The power of seeing what isn’t planned

13 Aug

I took lots of pictures at the wedding of a good friend this past weekend in Northeast Oregon. (Congratulations, Kristin and Jake!) Pictures of the beautiful setting in a lush prairie surrounded by mountains, pictures of the unique ceremony and reception, pictures along the hiking trail we enjoyed the day before . . . lots of pictures! A fair number included crooked horizons or finger shadows, despite my attempts at some planned artistic flair!

My absolute favorite picture, however, was totally unplanned. I didn’t realize I had taken this picture at all until I reviewed the set. In fact, I didn’t realize I had even seen this particular vignette. Discovering this hidden gem in the rough hay of shots, I’m reminded that when we can see what we didn’t plan to see, we’re richly rewarded. Two specific community leadership applications come to mind.

Intentionally picking a place to stand, from which you can see interesting things unfold

I knew I wanted a picture of the bride and groom returning from their post-ceremony ride. I eventually got a nice shot of the two of them, close up and beaming, side by side on their steeds. But my favorite picture is the first one I took as the newlyweds were still riding away from us. I must have initially considered it a wasted shot with a cluttered foreground. It wasn’t the shot I planned. But my point of view, unconscious as it was, powerfully shaped this picture and a whole set of others.

In explaining how he composes really extraordinary and creative pictures, National Geographic photographer DeWitt Jones notes that he carefully selects a specific location from which to shoot; “the place of most potential” for success.  He recognizes that his point of view drives what he can see, and that the best points of view yield delightful surprises beyond what’s planned. In other words, the place of most potential is where you can see both what you expect and what you don’t expect. This surely applies to the role of a leader as well.

Expanding your view to include what others see

Now, this snapshot is not a professional grade photograph for sure. But I like its geometry and the stories one can read into its landscape. For example, is the observer old enough to be dreaming about her own wedding? Or does she want to ride the horse? Perhaps she’s just distanced herself from a pesky younger sibling. Or she spotted a field mouse rustling in the straw and just now looked up. Furthermore, why didn’t anyone put away that ladder?! . . .

There’s a leadership parallel here as well. If we see the presence of others only as “cluttered foreground” to be ignored or cut through in pursuit of pre-planned outcomes, we see less. We have less power to create. Effective leaders (and I’m using this term broadly, to mean people with dreams for and commitment to their communities) consciously step back from their own goals to see more clearly what others are seeing.  When we do the same, we consistently discover more richly nuanced points of view to trigger our imaginations and guide effective action.

Finally. . .

That’s just part of what I brought home from a wonderful celebratory weekend! Mainly, the whole experience fed my soul! Don’t ever turn down an invitation to a wedding: it’s an invitation to be reminded of the many good things and sweet mysteries in life!