Monday, June 1, 2015

Actionable Intelligence

Next time you read some helpful essay on how to do photography better, read it with this in mind:

What, if anything, is this piece advising me to do that I can actually do?  Is there any actually actionable suggestion in here, or is it all vague handwaving?

Here's an example:

Ten Tips for Tidying Up The Toy Room

1. Everything In Its Place

When tidying up the toy room, remember that everything has a place, and should be put into that place.

2. Results Are What Counts

Always keep in mind that it doesn't matter how the room gets tidy, what matters is that in the end, everything should be put away.


These are two typical tips. They don't actually say anything except "tidy up the toy room".

Photography tips are often similar, so-called tips from the standard list are: "photograph emotion, not things" and "use the light to your advantage" and "color can be powerful". These feel like useful tips, they seem to be saying something. If you're just skimming, the usual mode on the internet, you can easily get the impression that you're learning something useful or at any rate that something useful is to be learned.

But read them again, what useful thing are they actually saying?

Is there anything you can actually use here? What would you do differently to "use light to your advantage" next time you're out shooting?

I could write a listicle entitled 300 tips to improve your photography, which contained exactly 0 actual tips.

In reality, all I would be doing you is repeating vague handwaving statements that you agree with, that you've seen before (far too often) and which seem like wisdom. You'd nod your head and think "yes, good stuff, my word there's a lot here" -- if you weren't paying attention.

An actual tip for cleaning up the toy room might be:

11. Fire trucks go in the Blue Box

Gather up all the fire trucks and put them in the large blue box, under the window. It's blue, and has a label on it that reads "FIRE TRUCKS". Put the biggest trucks in first.

That's actionable. You can actually use it, there's specific instructions, and even an honest-to-god tip that is useful information: put the big ones in first. Someone knows that there are too many toy trucks to fit in the box unless you're careful about how you put them in, and has written down a useful tip for ensuring that they will all fit.

No comments:

Post a Comment