Advice for Old Timers vs. Young Whipper Snappers

In Francis Ford Coppolla’s classic “The Godfather,” a war breaks out between the Corleone family and the other families because Don Corleone refuses to adopt “the future” of organized crime in narcotics. This future is proposed to him by an ambitious up and coming wannabe “don” called “The Turk.” It gets really ugly after that.

My post on Friday about David Jay’s “The Photo System” generated some excellent points and comments. One theme that came up quite a bit was the idea of the “newbies” being influenced by this new generation of photographers whose ways are conflicting to the more seasoned generation. Let’s call them the “young whipper snappers” vs. “the old timers.”

Steven Seymour made an excellent point in the comments Friday:

I don’t think much credit is being given to the newbies, the so-called “victims” of the system. There’s this assumption that they’re gullible, unable to filter out the stuff that doesn’t resonate. But that’s a patronizing position to take. I’m fairly sure if you asked them if they’re aware of alternative opinions and leaders in the industry, they’d say yes. And if you asked them why they are choosing to support this one, the System, it wouldn’t be because they want to get stinking rich really quickly – it’s simply because the quality, quantity and positiveness of the presentation is more persuasive than the alternatives.

I don’t think I could have said it better myself. So let’s look at this from the outside. On one side you have young, attractive, “hip” photographers driving nice cars, wearing nice clothes, speaking around the country and embracing the teachings of well-respected thought leaders like Seth Godin, Marcus Buckingham, Malcolm Gladwell and Spencer Johnson (author of “Who Moved My Cheese”). Their photography looks good to the masses. Right or wrong, they are the paragon of success and examples of the 21st century economy. Part of their message is that the “old way” of doing things is gone. The “grumpies” have it backwards and are complaining about the success of the new generation.

On the other side you have seasoned professionals who are feeding right into the stereotype the new generation is proclaiming. Complaining. Spewing vitriol and in some cases hatred (I’ll never forget someone last year calling Jesh de Rox “The Anti Christ.”)

Now, if I’m new to the business, who do you think I am going to be more drawn to?

You need a better strategy folks. You have many valid points and your passion is to be commended. But you need to approach this thing from a totally different angle.

Consider me your personal consigliere; an outside consultant who is coming in, looking at the condition of your marketing strategies, and offering my objective, level-headed, emotionally detached advice. If you were collectively one company or organization, this would be my advice to you. Take it or leave it.

My 10-Step System to “Combat” The Photo System

  1. Stop complaining.
  2. Identify key influencers on “your side” and encourage or partner with them to create the education you think will help. Make sure they have a level of success that is on par (or ideally surpassing) those whose “systems” you dislike. (The obvious choice here is my good buddy Zack Arias. I believe he’s already on the case.)
  3. Stop blogging about why you hate The System (ever-increasing its SEO rankings)
  4. Work with the influencers to develop something that is easy to understand, filled with good knowledge, and can be a funnel into other avenues of education that meets your criteria.
  5. Identify a technology partner who can create the platform upon which your new system will be built.
  6. Engage the services of a top-notch brand strategy firm to modernize your message and align it with a more contemporary way of doing things.
  7. Identify a distribution partner to help get the word out and administer your platform.
  8. Make video part of your strategy using personal and powerful profile films of key players.
  9. See Step #1
  10. Execute with kindness, compassion and professionalism

If you do this 10-step process, I guarantee you will see way more results than what you’re seeing now.

Oh, so what in the world does “The Godfather” have anything to do with this? Well, as Tom Hanks character Joe Fox tells us in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” all great life lessons come from “The Godfather.” In your case, you have to “go to the mattresses.” Also take note of how the Corleone family won in the end:

  1. They embraced the leadership of someone in the “next generation” (Michael Corleone)
  2. While Michael didn’t embrace narcotics, he DID embrace new ways of doing the family business. He recognized that much of the old ways were indeed outdated.
  3. He made hard choices that needed to be made.

Just for the record, I am not encouraging violence. This is just a fun movie reference. Don’t get crazy. You would think I wouldn’t have to say this, but with this passionate crowd, you never know. 😉

5 thoughts on “Advice for Old Timers vs. Young Whipper Snappers

  1. Another fine post, Ron.

    I have more thing to throw out there, then I’m getting on with my work…

    It’s not easy to find second-shooter or assisting positions. There’s this somewhat flippant belief pervading this debate that anybody who wants to learn the ropes can simply tag along on jobs with pros who are truly good enough to teach them something.

    But it’s not like that!

    We are quite often asked by enthusiastic amateurs if they can join us on shoots. We almost always say no because we don’t take second-shooters unless we need to, and we can’t risk mediocre results. So we only ever take people we know are competent and who could probably do a decent job themselves – i.e. people who don’t really need much training. And I think we’re fairly representative of most professionals in social photography.

    Which leaves amateurs hoping to turn professional with fewer options than this debate assumes: either they pay for training (most likely with those “accursed charlatans on the workshop wagon”!) or they shoot some free weddings/portraits and use the results to begin a business, or both. And that, I’ll bet, is how the majority of us actually got started. Very, very few of us were lucky enough to land a quality apprenticeship of any kind.

    In other words, we followed something quite similar to the System, but before it was branded and monetized by David Jay. Seriously, any wedding photographer who claims never to have done something akin to “spraying and praying” in their professional careers (let’s call it “taking-more-shots-than-you-normally-would-because-you’re-not-totally-confident-in-the-results”? – it’s less inflammatory), well, they lie. And I challenge them to a duel: pistols at dawn on the high plain.

    1. Another excellent comment Steve. I didn’t know it was the difficult finding work as a second shooter. What about finding work as a third shooter (or second shooter when the client only hired one) and having the photos from that person be non-crucial?

      I also think your comment about everybody at some point “spraying and praying” (or the equivalent) to be insightful. I would love to see that duel. 🙂

      Thanks again.

  2. Hey Ron! You’re awesome. I always enjoy your posts and what’s especially great about this one is that if they follow your “10 Steps to Combat The System” they will actually be following many of the steps in The System. 🙂 Cool.

    The only thing I’d add is to build a community. The System was created and is distributed by a strong community of Showiteers who are already executing in kindness, compassion, and professionalism so again instead of fighting against this. Join it. Together we can create the a wonderful System to offer the new photographers entering the market. We don’t need to recreate the wheel. As I said very clearly. The System isn’t everything someone needs to run their business. It’s simply a place to start. A foundation. It’s not perfect… but I don’t think it does anybody any good to encourage people to fight against it. Why not work together in unity and having something to build on instead of tear down.

    All the best!

    1. Thanks for the comment DJ. You are correct. No need to really “go to the mattresses.” I just couldn’t help “the Godfather” analogy. 🙂

      I do agree that there is a happy medium, and as I wrote Friday (which you confirmed here) this is not meant to be an end-all, be all.

      It will be curious to see what comes of it. My guess is, everything will die down, people will forget, and the interwebs will be quite for a few weeks until the next big drama. 🙂

  3. Awesome post. You forgot to mention step 11. Which is be prepared to have your message be in 2nd place. In marketing, anytime you come up with the “Better System” it will only be old news. It’s already been done and a few will pay attention to it. It will just be noise in a market that has already proven a need for the System due to how viral it became (makes no difference if it’s good or bad). The Law of the Ladder according to Jack Trout says you will more than likely be less noticed than the original.

    You want anyone to pay attention? The last thing you should ever do is associate it with anything that sounds like or is the “better” version of the System. That is a bad marketing position to be in. But of someone wanting to create something better knew how to market, then they probably wouldn’t be in this industry or would have came up with it first. 😉

    But the problem is, that “better” content is already out there with a different name. Zack Arias did creativeLIVE lending his expertise in studio creation (and I’m assuming he believed that WAS his “better” content) and countless others have created systems, marketing strategies, written books, made and sold videos , written blog posts, sent newsletters and more for this industry. (Also, having a commercial photographer get into the wedding and commercial space for marketing a how-to-do weddings is probably not the best idea).

    So the best thing to really do is put on your big boy pants and do something great instead of complaining about the things you think are not so great. Go out and make great content. “Never make content because you don’t like someone, but only do it out of love and compassion for others.” -Tim Sanders 🙂


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