites (e.g., 1x, 500px, Photo.net, BetterPhoto) that I constantly refer to for inspiration. I continue to take on-line classes and refer to other instructional media to improve my photographic techniques. Most importantly, I’m out there doing it. I learn more from my failures than my successes. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something. It’s what makes the photographic journey so interesting and exciting to me!

Niaz: What is your greatest fear? What do you do to overcome your fear?

Debra: I hate heights…lol. I wish I could overcome this fear, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better…lol. I had previously hiked the Eagle Creek trail to photograph Punchbowl Falls in Oregon. I became panicked on a precarious stretch of the trail. There was a cable to hold onto, but I had a 25 pound backpack, a tripod in one hand, and rain falling from above…not to mention the 100 foot drop just inches away! Someday I would like to photograph this waterfall in the dead of winter, but only if I can muster the courage…lol.

Debra Harder - 03Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Debra: Thank you for the generous compliment! As to what inspires me? I would have to say my passion for photography and the desire to excel at it. Honestly, I never feel that I’m “there,” i.e., peaked, and I never will. I work very hard to learn as much as I can so that I can produce my best work.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Debra: Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” As much as one would like to think he or she has an original idea, it is difficult to fathom that outside sources have no influence. My creativity is a byproduct of my life experiences. I’d be disingenuous to say that other photographers’ work doesn’t inspire me to go in a certain direction. For example, I was intrigued by photographer Mark Seliger’s recent Academy Award images for Vanity Fair magazine. His concept was to take a platform and capture the stars’ personalities in portraits utilizing just that small space. I decided to use this inspiration for my own portrait series. I similarly created a small two-walled platform structure in my garage and am currently photographing a wide diversity of portrait subjects highlighted by a splash of their own individuality. Not only has it been a great learning experience, but I am able to inject my own style and creativity from both sides of the camera.

Niaz: Please tell us five of your favorite photographers?

Debra: That’s a tough one. There are so many great photographers. It’s hard to nail it down to five, but if I had to say off the top of my head: 1) Ansel Adams; 2) Nick Brandt; 3) Annie Leibovitz; 4) Art Wolfe; and 5) Joel Grimes.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Debra: I don’t have many “coffee table” books. Most of my photography books are instructional. I’m a big fan of Scott Kelby’s books. When I began my photographic journey, his books and video tutorials were instrumental and still are today. I also subscribe to most photography magazines in order to keep up with the latest, e.g., up and coming photographers, products, etc.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Debra: I would advise a young photographer that if he or she chooses to display their work on an online community photography site, they should take the feedback with a grain of salt, whether it positive or negative. Stay true to your aesthetic regardless of the pressures driven by a selected few in photographic circles. I have personally got caught up in this trying to mimic other landscaper’s work in hopes of receiving the same amount of praise. Receiving the accolades is intoxicating, but in the end it doesn’t distinguish you from the rest of the sheep.

Debra Harder - 04Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: Any last comment?

Debra: Thank you very much Niaz for giving me this opportunity. Happy Shooting!

Niaz:  You’re welcome.  We really appreciate your time. Keep up doing great works and all the best wishes for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

02. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

Philip Delves Broughton: What they teach you at Harvard?

Editor’s Note: Philip Delves Broughton is the author of The Art of the Sale, published in the UK as Life’s a Pitch, and Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, published outside the US as What They Teach You at Harvard Business School. His first book, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School was a New York Times bestseller and a Financial Times and USA Today business book of the year.

He spent ten years as a reporter and foreign correspondent with The Daily Telegraph newspaper, serving as its New York and Paris bureau chief. He then left journalism to obtain his MBA at Harvard Business School. He has since worked as a writer at Apple Inc. and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education and as a contributing columnist at The Financial Times. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The Atlantic.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Delves Broughton recently to gain insights about The Art of the Sale, The Greatest Salespeople in the World, The Soul of the Salesman, What They Teach You at Harvard and The Point of a Business Education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Philip, thank you so much for managing time to join us amidst your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are the New York Times best selling author, blogger, business philosopher, speaker and an inspiring mind. Your books ‘The Art of the Sale‘ and ‘What they teach you at Harvard Business School‘ are truly instrumental for self-help, self-growth and for the success in 21st century. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about you, your work and your current involvements?

Philip: I grew up in England, was a newspaper journalist and foreign correspondent for the first ten years of my career, then decided to go to business school at Harvard. Since then, I’ve written and published three books, the memoir of going to HBS, The Art of the Sale, and a book called Management Matters, which is basically a collection of the pieces on management I’ve written for the Financial Times. I write regularly for the FT, the Wall Street Journal and am affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education, a wonderful institution based in Kansas City which funds a wide array of programs designed to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Niaz: Why are you very passionate about ‘Sale’? Can you please tell us what exactly is Sale?

Philip: Sales is very simply the process of turning a product or service into revenue. I’m fascinated by it, because as one great salesman told me, it’s the greatest laboratory there is for understanding human behavior. In sales, we see business at its most raw. We see the truth, lies, greed, decency, ambition and value of any business and business person exposed at the moment of the sale.

Niaz: As you know social media revolution, cutting edge technology, disruptive innovation, widespread uses of smartphone and a whole new digital world have been changing everything. This trend is bringing revolutionary change in the way we do business. Living in such an exciting era, what’s new about sale now in comparison to sale 15-20 years back?

Philip: There’s evidently much more transparency. It’s much harder to deceive customers in a world where so much information about products and pricing is available at a keystroke. Reputation has become far more important as it can so easily be damaged in a world of viral reviews. Transactions have also changed. We can buy and sell in so many different ways these days. Social networks have certainly made prospecting for customers and checking on people’s reputation easier. But I still believe real, lasting relationships require in-person contact over time. Technology hasn’t changed that.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the art and science of selling?

Philip: The science is in creating value around your product and service and then finding ways to convey that value to the right customers. It’s about mapping your product and sales process to their needs and schedules, not your own. The art is in having a supple, imaginative grasp of human behavior. It’s about finding the right balance between science and intuition, because it’s still the case that humans make decisions, and technology, though vastly improved, is still far from being a complete substitute for human intelligence in sales.

Niaz: You have cited, ‘Without a sale, there is no business’. We have seen, most companies fail only because they can’t make enough sale even though some of them are using state of the art technologies, are embracing science and disruptive innovation and despite they have great products. Sometimes customers don’t want the products and most of the time they fail to make sale. As a result the success rate is very little and almost 90% Start Ups fail. Why art and science of selling remain necessary to succeed in most of the human business disciplines? Why is sale the core part of any business?

Philip: Sales is often the last thing many people like to do, because it’s the final judgment on their product or service. It’s a moment of truth. At the moment you sell, you’re risking rejection, which can be painful. Smart, highly educated people in particular aren’t used to rejection, and so try to minimize the risk of it. Sales isn’t forgiving. But if you don’t sell and earn a profit, you’re pursuing a hobby not a business. I often hear people try to make a virtue of their reluctance to sell. They say they’re not aggressive or bullying enough. Or that they don’t like asking people for money. But really, all they are is bad at sales. If you can’t sell yourself, or hire or partner with someone who can, you have no business being in business. It’s not a very complicated concept. The flip side is that people who do push through the rejections and difficulties which precede almost any sale, find their eventual success a great rush which they want to repeat as often as possible. Those people tend to be the ones who succeed in business.

Niaz: Do you think sale is the advanced human game? What are your suggestions on mastering this advanced game?

Philip: I’m not sure how advanced it is, but it can certainly be viewed as a game between consenting adults. There’s an old Quaker tradesman’s saying I cite in the book ‘I shall not cheat thee, but I shall outwit thee.’ I think this is a useful moral code for any salesperson. Ideally, your product, service and price perfectly match a customer’s need and willingness to pay and the sale is easy. But most of the time you’ll need to do some modifying, persuading and course correcting to close a deal. If you lie, you’ll likely end up being exposed. But you can certainly out-think and out-strategize to win, while balancing the short and long-term consequences of your actions. People have very different comfort levels about what they’re willing to do to sell. But good salespeople, however they choose to do it, have thought the compromises and risks and have set firm boundaries on their behavior.

Niaz: What do you think about the salesmanship of Steve Jobs? How has he become one of the greatest salespeople in the world? What are the characteristics, views, ideas, skills and insights of Salesmanship of Steve Jobs that fascinate you?

Philip: Jobs was indistinguishable from his products. He never ceded the role of Apple’s chief salesman to anyone else. That’s a very powerful model and the way he did it inspired enormous belief in his company and products. He used the language of religious evangelism, such as “transformation” and “magic”. He also made brilliant use of persuasive techniques such as “social proof”. All those glass windows in Apple stores allow passers by to see people like themselves using Apple products. The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads similarly made the case that buying Apple products wasn’t just above buying software or hardware. It cut to the very heart of your social identity. It’s rather creepy, actually, but Jobs was brilliant at it. It’s easy to forget what a marginal company Apple was in 1997, when Jobs returned as CEO. His salesmanship helped turn the company around internally by restoring belief among employees, and then got customers to try the products at at time when Wintel was still dominant.

Niaz: Were there some universal qualities you found in great sales people?

Philip: An optimistic frame of mind, enthusiasm, self-discipline, the ability to tell a story and to be energized rather than crushed by rejection. They are terrific listeners, but also ruthless closers. They also tend to be very good company, which made writing about them such fun.

Niaz: Despite the new opportunities in social media, marketing and measurement, selling still frequently comes down to two people looking each other in the eye and deciding how to sell and whether to buy. Business continues to need great salespeople along with all the creativity, tenacity and optimism they bring. Great salespeople come in very different packages. Some are the best at high volume transactional selling and others thrive at building long-term relationships. At this point can you please tell us about the great skills of 21st century salespeople?

Philip: They’re the same as they’ve always been. You need to keep abreast of the prospecting and pitching tools, such as LinkedIn and Salesforce, but ultimately the edge still belongs to those able to build trust, inspire repeat customers and develop healthy books of business. Maybe there’ll be fewer steak and cigar dinners in the 21st century, but you still have to find ways to develop meaningful relationships and that doesn’t happen virtually. Personal networks and interpersonal skills will count as much as ever.

Niaz: What happens when the business and non-business worlds no longer understand each other?

Philip: Revolution.

Niaz: You have had said ‘The cleverest invention or product will disappear — creating no income, no employment — unless someone can sell it.’ Is sale resided in the core of capitalism? How does sales drive economy?

Philip: If all an economy consisted of was things we needed simply to survive, it would look very primitive. No one needs a BMW or a Jamba Juice, or a Macbook or a work of art. But such things make life more appealing. Profit incentives are also essential to the creation of more important things such as new medical treatments or healthier cities. It’s by selling each other new, interesting and life-enhancing, rather than just life-sustaining, that economies grow. Sales leads to revenue leads to profit leads to investment leads to growth.

Niaz: Do you think by creating better understanding of selling, and the many challenges it involves, we can build better world? How can that become possible if I want you to discuss from removing poverty to solving international fights, solving environment problems to stop international war?

Philip: This a long way above my pay grade! All that counts here is that we continue to search for the healthiest balance between market forces and social justice. It’s a constant adjustment for all of us. As individuals, we struggle with our material, emotional and spiritual desires. Companies must balance shareholder with employee interests. Governments seek a way to grow national economies while protecting the weakest in their societies. Sales matters in all this because, as I said, it cuts right to the heart of these discussions. How we choose to sell says everything about how we’re balancing the good and bad in our selves.

Niaz: In 2004, you gave up a career in journalism to attend Harvard Business School. Three years later, you published the New York Times bestseller ‘Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School’, in which you described and questioned the value of a business education. You have cited ‘Most top business schools don’t teach selling’. And you believe ‘Selling should be the first thing to teach, as everything in business flows from the sale’. Can you please tell us about the point of a business education? What’s going wrong with our business education?

Philip: A business education should enable someone to pursue their interests in a way that makes good financial sense. A lot of MBA programs charge a lot of money while under-delivering on this basic purpose. I also think the top business programs need to do a better job educating students on the social purpose of business. Better basics, more humility and lower fees would go a long way to fixing this.

Niaz: Still folks from different countries, states and cities across the world hope that teaching business and entrepreneurship will lead to initiate more start-ups and better businesses. Is their hope justified?

Philip: Education is always a good thing. But I think the teaching of business and entrepreneurship can be pretty crude and ineffective and there’s a lot of work to do in improving it. Also, it’s not just about educating individual entrepreneurs. The social and political context also has to favor them.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the aspects of business which can and cannot be taught, those which must be taught better, and those are not worth teaching at all?

Philip: Sales, evidently, should be more a part of MBA curricula. I’m intrigued by new just-in-time business education programs, which deliver teaching at the moment a businessperson needs it. That seems to make a lot of sense. The issue here isn’t what should or should not be taught at a high level. It’s about delivering value to the person who needs it. Business isn’t law or medicine, with a body of knowledge which has to be learned before you can practice. It’s much more fluid than that, and business education needs to reflect this fact.

Niaz: How educators and policy-makers should teach business as a means to improving the rate and quality of economic growth?

Philip: Focus on developing communities of businesspeople. Help facilitate connections. Listen to what these people ask for. Then get out of the way.

Niaz: What are you doing now at The Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education?

Philip: Writing about entrepreneurship programs, what works, what doesn’t.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors. Happy New Year Philip.

Philip: Thanks Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Aubrey de Grey: Aging and Overcoming Death

Editor’s Note: Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a true maverick. He challenges the most basic assumption underlying the human condition – that aging is inevitable. He argues instead that aging is a disease – one that can be cured if it’s approached as “an engineering problem.”

He is a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, UK, and is the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a non-profit charity dedicated to combating the aging process. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, the world’s only peer-reviewed journal focused on intervention in aging. His research interest encompass the causes of all cellular side-effects of metabolism (“damage”) that constitute mammalian aging and the design of interventions to repair and /or obviate that damage. You can read his full bio from here here here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Aubrey de Grey recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of aging which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Aubrey, I know you are a very busy man and I really appreciate you for taking time out of your schedule to join me. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Aubrey: My pleasure.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, could you please say a few words about your background and the positions that you hold today?

Aubrey: I was initially trained as a computer scientist, but I switched to the biology of aging at around 30 when I discovered, to my astonishment, that very few researchers were really working on doing anything about aging. Currently I’m the Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation, a California-based biomedical research charity focused on developing the strategy for defeating aging that I proposed back in 2000.

Niaz: That’s really interesting. What did first attract you to the idea of physical immortality?

Aubrey: First, let’s be totally clear that I don’t work on “immortality”, or any variations on that theme. I work on health: I want to let people stay fully healthy, i.e. functioning both physically and mentally as well as a young adult, at any age. Once this is achieved, it is very likely that there will be a dramatic side-benefit in terms of how long people live – but that’s what it is, a side-benefit. I do not work on longevity for longevity’s sake. So, to answer what your question should have been: what attracted me to the crusade to bring aging under medical control was simply that it was obviously humanity’s worst problem but hardly anyone was working on it.

Niaz: What’s so wrong with getting old? Is getting old the biggest health crisis facing the world?

Aubrey: The way you phrase the question incorporates most of the answer. Most people have a totally distorted idea of what aging is: they think of it as distinct from the diseases of old age, and as something natural and inevitable, like the passage of time. So “getting old” is used pretty much interchangeably as either getting chronologically old or getting frail. WTF?! We don’t ask what’s so wrong with getting Alzheimer’s, so it makes no sense to ask what’s so wrong with going downhill in all ways.

Niaz: You’re a true maverick and you challenge the most basic assumption underlying the human condition — that aging is inevitable. You argue instead that aging is a disease – one that can be cured if it’s approached as “an engineering problem.” Before we focus on your efforts to understand the aging process, perhaps we should first say a few words about aging itself. Why do organisms age, and die?

Aubrey: Aging is far less mysterious than most people assume. In its essence, aging of a living organism is no different than aging of a simple, man-made machine – which should be no surprise, since after all the body is a machine (whatever one’s view may be as regards any non-physical elements that combine with the body to form the human being). Thus, it’s totally reasonable – I would say obvious, but apparently it isn’t obvious to everyone – to look at how we already succeed in extending the healthy longevity of cars or aeroplanes waaay beyond how long they were designed to last, and apply the same principles to human aging. And those principles come down, in a nutshell to just one idea: preventative maintenance, i.e. repairing pre-symptomatic damage before symptoms emerge.

Niaz: So does the process of aging serve some evolutionary purpose — and if it does, will we run into trouble if we attempt to counteract it?

Aubrey: It does not. From the 1880s or so until the 1950s it was thought that aging helped species to be more nimble in responding evolutionarily to changing environments, but then Medawar pointed out that mortality from causes that aren’t related to age is so high in the wild that there are too few frail individuals to drive natural selection for aging even if in principle it would be a good thing for the species. Medawar’s observation was somewhat over simplistic, but today almost all gerontologists agree that his basic idea was correct and that there are no “genes for aging”.

Niaz: You are the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Foundation. What that acronym stands for and what the organization does? 

Aubrey: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, but I know that’s a bit of a mouthful. We do biomedical research to develop regenerative medicine against aging, i.e rejuvenation biotechnology that will restore people’s physical and mental function (and appearance, yes!) to that of a young adult.

Niaz: What’s been the most striking piece of data to support your hypotheses?

Aubrey: That’s not really the right question: I don’t have a “hypothesis”. What I have is a technological plan – a proposal for how to manipulate an aspect of nature – whereas hypotheses are conjectures about how nature works in the absence of manipulation. The reason I need to make this ostensibly nit-picking distinction is that pioneering technology does not proceed by the accumulation of data: rather, it consists of a leap of faith that putting established technologies together will deliver more than the sum of the parts. So we (and others) have certainly been making great progress in developing the component technologies that will in due course combine to defeat aging, but calling those advances “support for a hypothesis” is a misuse of terms.

Niaz: As you know, now we are living in an exciting era of bioinformatics and big data. What do you think about the role of bioinformatics and big data in this field?

Aubrey: The relevance of big data to biomedical gerontology is pretty much the same as throughout biology. It speeds up a huge variety of bench experiments, but it doesn’t derive many big ideas itself.

Niaz: Some people regard aging research, and efforts to extend lifespan, with suspicion. Why do you think that is? What is your response to those concerns?

Aubrey: It’s embodied in your question: people who recoil at this work do so because they regard “aging research” and “efforts to extend lifespan” as synonymous, when in fact “aging research” and “efforts to eliminate age-related disease and disability” are synonymous. The tragedy is that this misconception is so entrenched: even though gerontoogists have been correcting this error since decades before I came along, but no one wants to hear it, probably mainly because they don’t want to get their hopes up. I think this is finally changing now, but I’m not slowin down my advocacy efforts.

Niaz: You regard cancer as the greatest potential threat to your longevity program, but couldn’t mutant viruses represent an even greater threat?

Aubrey: Viruses are a huge issue, but they are small (they don’t have many genes), whereas cancer has the entire human genome at its mutational disposal. Pandemics are a problem mainly because we aren’t putting enough money into vaccine development: if we can just get our priorities right, the chances of any pandemic really taking off are infinitesimal.

Niaz: What are the other key problems in aging research?

Aubrey: Well, basically most non-SENS research revolves around identifying simple interventions (drugs, genes, diet) that can in some harmonious unitary way slow aging down. I support such research, because it may in many cases make a dent in aging far sooner than SENS will – but its impact will be far less than what SENS will do once it exists. As such, the way to save the most lives and alleviate the most suffering is to pursue both approaches.

Niaz: One of the important consequences of successful SENS research is that we will no longer lose creative, inventive individuals and their priceless gifts to humanity. It will really be exciting. You have assigned $13 million dollars out if $16.5 million dollars that you inherited from your mom to SENS. In addition, you have dedicated your life, all your time and money to this mission. Do you think you’re going to be successful as well as going to find out the ways to overcome death? What is the timeframe?

Aubrey: As a researcher, I intrinsically accept that I don’t know whether my work will succeed, but I am sufficiently motivated by the knowledge that it MAY succeed. I don’t think of myself as a betting man, but in that sense I suppose I am. As for timeframes, I think there is a 50% (at least) chance that this research will get us to what I’ve called “longevity escape velocity” within 20-25 years.

Niaz: WOW! That’s going to be incredible. Can the planet cope with people living so long?

Aubrey: People are incredibly bad at understanding the influences of the trajrctory of global population and how it would be altered by the defeat of aging, which is why we are funding a very prestigious group in Denver to analyse it authoritatively. The short answer is yes, we believe that the planet can certainly cope, partly because the currently-observed falling fertility rates and rising age at childbirth will continue, but also becaue new technologies such as renewable energy and nuclear fusion will greatly increase the planet’s carrying capacity.

Niaz: Google’s CEO, Larry Page, said: “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.” And very recently Google has announced a new company called Calico that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.  What do you think about this move by Google?

Aubrey: It’s the single best piece of news in all the time I’ve been working in this field. Even though Calico is taking its time to determine its research priorities, I’m very confident that it will make huge contributions to hastening the defeat of aging.

Niaz: Now, as the editor of the journal of rejuvenation, obviously you have a lot of information coming across your desk all the time. I was wondering is there any particular research that excites you at the moment?

Aubrey: I really don’t want to single anything out. SENS is a divide-and-conquer strategy, and all its strands are moving forward very promisingly.

Niaz: You are exceptionally well connected with other scientists. I have seen you at TEDMED 2012 Conference. About how many scientific conferences do you attend each year? What is your main means of becoming acquainted with other scientists?

Aubrey: I give about 50 talks a year, at conferences, universities and elsewhere. I meet scientists there, of course, but also by contacts based on reading publications. In that regard I’m no different than any other scientist.

Niaz: What are your goals for the next decade?

Aubrey: To become obsolete. My goal is that by 2020 or so there will be people involved in this mission who are much better than me at all the tasks I’m good at and that currently the mission relies on me to perform.

Niaz: Is there anything else you would like for readers of eTalks to know about your work?

Aubrey: The main thing I want to communicate is that shortage of funding is delaying the defeat of aging by many years. My current estimate is that we could be going about three times faster if funding were not limiting – and the tragedy is that even a ten-fold increase, to something like $100m per year (way under 1% of the NIH’s butget), would pretty much eliminate that slowdown. We have a solid plan, and we have the world’s best researchers waiting and eager to get on and implement. All we need is the resources to let them get on with it.

Niaz: Dear Aubrey, thanks a lot for giving us time and sharing us your invaluable ides. We are wishing you very good luck for your tremendous success. Please take very good care of yourself.

Aubrey: My pleasure. Many thanks for the invitation.

Ending Note: It’s been more than a decade since Dr. Aubrey de Grey has established the principles behind SENS. You can visit sens.org and look at the summary of the principles over there. Also, of course, Dr. Aubrey recommends you his book “Ending Aging” which covers the strategy in lots of detail.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

9. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

Daniel Pink: To Sell is Human

Editor’s Note: Daniel Pink is the author of five provocative books– including the long-running New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mindand Drive.His latest book, To Sell is Human, is a #1 New York Times business bestseller, a #1 Wall Street Journal business bestseller, and a #1 Washington Post nonfiction bestseller. Dan’s books have been translated into 34 languages. His articles on business and technology appear in many publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired, and The Sunday Telegraph (See a sample of articles here).

His TED Talk ‘The puzzle of motivation‘ has almost 6 millions views and RSA Animate Talk ‘The surprising truth about what motivates us‘ has more than 10 millions views. Dan has provided analysis of business trends on CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the U.S. and abroad. And he lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the new workplace.

In 2011, Thinkers50 ranked him one of the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world. To read his full bio, please click here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Daniel Pink recently to gain insights about Conceptual Age, To Sell is Human, Art and Design which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Dan, thank you so much for joining us. We are very honored to have you at eTalks.

Dan Pink: My pleasure.

Niaz: As you know, we have been living through the agricultural, industrial, and information ages. According to you, we are now living in a conceptual age. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about ‘Conceptual Age’?

Dan Pink: We are leaving the Information Age — an economy and a society built on logical, linear, computer-like capabilities — and entering an economy and a society build on inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities — the Conceptual Age. The defining skills of the Information Age — what I call “left brain” capabilities — are still necessary, but to them we need to add “right brain” aptitudes and qualities. In A WHOLE NEW MIND, I identify six essential aptitudes for the new age: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning.

Niaz: You say, in today’s world, we are all sales people. Your most recent book ‘To Sell is Human’ has become New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s and Washington Posts’ Best Seller. We must comprehend now, whoever we are, whatever we do and wherever we belong, we do sell. Why do you believe ‘To sell is Human’?

To Sell Is Humna

Dan Pink: Like it or not, we’re all in sales now — whether we have sales in our job title or not. But sales isn’t what it used to be. We’ve moved from a world of information asymmetry (sellers have lots more information than buyers) to one of information parity (sellers and buyers are more evenly matched). And that has nudged us from a world of “buyer beware” to one of “seller beware.” Selling effectively — whether it’s your idea or your product or yourself– in a world of seller beware depends on three key qualities: Attunement (taking another’s perspective); Buoyancy (staying afloat in an ocean of rejection); and Clarity (moving from accessing information to curating it and from solving existing problems to identifying new problems.) I talk about these qualities keeping in mind the skills you need to become more effective at selling, but in the end I hope that what this book shows is that selling is more important, more urgent, and more beautiful than we realize. The capacity to sell isn’t some unnatural adaptation to the merciless world of commerce. It’s part of who we are.

Niaz: You’ve said that abundance changes the way we see material goods. We no longer just want to have things; we want cool things. We want well-designed things. We want things with a meaning. On the other hand, you’ve also said that the new master of business administration is the master of fine arts. Why do you think art and design are the next big things?

Dan Pink: We live in a world of such abundance and prosperity that, for businesses, it’s no longer enough to make a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful. Design – the marriage of utility and significance – has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success in the Conceptual Age.

Niaz: As you know, so many of us now want to contribute amazing things to make this world a better place. We also see people want to change the world to make it a bit more special. In reality, it is so tough to change the world. But having a wish to change the world is really appreciating and great. Can you please tell us about the top most problems of this planet which has to be considered greatly to make this world a better place?

Dan Pink: The general story of humankind is a slow (and often unsteady) march toward progress. If you look back from today, things are much better for most people than they were 100 years ago, let alone 500 years ago. That’s not to say we don’t have contemporary challenges. Here in the U.S., I’d put two issues at the top:

1. Our economy is increasingly leaving a slice of our population behind, marooning them without meaningful work or a sense of hope;

2. Our government, particularly at the federal level, is close to dysfunctional.

On a world level, I’d put at the top of the list two more issues:

1. Global warming and the fact that we’re not fully ready for its consequences;

2. The fact that while you and I are conversing via email, more than a billion people still live in poverty.

In general, though, I’m optimistic that we’ll slowly resolve these challenges — because, as I said earlier, that’s been the trajectory over time.

Niaz: Dan, thanks again for giving us time in the midst of your busy schedule and sharing us your invaluable ideas.

Dan Pink: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Philip Delves Broughton on What they teach you at Harvard?

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Ryan Holladay: Technology and Music

Editor’s Note: Ryan Holladay is an American artist and co-founder (along with his brother Hays Holladay) of BLUEBRAIN, a music and technology duo creating site-specific sound installations, interactive concerts and GPS-based compositions for sites across the country.  He is a TED 2013 Fellow. WIRED dubbed Ryan and Hays as “pioneers” of location-based music composition.

Bluebrain has been featured in The New York Times, BBC World Service, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Engadget and Fast Company among others. Additionally, Ryan serves as the new media curator at Artisphere.  You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ryan Holladay recently to gain his ideas and insights about Technology and Music which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Ryan, thank you so much for joining us. We are thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Ryan: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a self taught musician.  Can you please tell us about your background and the evolution of your musical journey?

Ryan: Well self-taught isn’t quite accurate. I would say I’m just under-trained. I took piano lessons as a child and then learned other instruments along the way. But neither my brother and I (with whom I collaborate on everything) would consider ourselves masters of any instrument. I think the studio has always been our instrument. And with that, we are self-taught.

Niaz: You are the co-founder of ‘BLUEBRAIN’, a music and technology duo creating site-specific sound installations, interactive concerts and GPS-based compositions for sites across the country. Can you please briefly tell us about ‘BLUEBRAIN’?

Ryan: So Bluebrain stemmed from my brother and I dreaming up ideas that didn’t fit in the category of a normal band. We love performing music and releasing records, but we also have always talked about ideas of ours that didn’t really make sense within your touring band scenario. We were taking inspiration from conceptual art, landscape architecture and emerging technologies. So eventually in our mid-twenties, when our last more or less typical band ended, we formed Bluebrain with the idea that no ideas were really off the table. So yes, sound installation, interactive performances, even iPhone app development became central to what we were doing. So much so that the typical “band” label didn’t seem to fit us at all after a while.

Hays Holladay and Ryan Holladay

BLUEBRAIN: Ryan Holladay and Hays Holladay

Niaz: How many instruments you do play?

Ryan: I’ve always been better at piano and Hays is really an incredible guitarist. But really, neither of us are virtuosic. We use the studio and get by with the musical skills we have.

Niaz: What are your current projects?

Ryan: We have a number of things in the works right now, but primarily we’ve been spending time as visiting artists at Stanford University’s Experimental Media Arts Department working on a location-aware composition for Highway 1. It’s been a fun project and one that allows us to get to spend time on one of the most beautiful stretches of road anywhere in North America.

Niaz: WIRED dubbed you and Hays as “pioneers” of location-based music composition. What is location based music composition?

Ryan: Location-based music is the somewhat clumsy term we’ve used to describe a type of composition that uses GPS to sonically map a landscape. We have released 3 albums, each for a different location (The National Mall in Washington DC, Central Park in New York and Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive), released exclusively as mobile apps. These aren’t albums you can download or purchase on a CD. That’s because the music and the landscape are intrinsically linked and they only work within the confines of the designated space. Musical nodes and pockets are geotagged throughout a park so that as the listener traverses the physical space, a musical score is unfolding around him or her. Think of it as a chose-your-own-adventure of an album.

Niaz: That’s really awesome. You serve as the new media curator at ‘Artisphere’. Can you please tell us about ‘Artisphere’ and your involvement with it?

Ryan: Artisphere is 3-year old arts space in Rosslyn, Virginia — just over Key Bridge outside of Washington DC. I am one of two curators and I deal with all of the new media work — so video art, film, sound art, anything that plugs in or is interactive. It’s a wonderfully symbiotic job that compliments my work as an artist very well — they’ve been really supportive of all of the work I do with my brother and I think our experiences with Bluebrain have introduced me to artists that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and have brought into Artisphere. I’m really fortunate to have such an amazing job.

Niaz: What do you think about the future of music?

Ryan: I don’t know how well I can answer that question, but I can tell you that my desire is to see artists and music companies start to innovate more than they have. I think music lends itself to disruption so much — not just in how we consume and share it but in how it’s created and enjoyed. As artists begin to explore more how to use these technologies, not simply to add bells and whistles to the old model, but to dream up new ways to experience music in our everyday lives, I think things will get more and more exciting.

Niaz: By the way, my heartiest congratulation for you on being selected as TED Fellow 2013. What are your favorite TED Talks?

Ryan: There are so many! I’ve always had a fondness for talks about architecture. Having lived in Seattle for a while, I really loved ‘Joshua Prince-Ramus‘ talk on creating the breathtaking Seattle Public Library.

Niaz: When are we going to see your TED Talk? 

Ryan: Hopefully sometime soon! They don’t tell me when the talk will hit the web but I’ll be sure to let you know when it goes live.

Niaz: Ryan, thanks so much for your time and ideas. All the best wishes for your all upcoming projects.

Ryan: You’re welcome and good luck to you too.

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Further Reading:

1. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Hugh Mac­Leod: Creativity and Art

Editor’s Note: Hugh Mac­Leod is one of the leading authorities on the creative process. He is the author of  ‘Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity’, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination’ and Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear.  He is about to publish his new book ‘The Art Of Not Sucking’. He is a cartoonist, entrepreneur, technologist, speaker and professional blogger, known for his ideas about how ‘Web 2.0′ affects advertising and marketing. After a decade of working as an advertising copywriter, Hugh started blogging at gapingvoid.com in 2001. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Hugh Mac­Leod recently to gain his ideas and insights about creativity and art which is given below.

Niaz: Hugh, I know you as a Cartoonist, Best Selling Author, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Blogger, Marketer and this list goes on and on and on. What do you think about your best identity?

Hugh: Cartoonist! I am a Cartoonist.

Niaz: But you are doing a vast array of activities. Why do you think being Cartoonist is your best identity?

Hugh: Well there is no point of being a billionaire if you don’t feel it. Being cartoonist is the thing I can be from my inner soul and cartoon is the thing I can do my own where everything else is just the tools that you need to interface with the world. They come like the delivery mechanism.

Niaz: As a cartoonist what is your vision?

Hugh: My world vision is to make people think differently about office art. I want to transform the world of business art. From my personal view, I want to make better and faster cartoons.

Niaz: So you are creating art. Changing minds. Telling a long story with impressive creative art by using only few words. Integrating complexity and problems to provide easy solution via your cartoon, sometimes via your art and sometimes via telling an excellent story. So what do you think about the significance of creating art now?

Hugh: I don’t think that there is any difference of creating art now then which was thousands years ago. Art is the reflection of our inner soul, our beliefs and the fact that we love from our heart. I think creating art means showing the world that we are not alone. I don’t know what Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang. I don’t understand whatever language he did speak. But you know there is a spiritual dynamic to his work that connects you somehow. You go and look Ancient Art, Native American Art, Chinese Art, Hindu Art or whatever; you will find the spiritual dynamics that connect you genuinely. So when you ask, why should we make art, you should have asked ‘why should we pray’ and then you should have asked ‘why should you believe in god’.  Creating art is always significant. It doesn’t belong to any time dimension. It’s innocent. It’s the true connection.

Niaz: You are a great marketer. You have been working with all big corporations and helping them for getting things done. Now, what does the term marketing mean to you?

Hugh: Well marketing to me, is the art, science and everything. Marketing is associated with all of the things that you need to get your idea spread.

Niaz: What do you think about the core problems of marketing?

Hugh: I think the core problems are marketing is very selfish, marketing is very loud, marketing is ill-mannered, marketing is wasteful and marketing is all kind of horrible things.

Niaz: So what are your ideas about how ‘Web 2.0’ affects advertising and marketing in this connected digital economy?

Hugh: Well from my perspective, it takes a way to need to scale. For example when I was a kid, when I was in your age, self publishing was so hard and expensive as there was no internet. So the way to be successful was hardest. Your cartoon had to be discovered by the Magazine, Newspaper, TV Shows or something like that. You had to get the approval of the record company. What I figured out a while ago, how much I need for living? I just need paying my bills. I have figured out, if I have 10,000 people who will give me money whether to buy t-shirt, cartoon, book, print or painting, I can make a living. And so to me, finding these 10,000 people using the Blog, Twitter or Facebook is cheaper, faster and easier that we couldn’t do before that. For example, in the old days, you ran a cartoon in the magazine. Then you had to wait until a person saw your cartoon in the book shop or saw your add that you pay at the back of the magazine and tell someone. It would also need a lot of peers. You had to wait for other people to tell your stories. So you had some other things beyond your own control. Now internet has made this business model for a cartoonist that is cheaper, better and faster. As a result our advertising and marketing has been changing revolutionary.

Niaz: You have been creating Social Objects. Can you please tell me about ‘Social Objects’?

Hugh:  The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that ‘node’ in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

Niaz: Can you please give an example of ‘Social Object’?

Hugh: Oh there are so many. Social object is something that is cool. When people mean cool, they mean it only because it is social object. Cool doesn’t reside in products. It resides in the interactions. Once Nokia Phone was cool. Now the social dynamics has changed. So it’s no longer social objects. I would say, it’s not social object because it is cool. It is cool because it’s social object. I love Bangladeshi Cooking. I love Seth Godin. I love Beatles. All of these are social objects.

Niaz: I first came to know about your impressive creative arts at the beginning of 2006 via your most popular manifesto ‘How to be creative’.  Till now, it’s the most popular manifesto of ChangeThis.com. Why do you think creativity is so much important of doing and making things happen?

Hugh: Well that’s how we are designed to survive. You know we aren’t cockroaches, tigers, or elephant. We have our brains. And our brain is genetically designed to figure out how to hack the world. If you look at our species, our ability to evolve, survive and dominant the world is all about creativity. It’s a biological spiritual necessarily. God made us creative. And it’s our nature.

Niaz: Can you please explain the title of your book ‘Ignore Everybody’?

Hugh: Well this isn’t saying to ignore everybody from the day you born to the day you die. I think there is a trouble to ignore everybody. What I mean is that nobody can tell you whether you’re idea is any good or not, especially in the beginning. All you can do is soldier on alone…. ignoring everybody.

Niaz: What are the secrets of being creative? Can you please tell us some points on being creative and asking interesting questions?

Hugh: You already are. You already born that way. Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. Keep it consistent. Practice. I think you could be loaded up with complexity and problems. But keep patience. Keep trying. Grow up your stamina.

Niaz: Hugh, Thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you very good luck for all of your impressive works.

Hugh: You are welcome Niaz. Thanks for having. Good luck to all of your ideas and endeavors.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership