Today, I’m inspired to talk about the benefits of tolerating constructive failure.
It’s Autumn, which typically means that I start attending the upcoming season’s snowboard and ski film premieres. This year was no exception. Two weeks ago, I attended Red Bull’s The Art of Flight, a groundbreaking snowboarding film, at the State Theater.
Last weekend, it was skiing’s turn. I attended the Midwest Ski Film Festival at the Loring Theatre. It featured films of leading freeskiers from around the world.
While observing the athletes in these films, I realized, again, the power of a creative culture that permits experimentation, trial and error.
I watched athletes perform innovative stunts: grinding multi-level rails; dropping from building rooftops; leaping from helicopters; sticking death-defying 70-foot gap jumps. All of these sensational tricks were performed, flawlessly, like poetry in motion.
Then, during one five-minute segment, a rapid-fire of athletes were shown failing, one after another, in their attempts to land certain tricks. It reminded me of the commitment and ambition required to ultimately succeed at most anything. These guys were getting slammed. We’re talking potentially life-threatening injuries — hospital material. They were landing on concrete; missing critical landing zones; landing upside down on their heads. But, they persisted until they got it right.
During one poignant moment, an athlete was captured violently expressing pure frustration. He slammed and hurled his equipment. He threw himself to the asphalt. He punched himself. He was upset about his inability to stick his landing for his particular film segment.
These failures made me respect these athletes in a new way. It gave me the notion that these kids were committed, and brutally ambitious, towards perfecting themselves.
They also reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in a culture that enables new growth territories; and, in an environment that permits us to initially explore, and to often fail in, these new areas.
Like snowboarding or skateboarding, most new pursuits are perceived by outsiders as foolish. Our history runs rampant with millions of examples. Consider the horseless carriage. Or the airplane. Or rock ‘n’ roll. All were once considered foolish. Due to limited restrictions on those who envisioned and pursued them, however, they were tracked down with ambition, with energy, with focus and with commitment. And with foolishness.
These original ideas were often further criticized when subsequent attempts proved unsuccessful. But as these pioneers persisted, their failures often accumulated into new learning, into new traction and into new growth areas. These new growth areas often led to new products, new adoptees, new categories, new industries and new wealth. Before long, these new ideas became accepted by the masses.
It’s funny how these ideas, once established, are suddenly viewed as “strokes of genius.” The secret, however, is that they were often built on years of accumulated failure. We either didn’t know, or forgot about, the pioneers who sacrificed themselves in the early stages, just to have others learn and benefit from those initial failures. The Wright Brothers didn’t simply invent the airplane overnight. They learned from years of their own and others’ endless failures to finally get it right.
Nurturing a culture that permits ambition and failure ultimately leads to new growth that benefits all of us. Value is created in areas never previously imagined or dreamed possible. The process keeps us alert, learning and advancing, individually and collectively.
After watching this recent collection of films, I now better understand Steve Jobs when he advised us to “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”read more
I don’t fish. But I do so, metaphorically.
When you’re trying to influence others (and we all do, to some degree), you’re fishing – or angling to “reel in” someone to a certain idea. Whether you intend to influence your spouse to lose weight, your supervisor to green-light your project, or your child to display good manners, you’re fishing for a mind, heart or soul.
My question to you is: when you cast your line, do you set the hook?
Setting the hook is important if you seek to improve your results. At these critical moments, it requires a subtle “feel” and patience.
When many of us sense our target’s first nibble of receptivity, however, we often anxiously reel-in too soon. In a flash, we can obliterate our one – and possibly only – opportunity. At that point, our audience is spooked and harder to influence.
Recently, I experienced my own “setting the hook” opportunity. A friend and I were meeting with his friend, Bill, to help him identify a business he could start. Bill has long sought an opportunity to become an entrepreneur but, like many of us, has had a difficult time spotting something he can really commit to.
Bill’s situation, of course, is not unusual. Many opportunities can motivate us for the short term. A precious few opportunities, however, keep us motivated through thick and thin.
As such, our overall goal was to help Bill identify an entrepreneurial opportunity that would motivate him in perpetuity.
We walked Bill through a three-week process to identify business ideas. After qualifying and reducing his list to six, he concluded that he wanted to pursue a business in composing commercial music.
We were pleased that Bill chose an idea that motivated him. Instead of immediately proceeding to the next step, however, we encouraged Bill to step back and let the idea simmer for two weeks. We didn’t want him to apply more resources to the idea until he fully believed that this was the best idea for him.
Two weeks later, Bill expressed that he had changed his mind about pursuing the musical direction. Instead, he envisioned a broader and more motivating application of his energy and skills.
In a way, asking Bill to reflect on his original idea was our method of “setting the hook.” So far, it seems to have worked.
When your target begins to nibble your proposal, be patient during that critical moment. It could soon increase your success rate.
Amidst the noise in your life, can you detect the reoccurring melody?
As “melody,” I’m talking about vocational calls; whispers that you continue to ignore, or take for granted, but shouldn’t; activities that you’ve relegated to the periphery of your life, but instead, should be at the center of it.
While travelling through life, I’ve realized that I cannot shake certain callings. They end up cornering me. I’m forced to choose: either embrace the specific call, and run with it, or struggle by endlessly shooing it away.
It’s ironic that these calls – once easy to brush off, and perceived as obstacles – are eventually revealed as growth and happiness platforms.
Can anyone relate to me in this experience? Let me explain:
One personal example includes playing the piano. To this day, I don’t even know how to play the piano. Nevertheless, it has always beckoned me. Invariably, if I enter a space containing a piano, I am drawn to it. If it were sitting quietly in the corner of a room full of people, I would actually physically move closer to that corner, whether I was conscious of my movement or not. In fact, if the piano were hidden behind a curtain (unbeknownst to me) I would probably still move closer to it, if only by sensing an ethereal vibration.
My other callings include film, design and theology. If introduced to any of these subjects during a conversation, I’d have endless curiosity and absorption. If I were planted in a bookstore containing one or more of these subjects, or with a group of like-minded people, I’d probably remain alert for three straight days.
For me personally, the single core of these seemingly multiple callings is creation. If you expose me to most any creation medium, I can be off and running.
Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to define our personal core calling, to embrace it, to channel it, and then to run with it. (In fact, walking might be better, for the sake of pacing and enjoyment.)
The challenge can often be choosing only one medium, instead of scattering our efforts with several mediums. For suggestions on how to narrow your options, revisit my blog titled “look backward, advance faster (July 2011).”
To detect your melody, consider eliminating half of the noise in your life for two weeks. Unplug your TV. Drive without the radio on. Exercise without your iPod. Limit emails to one defined hour per day. Go cold turkey. Carry a small notepad or recording device and record the reoccurring whispers. An exciting growth pathway will emerge.
“In life, do the fun things that nobody does.” This was the bequest that I received, last weekend, at a bar in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Here’s the back story:
After an evening surf session on Lake Superior, I sought dinner at a local bar. There, while waiting for my pizza, I embarked on a two-hour conversation with strangers, Mike and John. These guys were buddies for over 40 years. I estimated their age to be 65.
They were small-business owners from the outskirt towns of Scandia and Linstrom. Each had experienced relative success in life, but nothing over the top. On the surface, their lifestyles seemed ordinary, mainstream and comfortable.
That weekend, I learned that Mike and John, along with their wives, were completing their annual Great Lakes RV excursion. Mike was towing his red, seasoned, 1998 Jeep Wrangler ragtop.
During the course of our conversation, they shared with me many stories resulting from their various friendship adventures. I detected that from recent undertakings (during the last 10 years or so) that they had escalated their level of spontaneity and risk-taking during these trips. I sensed that, as they got older, they deliberately and urgently increased their moments of vitality.
For example, while in Cody, Wyoming, several years ago, a local resident told them about an historic ghost town that was only 30 miles away. But, it was a six-hour drive because of the challenging off-road trek to get there.
Sensing and embracing a unique challenge, they climbed in their topless Jeep, and rambled the six hours to the ghost town. On the way, they crossed streams that literally lifted and dragged their Jeep down portions of the river. On land, they faced head-wall terrain obstacles that nearly flipped their vehicle. They became lost every hour and were eventually blanketed with nightfall. They had no signal on their smart-phones. They damaged the Jeep along the way, but it didn’t bother them. The exhilaration that it offered their soul outweighed the material damage.
They did return to Cody in one piece.
As I listened to this and other adventures, I was riveted by not only the details but, more importantly, with the life-giving energy that these memories clearly offered them. They discovered, and shared with me, something special about life’s everyday growth opportunities that most people either don’t notice or shy away from.
Basically, Mike and John began following the road less traveled. As Mike said, “I figure that if these adventures don’t hurt anyone else, why not do them?”
Today, follow Mike and John’s lesson. Do something adventurous that nobody does. Start small if you must. Get your juices flowing, create great memories, and share your experiences with us and others.
If you’re a growth-oriented person, do you seek incremental growth opportunities? Or do you seek transformative growth opportunities?
Today, I briefly highlight the concept of leverage points. My goal is to encourage you to identify, and then leverage, that one quality, or asset, that can produce the most transformational growth in your life or in your organization.
Believe it or not, most of what we do or offer is of low value. We often severely under-utilize the key high-value attribute that can produce vastly superior results for us. Unfortunately, we spend most of our time presenting low value features that limit our advancement and produce mediocre results, at best.
It varies for each person and company, but your highest-value attribute might be a skill, a personality trait or some sort of specialized knowledge.
What key feature are you under-utilizing?
If you seek transformative growth, review your top qualities, skills and attributes, and identify your leverage points. What one quality carries more weight than the others, given your situation and your audience? What’s your best bargaining chip?
If you’re familiar with the 80/20 rule, you know that 20 percent (or less) of your qualities generate 80 percent (or more) of your results. Conversely, 80 percent of your qualities, muster only 20 percent of your results. Are you spending too much time (i.e. 80 percent) generating only 20 percent of your happiness, production, or achievements?
Journal about, and define, a chronic low-growth situation that is bothering you or limiting your business. Additionally, list your (or your organization’s) top five qualities that are relevant to the issue. If you need help, ask for input from someone who clearly understands you or your business. Then, review this list of qualities and identify the one that, if fully leveraged, will have the best chance of transforming your challenge into a revolutionary growth opportunity.
Set your timer. Take five minutes now and, just for fun, do a quick draft of this assignment. This short five minutes could plant the seed for colossal insights and growth. Good luck!
Look around. What do you see? Do you see “the good?” Or do you see “the bad?” It’s easy to get locked into seeing the bad in life. But changing your lens from seeing “the bad” to seeing “the good” may be exactly what you need.
Answer this question: what would happen if you committed just one day to entirely seeing the good in your life? You know, living with gratitude.
This means that you’ll need to turn off your negativity switch. Completely. For one day, you will not allow yourself to grumble about politics. You will deny all of your tendencies to complain about certain co-workers, or the marketing department, or that one family member. Yes, for that entire day, you will commit to seeing the brighter side of others and your situation.
Your energy will be 100 percent applied towards distinguishing the positive. You will recognize your strengths, not your weaknesses. You will see opportunities, instead of threats. You will identify the possible, not the impossible.
In fact, on this chosen day, rain or shine, sound sleep or not, you will wake up and proclaim, “Today, I will acknowledge only the good that’s around me. Today, on this one day, I will live completely with gratitude.” In fact, you will set your smart-phone alarm to alert you every hour, on the hour, to remind yourself that today is your gratitude day. No exceptions.
The basic principal of applying resources – all resources (including mental energy) – to the positive side of things, unleashes potential. Positivity carries us farther. We gain more by leveraging positivity. Conversely, applying our already limited resources to negativity, or weakness, reduces our innate power and potential.
Expressing positivity, even if we don’t feel like it, moves us forward. With commitment, it can overwhelm deficiency, like regularly applying lawn fertilizer to crowd out weeds, instead of continuously applying weed killer, which limits both weeds and grass.
Choose a date next week to live your one-day gratitude experiment. Mark your calendar now, and share your results with us.
Last week, I read the book, The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner. It was terrific. Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live longer. Buettner’s goal was to identify what centenarians do, and what their environments offer, to enable us to live longer.
As I read, several longevity values emerged that were common among centenarians. The more prominent values were family, work and religion. Upon reflection, I wondered whether or not these values were similar to those that enabled enduring companies.
Family – According to the book, centenarians and their family members shared a respect for the concept of family. It provided all generations with a sense of belonging, purpose – and – a source for meaningful relationships. Additionally, elders provided younger generations with meaningful links to the past, which strengthened their identity and stability.
Work – Interestingly, Buettner discovered that many centenarians continued physical labor into their nineties and beyond. This service orientation kept them purposeful and useful to their small communities. Exercise kept these elders physically lean and mentally sharp. Like energizer bunnies, many walked miles every day — to and from the market — to provide for their families.
Religion – Religious practice was also commonly shared among centenarians. Buettner proposed that this behavior may have reduced their stress by shedding worries, providing a philosophical framework, offering a life purpose, nurturing community, and infusing a loving spirit of acceptance.
Albeit different, the values of family, work and religion, remind me of those exhibited by successful companies. Nike and Apple Computer, for example, cultivate such strong familial bonds that some employees and customers have been known to tattoo company logos to themselves. Clearly, these are outward signs that contribute to, and demonstrate, company loyalty, health and longevity.
Additionally, when defining religion as a “body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices” (www.dictionary.com), successful companies, such as The Walt Disney Company, also offer a religion of sorts. Disney’s enthusiastic, world-class and zealous commitment to employee and customer service has contributed greatly to its long-standing record of success.
Are you leading an organization, family or team? Would incorporating Blue Zone-like values into your efforts increase health, happiness and longevity?
When was the last time you stopped at a stop sign? No, I mean a textbook-like, complete stop, with your front bumper geographically even with the sign.
At 10:43, on my way home tonight, I did just that. I arrived at a stop sign, and ceased vehicle advancement. Not only did I stop completely and accurately, but I also paused for five (yes, five) seconds, and felt my breath.
Stopping completely wasn’t my usual practice. Why I did it, I’m not sure. It was, however, the best feeling I had in weeks. There was something unusually satisfying about this abrupt and decisive halt. It was so pleasing, in fact, that I did it again at the next stop sign. And the next.
These fixed stops reminded me that it’s not always necessary to be drawn into someone else’s race or endless game of catch up. It reminded me that each adult can, and should, pause and choose a course that’s personal to him or her.
Try stopping completely at the next stop sign you encounter. Pause for a few seconds. Release yourself from the honk threats. Would you change your course?
Big ideas have power. What big idea powers you?
I’m not limiting this concept to a new business notion, or a new technology. Rather, I’m thinking of something that you would find personal.
When an idea is personal, it has more staying power. It sticks to you. It becomes persistent.
It might be an idea that – on its surface – is considered inconsequential by others. Ironically, this would make it more attractive to you, for it would be uniquely yours, and yours alone. It would be your glimpse of an opportunity that only you could envision.
To me, the idea of marriage provides a good example. More specifically, a marriage where the couple sees it as a true sacrament – something bigger than themselves. They choose – as their combined personal big idea – to involve a higher power. (A triumvirate, if you will.) Whether the couple is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, if their marriage concept invites the “glue” of a special third party, the couple is often happier. And stronger.
Another completely different example comes from my own career experience. It involves my college internship at an ad agency called Fallon McElligott (now known as Fallon).
At the time of Fallon’s launch, there were – as there are now – thousands of competing ad agencies. The vast majority of them struggled for recognition and survival during a dreadful economy. This new Fallon team, however, envisioned an idea bigger than itself.
When other agencies saw the poor economy as a serious threat, the Fallon team saw opportunity. Its idea was to offer the industry’s smartest and most creative advertising. Period. Even if it meant turning clients away. Its unwavering commitment powered it to become “Ad Agency of the Year” within five short years. Additionally, it quickly collected prominent clients such as Porsche, Lee Jeans, Federal Express and Rolling Stone.
For a Midwest-based agency that competed against advertising heavyweights on both coasts, this success was unprecedented. Additionally, it became, and remains, a career highlight for many of the employees that were there.
My final example relates to the band U2. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, U2 has been nourished by the same four members for over 35 years. They remain friends and continue to produce music that is relevant to a broad audience. Their achievement is unparalleled in modern music.
Did U2’s enduring success happen by mistake? I argue that it was not by mistake but, rather, by their commitment to an original big idea that powered and guided their success.
In U2’s case, their idea was that they could deliver a message of hope within an alt-rock and punk music context. They viewed themselves as channeling an uplifting message, in their own authentic way, to a dysfunctional and broken world.
U2’s personal and unified connection to this idea, in my view, powered a growth that went far beyond what they could have accomplished as individuals.
Absorb what’s around you. Heighten your senses. Discover an idea that provides meaning beyond yourself. See where it takes you.
Previously, I described the concept of an individual’s “driving force.” I expressed the importance of identifying your “strategic drive” which sets a unique and sustaining growth trajectory for you or your organization.
This concept of leveraging a “core” is one of my favorite topics. As a result, it’s not surprising that upon reading the book Kazan On Directing, I was excited to discover some killer notions that supported this idea.
For those of you who don’t know, Elia Kazan was one of the most successful film and theatre directors in the 20th Century. He is famously known for directing A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden and many other films.
In the book, we learn that prior to leading a project, Kazan “studied the stage and filmscript to find the single encompassing motive that powers the work, its core sentiment, what he terms its ‘spine.’”
Additionally, he sought the “spine” of each character. He imagined “a backstory to the character that would provide a base for improvisations for the actors.” For example, in Streetcar, Blanche DuBois’ spine was “to find a safe haven.”
Kazan believed that “You have to start from the actor, and you have to find out where the part is alive for him. Somewhere within him the part must exist. You’ve got to find out before you cast them that the element that you need in the performance is there.”
Among Kazan’s many strengths as a director, “perhaps the most crucial was the ability to cast with intuitive brilliance by decoding his actors’ core.” In other words, he could get the best results by clearly understanding, and leveraging, an actor’s strongest point of character connection.
Attentively studying the qualities of a script, and leveraging its single most compelling attribute, drove the successful development of Kazan’s films. By identifying the script’s “spine,” he could maximize the film’s limited resources to a successful conclusion.
Identifying your own spine is just as beneficial. It’s your first and most important step. In doing so, you will improve your own success.
Unleash yourself. Start now.
(For ideas on how to identify your “spine” or driving force, consider reading one of my previous blog posts, “Look Backward, Advance Faster.”)
As a volunteer career coach at my church, I often work with people who struggle to find their career focus. Lacking focus is understandable in today’s constantly changing environment. When our environment changes, our relevance may change. We can become either more relevant or less relevant to something, or to someone. And change can cause us to lose confidence in our capabilities and career focus.
Related to this issue of focus, my favorite business book is “Strategy Pure and Simple” by Michael Robert. I’ve always believed that his concept of an organization’s “driving force” is equally applicable to us as individuals. As a career coach, I often borrow from Robert’s driving force concept to help individuals find their focus.
Robert proposes that “every organization has momentum, or motion. Every organization is heading in some direction . . . there is something pushing, propelling or driving it in that direction. The concept of driving force or strategic drive is that one element or component of a business drives the organization towards certain products, markets, and customers and thus determines the organization’s ‘look’ or profile.”
Robert’s driving force idea is similar to Shepherd’s Law of Economics, which states that “behind each organization must be a singular force, or motive, that sets it apart from any other corporate structure and gives it its particular identity.”
To provide a driving force example, I often compare two companies: General Motors and Honda. Both companies make automobiles. Honda at its heart, however, isn’t an automobile company. Rather, its expertise (or driving force) is small engine manufacturing. Its strategic pathway is to offer products such as motorcycles, scooters, lawn mowers, power generators, automobiles and small aircraft engines. General Motors, on the other hand, doesn’t compete in most of these areas. Its DNA is not small engine development. As a result, General Motors (wisely) chooses to compete along a different strategic trajectory. Compared to Honda (and despite some market overlapping), GM sells a different product mix to a different customer mix.
Similar to Robert and Shepherd above, I believe that each of us has our own innate and highly unique “driving force” or “strategic heartbeat” that naturally propels each of us towards our own special strategic pathway. Each of us has our own unique mix of experiences, skill sets, education, strengths and philosophies, which shapes our own highly personal strategic heartbeat, whether we know it or not. The key is to identify it and then find unique application areas for it.
We are often clouded in our ability to define our strategic heartbeat. To find it, we need to clear away the peer pressure, the parental expectations, the urge to place others’ needs first, or even to sort out our own internal conflicting thoughts. We often stand in the way of ourselves!
Overall, the goal is to create the best fit between (1) your unique driving force and (2) an audience that places the highest value on your specialized offering.
What is your driving force? What powers your progress through the competitive and collaborative landscape?
It was 3am, on a cold and frosty morning, over eight years ago. Sleepless and in bed, I wrestled with my career direction.
Suddenly, the idea struck me like a thunderbolt. I had discovered gold. Within seconds, my mind and soul surged with optimism. It was the most powerful idea I’ve ever had, and I had to act.
Leaping from bed, I scrambled downstairs to my home office. Turning on the lamp, I foraged for a pen and paper. I then cleared everything from my desk.
Eyes half open, I drew a line down the middle of the paper, from top to bottom. At the top of the left hand column, I wrote the heading “Life-Depleting Experiences.” At the top of the right hand column, I wrote “Life-Giving Experiences.” I reflected on my life history related to each of these two headings. I recalled career, friendship, family, volunteer and other experiences.
In the life-giving experiences column, I described situations when I felt purposeful, energetic, capable and valued. I jotted things like, “developing new products” and “thinking strategically.” Conversely, in the life-depleting column, I described situations when I felt purposeless, underappreciated and unsustainable. Here, I wrote things like “day-to-day operations” and “highly structured corporate environments.”
I pooled dozens of notes into the subheadings of “skills used,” “knowledge shared,” “audience type” and “environmental conditions.”
I was captivated by the contents in the life-giving column. While reviewing my entries, it became clear that, to be happy, I needed to pursue a life in the life-giving column. And I should avoid time in the life-depleting column.
I noticed that in certain life-giving situations, for example, I had valiantly and effectively led others. In sub-optimal conditions, I wasn’t able to lead a flock of motherless ducklings. In some settings, I was an excellent coach to someone. At other times, I felt invisible.
The life-giving column was a major guidepost. During this 30-minute process, I unearthed characteristics that clearly suggested where to focus, where I belonged and where I could thrive. Regarding life direction, my answer was right there – in black and white. This was where I could thrive on my terms, and, propose my best offerings to society.
It was powerful.
Of course, it’s not always possible to live entirely in the life-giving column. Knowing that it’s written down, however, is to have an occupational compass.
Additionally, when not in the thriving column, referring to its contents could help one incrementally construct those conditions. To shift the balance, for example, a person could promote his or her skills more confidently, and more often, within that space. She could also seek out supporters within that environment to start building her “tribe.”
When you’re in thriving situations, what skills are you using? What knowledge are you sharing? Who most values your input and why? Place yourself in more of those situations. You’ll be happier and you’ll advance faster.
Believing motivates. It sparks a youthful energy. It powers action, overcomes obstacles and realizes opportunity.
The older we become, however, the more we lose trust in some empowering beliefs. Over time, they get kicked around, bruised and worn. Cracks appear. Doubt seeps in, which limits us.
Don’t let it.
Instead, take inventory of your past empowering beliefs. Sort through the trash of self-doubt, negative emotions, half certainties and naysayers. Consider re-believing in something that was once important to you, but became infected with doubt. Dust off that once empowering idea. Choose to believe in it. Again.
Choose something outlandish; something that raises eyebrows. Maybe it’s believing in your ability to live courageously. Maybe it’s believing in your spouse’s instincts. Maybe it’s believing in your co-worker’s ability to manage her own tasks. Or maybe it’s believing that love is the driving force of the universe.
Whatever it is: believe.
Keep it to yourself (or, if necessary, to one or two supporters). Publicly announcing the belief will instill doubt among some around you, which could re-infect you.
Instead of seeing to believe, believe so that you may see.
As Henry Ford famously stated, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
“Lean.” “Agile.” “Purposeful.”
These words describe 82-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 the 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?
Today, more than ever, people seem to experience fatigue problems. As a result, they experiment with a variety of solutions from energy drinks to coffee, and from supplements to spa treatments. Some solutions seem better than others. Everywhere we turn, however, we’re bombarded with products that claim to solve our issue.
Whether or not these solutions are good or bad, I’ve often thought that they were mere temporary solutions. They seemed subordinate and insufficient – like putting a band-aid on a chronically sprained ankle.
I’ve always believed that the best energy source is doing what we love to do. By deliberately and consistently inserting ourselves into settings that awaken us, we sustain our energy on a more strategic level.
To me, placing ourselves daily in a career that energizes us is the best energy supplement created. If we were to work in life-depleting environments, all the Red Bull in the world wouldn’t solve our energy problems. We wouldn’t be able to sustain our attention or interest. Sure, we could fake it for a while, but we’d soon get trampled. On the other hand, if we were to work in environments that were life giving, we wouldn’t need a single energy supplement.
There are added benefits to doing what we love. Primarily, we’re apt to do more of it. And when we do more of it, we get better faster. With tweaking, it can become our sustainable competitive advantage. Additionally, we serendipitously bump into more opportunities, and they bump into us. We can become more rewarded, financially and otherwise. More importantly, we begin to live life on our own terms.
What awakens you? Think back. Identify. Realign.
Stay tuned. I’ll soon suggest how to find and profit from your optimal energy channel. It just might be under your nose.