Twelve Lessons from Six Days in New York City

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 12a
April 1, 2017

By Dan Coughlin

Barb and I took our kids, Ben and Sarah, to New York City recently for six days. First time we’ve ever done that. Technically it was Sarah’s Senior Trip, but it turned out to be a massive learning experience for me. Here are twelve lessons I learned that I think can be used in any business.

Lesson #1: Build a magnet.

What is New York City? How do you define it?

That question went through my mind as went from Times Square to Central Park to The Plaza Hotel to Tiffany’s to the NBA store to the Statue of Liberty to the 9/11 Memorial to the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center to a Broadway Show to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden to the NBC Studios to the Today Show and to Ellen’s Stardust Theater.

It finally hit me. NYC is a magnet. It attracts great architects, builders, actors, designers, entertainers, athletes, and so on.

In your business, who do you want to attract to you in the form of employees and customers? Around what type of value do you want to magnetize these people to you both personally and as an organization?

Lesson #2: Be polite.

Despite all contrary reports, everyone we met in NYC was friendly and patient, including employees and citizens. It made our experience really, really enjoyable.

Are you and the people you work with polite and friendly and easy to work with, or cranky and bossy and difficult to work with?

Lesson #3: Maintain breadth and depth.

Within the type of business you want to be in, provide both breadth and depth. NYC covers sports to business to the arts to education to entertainment with an extraordinary level of breadth and depth. That’s what we should all aspire to provide in the area we want to work in.

Lesson #4: Be really, really good at what you do.

The singers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner were amazing. They were also the waiters and waitresses in the diner working for tip money. The Uber drivers were incredible, even during a 12-inch snowstorm. All the actors and actresses in Wicked, the show on Broadway we saw, were phenomenal. The pages on the NBC Studio Tour were like long-term professionals. The 9/11 Memorial is breathtaking, and the new World Trade Center is 1776 feet high (get it?), making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere. As I turned 360 degrees, there were incredible buildings everywhere I looked.

Whatever you do you need to do it really, really well. That’s how you stand out in any crowd.

Lesson #5: Stay calm and have fun.

If I had to drive in NYC, I would be stressed out. As in heart attack stress. The drivers we met were laughing at our stress. Somehow a bicycle rider magically went in between two taxis and came out without a scratch. Al Roker and Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were smiling on the set of The Today Show and when they came outside in 25-degree weather.

A restaurant named Tony’s di Napoli was packed at 10 PM on a Sunday night, and the waiters and waitresses looked totally relaxed.

Have fun with whatever you do. We look back now and laugh that our plane had to land in Albany for a few hours because the weather was too bad at LaGuardia Airport.

Lesson #6: Make it timeless and practical.

While we were on vacation I was reading a great book by Chip and Joanna Gaines called The Magnolia Story. Joanna explains how she focuses on her home designs being both timeless and practical. That’s what NYC was like. Timeless in many ways, and yet practical and functional at the same time.

As you focus on creating value for customers, consider how to make it timeless and practical.

Lesson #7: Have spaces that you help you re-energize.

In the middle of Manhattan on property that has to be worth a billion dollars rests Central Park. Think about that. NYC values 843 acres of prime real estate to re-energize yourself so much that they have preserved it since 1858.

What spaces do you have at home and at work that help you to re-energize? Value those spaces in your life. Invest in creating and preserving them. You will need them to keep growing as a person and as an organization.

Lesson #8: Think and act for the long term.

The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center were built during the Great Depression. Not the Great Recession, but the Great Depression as in 85 years ago. Central Park was built 160 years ago. The Statue of Liberty was built in 1875, and stands just as proudly as ever.

Do work that has a lasting impact, as in its impact will last for many generations, not for the next three months.

Lesson #9: Time with your family is invaluable.

Quite literally the four of us were within twenty feet of each other every minute for six days, or so it seemed. That would be two teenagers and two people in their fifties. And it was awesome. Your work is not your life. Your work is a subset of your life. Enjoy your family. The best investment I know of is time with your family.

Lesson #10: Be ready for your moment.

Matt Lauer is really good at what he does. He’s been the co-anchor of The Today Show for 20 years. We saw where Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for his first 10 years, and where Jimmy Fallon does it today, or tonight. Chip and Joanna Gaines had been fixing up homes for over ten years before their hit television show, Fixer Upper, became a reality.

All these folks got an opportunity, and they were ready for that moment.

If you received an incredible break right now in your work, would you be ready to seize that moment and make the most of it?

Lesson #11: Make your work interactive with your customers.

At The Today Show, Barb shook hands with Matt Lauer (Perhaps the highlight for her not only of our trip, but of our marriage. Just kidding honey. I think.) Sarah gave a high five to Jenna Bush on The Today Show. Al Roker took the time to shake hands with nearly every person around the outdoor stage. Ben talked NBA basketball with an Uber driver. We were all on The Today Show for about two seconds as the camera scanned the crowd.

Do you create memorable experiences as you interact with your customers? Don’t be the wizard behind the curtain. Get out and interact with your customers.

Lesson #12: You have to have freedom to build a great business.

We spent one day just getting to the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial. It really hit me that no great business exists without people having the freedom to make decisions and take risks. We wouldn’t have that freedom if it were not for millions of military people sacrificing enormously to preserve that freedom. Freedom should be cherished for the incredible value that it brings to all of us every day.

And then we have to have the courage to hang on to that freedom and use it. My favorite lines in Wicked were from the song, Defying Gravity. Here they are:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity

Appreciate your freedom and have the courage to make the most of it. Don’t play by the rules of someone else’s game. Learn from every life situation you’re in, and apply those lessons to making a significant difference in your work and in your life.

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