I was watching a documentary on WW2 combat cameramen.
They’d go wherever the action was, follow the troops into the thick of the fighting.
Get shots for magazines like Life, and lots of footage for the cinema newsreels back home.
You’d think, in a battle, the army would want everyone there fighting not taking pictures.
But in WW2 the US had 1,500 trained combat cameramen.
I never quite understood the point.
Until I saw one of these guys being interviewed in that documentary.
He was remembering his first mission.
The US troops were about to land on a heavily defended beach in the Pacific.
He was going in on the first wave with the Marines, right where the fighting would be worst.
It worried him that he wouldn’t be carrying a gun.
He kept thinking he’d feel a lot better if he did.
The day before the invasion, the general in charge gave all the troops a briefing about what was in store.
As the general was leaving the young photographer stopped him.
He said “Excuse me general, can I ask you a question?”
The general said “Make it quick”.
The photographer said “General I’m a combat cameraman and I’m not allowed to carry a gun. Is it okay with you if I carry a side-arm, so I can use it when I run out of film?”
That made perfect sense to me.
But the general said “Absolutely not. I want you running around in that battle shooting pictures and I want all the men to see you shooting pictures. I don’t care if you haven’t even got any film in the camera, I want all the men to see you shooting pictures. Because there are no cowards in front of a camera.”
And the general walked off.
And the combat cameraman understood a different purpose to what he was doing that he hadn’t even considered before.
He wasn’t just there to take pictures.
He was there to raise moral, to make the men fight harder.
Because if they thought everyone back home was watching them they wouldn’t run or hide when they got scared.
They’d want to look like heroes in the newsreel on the cinema screen.
And for that they needed someone recording it.
For that they needed to see a man with a camera.
But the opposite is also true.
If no one is ever going to know what we did, why should we take chances?
Unless someone is around to see it and tell others.
It’s a simple, timeless human truth that we all try harder when we know there is someone around who appreciates what we do.
We need a reason to make an effort to get out of our comfort zone.
We need someone to witness it.
When our contribution is recognised, we feel validated.
Football teams try harder on their home ground, in front of their own supporters.
All of us try harder for someone who notices and cares when we do.
It’s a simple, timeless human need to feel validated.
If you’re running a department, it’s worth remembering that.
It’s not always just about money.