The world of New York in the land of America

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

New York is overwhelming which is why everyone from everywhere is eager to see it. Over the 8 days in my Hilton pied-a-terre, I visited the Statue of Liberty, shared the same corners of Mid-Town as the President of Iran, toured the USS Intrepid Museum as well as the opening of IBM’s Think and MOMA’s Talk to Me exhibits in addition to a birthday party at BowlMor, several delicious dinners and sights of fashion and individuality that I could not see in a lifetime in Durham. Yet, I was completely amazed by the falafel truck owner who sold 1,000s of meals per day to nearly every market segment imaginable: tourists, school groups, financial execs, visitors, hometowners, even other food-truck vendors. The lines were so long, like 150 people, that I asked a chowing-down limo driver “what is he serving?!” He replied, “the lines are usually longer…all of the way down the block.” OK! The Unstoppable Power of a Good & Well-Executed Idea. Over a couple of days, I observed this food-truck’s supply chain of mini-vans and cars bringing to him vats and cartons of chick-peas and tomatoes and utensils. Meanwhile, Kodak is down to its last couple of hundred million because it never figured-out how to compete with the digital camera marketplace that it invented (you could look it up).

Of course, what is impressive about New York is all of the things that you can do and still be disappointed by what you didn’t do or even know that there was to do. The more that I visit, the more that I realize how segmented is its geography and neighborhoods. Mid-Town is far from East Village, although only a $15 cab ride; 6th Ave and 53rd is a long way from Pier 82, although only a 25 minute walk. Seeing one’s world through the eyes of a visitor is recalibrating. We, me with my Swedish and Lithuanian guests, hustled on Sunday morning for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. First, underground on the #1 train to the base of the Island, aka Battery Park. Out of the subway tunnel into the open space of the Park; into the Homeland Security tent then on board a jam-packed ferry to the Statue of Liberty. That one has to nearly undress for security purposes in order to visit the Statue could be thought provoking. Happily, the symbol of America’s premise elegantly inspires as we discussed the chaotic and had-to-be dangerous journeys that awaited the immigrants for whom Ellis Island and the Statue meant so much in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My Swedish friend mused ‘why did we select Minnesota as our rallying point?! Couldn’t they have chosen Florida?!” Last week, Hewlett-Packard fired and hired its 4th and 5th CEOs in 6 years now favoring the former CEO of eBay. Perhaps there is an auction in the works.

We were all impressed by the size and capabilities of the USS Intrepid, a World War II vintage aircraft carrier. More impressive to my corporate guests was that this enormous and enormously complicated ship was built in about two years. Such a feat combines examples of motivated teamwork, fearful necessity and bottomless budget. During our own planning discussions, we laughed a couple of times about ‘getting it (our tasks) done’ in less time than the construction of the Intrepid.

Our Innovation Workshop concluded with a visit to IBM’s Think Exhibit at Lincoln Center. This venue intends to celebrate IBM’s Centennial, promote its interconnection with the global economy and to relate itself to the simply brilliant and brilliantly simple discoveries in astronomy, medicine and communications over recorded history. I’m stuck recalling a video clip of President John Kennedy announcing The Moon Program at Rice University.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Could you imagine, don’t you wish that we would exhibit such political conviction and collective fortitude in the face of the challenges and opportunities of our time by asking not what our country can do for us….