“Lean.” “Agile.” “Purposeful.”
These words describe 84-year-old Bill Cunningham. They’re also the traits that remind me of resilient people and companies.
Cunningham is currently the fashion photographer featured in a recent documentary, “Bill Cunningham New York.” Here was Cunningham – an octogenarian – who remains an active photographer for The New York Times.
He reminds me of the benefits of operating a lean enterprise. Mainly, longevity.
How has he maintained his vitality? He operates a lean lifestyle in terms of purpose, occupation, living environment and mindset. He “travels lightly.”
Early on, he found something unique that he loves to do: photographing everyday people wearing emerging fashions. This keeps him strategically focused and efficient on the things that matter to him. Easily distracted he is not.
Additionally, he has resided in a minimalist studio apartment for decades. He nimbly bikes to work, in Manhattan traffic, and from assignment to assignment. While occasionally interacting with the rich and famous, his wardrobe is understated and limited (according to one source, he has a mere five hangers for most of his clothing). His culinary tastes are unpretentious (his favorite sandwich is $3). He uses one camera and has a single-minded approach to his work.
Perhaps most importantly, he carries a positive attitude and philosophy about his life and work. His mind and ego appear void of anything excessive, degrading or corruptive. He keeps life positive and simple.
Cunningham’s active longevity reminds me of comments expressed by U2’s Bono. He remarked on when and why most bands start their decline. (U2, incidentally, remains one of the world’s few long-term sustainable music acts.) Bono has observed that artists often decline when they focus their energies away from music and, instead, towards superficial things, such as expensive homes, cars, jewelry and other luxuries. In other words, when artists aren’t careful, success can lead to excessive distractions that can threaten work quality and, ultimately, continued prosperity.
Cunningham, however, has kept himself lean, positive and purposeful. As a result, he remains active and creative into his 80s. Individuals and organizations can learn from him. If we commit to travel lightly, we could recover easier, or sidestep danger, when faced with challenges. We could react more nimbly to opportunity. We could become more proactive.
Personally, I have too much stuff in my closets, garage, kitchen drawers, computer files and glove compartment. It would feel good to streamline. What could you minimize to unleash your growth?