12 Dec Lessons From New York
In October 2015 I went on a working holiday to New York, (Cynics insert the word ‘junket’ here). Before I left I was struck by the vast amount of business people around me that had been to or were also planning a trip to the USA and in particular, New York. Perhaps it’s a bit like buying a new car, as soon as you choose yours the same make and model miraculously appears everywhere. There’s nothing new in the ever-increasing flow of Australians travelling to America for business, pleasure or a mix of both. The question I had was, if I was going to do it, how could I get the most value out of the experience to better my business?
I was lucky enough to have a contact in New York City who worked in a similar business to mine. They generously supplied accommodation, a fantastic guide to the city and best of all, offered their first hand experience in working in the creative industries in New York. I describe it as a ‘mini internship’. Each day would be spent working together at cafes in and around the city, from Harlem to Brooklyn, Columbus Circle to Chelsea and Greenwich Village. Learning as much as possible from each other was the goal. As a bonus we met up with several other creatives and quizzed them on their experiences of working in agencies or as sole traders and small business owners. For eleven days I was able to ask an exhausting list of questions and soak up a wealth of relevant information. Perhaps most importantly, I answered a host of questions from my mentor about my business, mainly, ‘What do you do, how do you do it, and why?’
As amazing as it was to find myself wondering around New York with a personal guide, it was the questioning of my own business that was of the most value. For eleven short days I had someone with no vested interests asking me to justify my practices, not so they could learn from me or criticise but purely because they believed in the value of stopping to question yourself. It sounds simple but it was about delving further than what I found comfortable and not settling for the superficial surface layer of answers. For it to be a worthwhile exercise I’d need to dig deep to find the truth of who I was as a business person and what my brand was all about.
What I came back with was a valuable lesson (and a photo to match from Brooklyn Bridge, see below…). It was to proceed with caution, not in a negative sense or in place of gusto and enthusiasm, just to remain strategic throughout the process. I was on the right track but needed to remember to stop, question myself, dig deeper than my own surface level of comfort and really ask – ‘What am I doing and why am I doing it?’ It was relevant for every product or service I was offering, ‘Why am I doing this, how am I doing it’, and yet again back to ‘Why am I doing it this way?’ The deeper you dig, the more you get to the truth of who you are and what you really have to offer. Every time you think you have the answer add an extra ‘Why?’
It’s something that I now follow through with when meeting with clients. My questions of them in an initial briefing delve further and I now ask them to dig deeper, ‘What are you wanting to achieve and why?’ If you get past all of the meaningless surface answers, arrive at the truth and still want to head in the same direction – great, proceed with caution.