Leadership and the Lens: Learning at the Intersection of Innovation and Image-Making

A few days spent away is precious little time to make a difference in your leadership capability. Leadership and the Lens makes the most of that time by immersing participants into a different world of dynamic possibilities. Co-taught with world-renowned National Geographic photographer Sam Abell (The Life of a Photograph), this workshop uses a familiar tool – the camera – to explore how unseen opportunities reveal themselves—and how the most effective leaders spot them, before it’s too late.

Abell and I discovered the deep resonance of our work when we met at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Expecting Abell’s mentorship to make me a better photographer, I was surprised to find it also enriched my own research on leadership. My interviews with 150+ senior executives of the world’s most innovative companies – people like Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre – have led me to see that groundbreaking solutions start with catalytic questions. Now I saw that my core advice on how to reimagine organizational strategies and cultures mapped directly into what Abell has taught for decades about creating photographs worthy of National Geographic.

To frame better questions, most leaders need to check habits and beliefs they have gained over life-long careers – for example, leaders need to always be confidently right and quick to call others to action. Seeing new possibilities for an organization often demands the opposite: eagerness to find out what one is dead wrong about, a willingness to step back and quietly listen, and patience to take in the dynamics of a situation, especially those that are uncomfortable. By putting themselves in contexts that compel incentives to adopt these new attitudes, leaders raise their odds of surfacing questions that can unlock entirely new avenues of value creation. In the same way, the best photographers commit themselves to daily habits that develop deep seeing skills. They patiently “compose and wait” out in the field, where vulnerability often leads to inevitable, powerful images. They learn to study their settings as deeply as their subjects, and as they do, images (and life itself) light up.

Abell and I lead this workshop with all the enthusiasm that comes from our discovery of a novel, hybrid method of learning. Past participants have called it a transformative experience. To approach the world with eyes wide open and a camera in hand is to be inquisitive. It provokes questions like: What surprises will I encounter? How will I capture them? What message am I trying to share? – and what will the images I produce say about me and my values as a leader?  Spend these few days in Cambridge, and discover what new capabilities might develop in you.

This program is offered by MIT Sloan Executive Education in association with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and is limited to 15 participants. Registered participants will be asked to submit 10-15 photographs they have taken, as valuable input to the instruction.

MIT executive education logo       Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

Leadership and the Lens

Read Gregersen’s article

Hal Gregersen photographyWhat Great Leaders Can Learn From Great Photographers

Harvard Business Review


Expect to leave this program with new insights regarding:

  • How leaders of the world’s most innovative organizations approach their work differently.
  • Why some questions prove especially “catalytic”— capable of breaking down barriers and accelerating progress in new directions.
  • How exploring the intersection of two disciplines that combine art and science – leadership and photography – enhances creativity in both.
  • How simple changes in behavior and perspective increase your chances of encountering assumption-challenging input and exploring its implications.
  • Why the quest to uncover “what you don’t know you don’t know” is central to both game-changing innovation and great image-making.
  • What prevailing conditions, deliberately sought or constructed by the leader, cause fresh questions to arise continually and productively?

A daring, engaging and intense workshop, taught by two world-class experts in their respective fields. Hal and Sam are both experts and great teachers. They worked together seamlessly to both challenge and encourage us, no matter our level of expertise in either discipline. Your passion for these two topics will be greatly rewarded. Highly recommended!

Stan Baginskis, Senior Director, Architecture and Growth Strategy, Chief Technology and Architecture Office at Cisco

This course has been the most powerful and inspirational course I attended in my life, giving me the right tips for my job. Photography is used not just as a metaphor for leadership but as a way to improve leadership: observing reality, thinking solutions, making decisions, having vision, stepping back to see and reflect, choosing the right moment, learning from mistakes, going deeper into the meaning of what we are doing.

Enrico Rimoldi, Communication Director, Your Business Partner, Milan, Italy

“Creativity in photography and innovation leadership - the parallels are abundant. Through creative questioning, Hal Gregersen guides you to that unforgettable moment of leadership insight. In parallel, Sam Abell helps you literally look at the world around you differently. Jointly, they help you connect new dots. It is the first step of innovation!”

Guy Wollaert, former Chief Technical and Innovation Officer, Coca-Cola Co.

Photos from the Leadership & the Lens workshop