Sunday, July 10, 2011

Resilience vs. Adaptation (or lack thereof)

Here's a riddle: What kind of person gets food poisoning on three separate occasions from eating the same exact thing each time?

The answer? Someone who is incredibly resilient or incredibly stupid.

I originally titled this post "Resilience vs. Stupidity" but I realized I wasn't arguing in the favor of stupidity. Admittedly, I am the person in the riddle above. I ingested a Costco hot dog on 3 separate occasions, each time resulting in food poisoning that produced high fever, body aches, nausea, loss of appetite, chills, dehydration... the usual. I would tack vomiting to the list but dry heaving doesn't count. I can't ever seem to barf anything up :)

Also, I couldn't argue for "stupidity" because it was exactly because I was overtly-logical that I ate the same thing 3 times with the same results. Logically speaking you can't convince me that thousands of people eating Costco dogs everyday are writhing in food-poisoning-misery. It can't possibly be the case. So before the 3rd incident, I chalked off the first two events as "coincidence", "bad luck", "random events"... you name it, I found a way to justify it. I mean, what's more likely that everyone eating Costco hot dogs are barfing their brains out or that I got unlucky twice in a row?

But where is the line between resilience and adaptation? When do you stick to your guns and when do you say "evolve or die"?

On Friday night, I decided to stick to my guns. It was not entirely implausible that I could eat a (now 3rd) Costco hot dog without getting food poisoning. I dunno, perhaps I possess some degree of irrationality that pushes me to tempt fate. Perhaps I believe that I am above reproach. That the normal laws of physics don't apply to me. But honestly, I was just betting that it was bad luck that I fell ill the first two times. And had I been fine from the 3rd incident, I would have said, "See I told you it wasn't the hot dog".

Instead, I have to listen to my wife saying "See I told you so".

But my bout with food poisoning isn't the topic of conversation. Rather the topic is when we should be resilient and when we should adapt to circumstances. This is an interesting question because far too often we find examples of humans repeating the same mistakes. And I think only humans make the same mistakes over and over again because I don't think animals have the mental capacity to rationalize making the same mistakes over time. Plus, it's too costly. If an animal makes a mistake, it could very well result in death.

Sure we've heard of artists overcoming all their naysayers that told them they'd never make it. They listened to their hearts, blocked everyone else out, and in the end they became wildly successful.

But then there are those that will eat the same thing three times in a row and get food poisoning three times in a row.

I watched a boxing match this weekend where Paul Williams fought Erislandy Lara. Williams had previously been
knocked out cold by Sergio Martinez from a left hook that Williams did not (and potentially could not) see.

When asked about what he would do differently in this match with Erislandy Lara, Williams replied that it was basically "bad luck" that he got caught blind with that left hook by Martinez. Therefore, he would not and did not change anything about his fighting style. He made no adjustments for the Lara bout that would shore up weaknesses potentially leading to his knock out by Sergio Martinez.

And as a direct result, Erislandy Lara repeatedly landed left hooks that clocked Paul Williams.

It seems like a stupid decision for Paul Williams to adjust to unseen left hooks? But one can understand how the "stupid decision" could have very well swung in his favor. Had Martinez's KO been a fluke, Williams would have been stupid to change his style of boxing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it... right?

So is it broke?

Well I dunno, is it? Really only you can determine that. Everyone has a different willingness to repeat the same mistakes. One might change after the first failure while another might repeat the same failure 10x over before changing... it really depends on the individual.

But in the ever-changing photography industry one has to adapt, learn, grow, and change... on the fly. There isn't enough time for us to make mistakes much less repeat them.

And yet, far too often I see photographers plateauing and repeating their same "achievements". Nothing changes for these photographers. The product the same images
just with different models. While it's not as bad as repeating the same mistakes over and over again it's almost as bad. You rinse and repeat the same actions and achieve the same average results over time. That's great if you're one foot in the grave and you're on your way out. That's not so great if you're looking to make a name for yourself as many of you are.

So when do I adapt? When it pains me more to stay the same (obviously I'm quite tolerant or forgetful of physical pain). But those sentiments are different for each process. There are certain processes where I don't mind the status quo. I don't mind dealing with agencies to get top models. I don't mind exclusively working on Apple products. I don't mind shooting Nikon even though it doesn't do video well.

But when the status quo pisses me off enough or causes me enough pain not to address them... well the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Or in my case, I just replace the entire wheel altogether. I look for solutions that resolve the cause of the pain (and not band-aid solutions, I hate band-aid solutions). That's why I look at things holistically and systemically. I don't like piece-mealing processes together because without a good systems approach, gears/wheels/cogs won't fit nearly as well. I like thinking things through before executing on the plan because good pre-production is good production. But it doesn't mean that I'm not constantly evaluating and reevaluating my processes. Entire sections of the machine can be discarded if necessary.

So in a futile attempt to make this post about photography and not about my personal life. I'm saying look at what's not working in your processes and change it. Can't get enough tear sheets? Talk to more editors. Not getting enough jobs? Get more clients. There's a simple solution to everything. Change isn't hard. People make it hard.

So, fight or flight (resilience vs. adaptation)? Depends on whether the battle is worth fighting. What the odds are of winning/losing. And what you stand to win/lose. As for the Costco hot dogs that resulted in 3 KO's in the first round... I'm not looking for a rematch... yet :)


  1. Shit happens :

    Looking forward to hear more about your changes.

  2. Hmmm, I've been eating Costco Hotdogs for years without any problems & I get ill easily.

    You didn't say if it was the SAME Costco each time.

    Possibly they are storing food incorrectly if that is the case.

    Or you could have a severe allergy to something either in the Hotdog or condiments that you put on them.

    I know this was supposed to be an allegorical lesson... but I'm a literalist ;)

    And when to change, photographically speaking? I get bored easily, so I keep trying different things. Problem is, I usually don't like the results & go back to what I do like.