BLG Leadership Insights

Proactive in NYC: Nostalgia for the Purple Onion and Overwhelmed by Disney

Squalor, acrid smoke, moth-bitten second-hands suits, woefully hookers, overflowing dented garbage cans and massive $100 a month lofts in Soho.

Some of these things are still with us (not the apartments) but much has been replaced with swanky W hotels, hand tailored suits, sorted and recycled garbage, tiny $2,800 a month studio apartments in the East Village, no-smoking laws, and a day that begins punctually at 7:45. The imagineers at Disney have replaced the hookers with Snow White and multi-million dollar auctions at Christy’s have replaced the street art and graffiti of Lower Manhattan. For some, it was all over when the legendary birthplace of punk, CBGBs, was turned into a high end clothing store.

The cleaning up of New York is to be celebrated, but there’s a thin line between putting a nice shinny gloss on an environment and its embourgeoisement. When Frank Sinatra sang “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”, he didn’t have in mind a well typed resume with a highly stylized cover letter.

Suddenly, New York may not be the best choice for the artistic struggler. To be a functioning artist you need the right place, the right ambiance and you need to be able to struggle while not being overwhelmed. New York’s virtue lay in the places between the Upper East Side and Battery Park. These nooks and crannies were safe havens for artists to explore. There was Alphabet City, segments of the Bowery, and even Tribeca, but now the nooks and crannies are quickly disappearing.

The growth that we’ve seen under Giuliani and Bloomberg is to be celebrated. New York City has become the most popular tourist spot in the world. It seems that even hardened New Yorkers find themselves mesmerized, like tourist,s by bright lights of Times Square.

Inevitably these veterans of Old New York start to reminisce and realize that their scrubbed down, cleaned up, physically fit city has lost its energy. A friend of mine told me the other day:

“Good lord there are almost no New Yorkers in New York anymore…they’re all from Iowa.”

Well, how can anyone make it or be creative in this pristine environment? What about the old days? We tend to glorify Dylan, Baez, Ginsberg and Rothko. We wax nostalgic about the energy of the old place. But remember, for every Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Julian Schanbel, and Grandmaster Flash there are hundreds if not thousands of equally talented souls who died sad and anonymous deaths on the not-so-glamorous streets.

Point in fact it was never easy to make it in New York. Squalor has never guaranteed success; chain smoking at the Purple Onion never guaranteed creativity and ingenuity. Tending bar at the Mudd Club never promised visibility. The truth is, New York was almost as impossible then as it is now. Then, as is the case today, you had to network, deal with the power-brokers, hold meaningless jobs and share miniscule apartments with 3 roommates.

When Sinatra claimed if “I can make it there I can make it anywhere” it wasn’t the glorification of the famed New York ambiance. It was in fact a mission statement for survival in the Big Apple: If you can be proactive in New York then you will succeed. New York is the biggest opportunity and the most horrific obstacle in your way all at the same time. It’s obviously better to show up with a few million bucks in your pocket, but it’s crucial to show up with your own proactive capacity. And that’s what New York is really about. Corporate or not, it demands that you lead and not be passive.

Picture Credit: Darwin Bell

BLG Leadership Insights Features

Snow White the Artistic Entrepreneur

In 1930’s movies and popular shorts were exclusively produced and distributed by seven studios: Paramount, Universal, MGM, Twentieth Century–Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia, and RKO. These seven studios known collectively as “the studio system” monopolized what the American public saw and heard.

In 1934 Walt Disney started work on a feature length cartoon that was mocked and derided by Hollywood studios as “Disney’s Folly.” Disney’s project was called,  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The major studio heads believed that adults, not children, were the principal economic force driving studio profits. Disney’s announcement that he would make an eighty-three-minute cartoon out of a well-known fairy tale seemed preposterous at best.

To make matters worse Disney planned to spend three times the average Hollywood budget to produce the film. In the middle of the Great Depression studio heads from all corners of Hollywood expected the venture to bankrupt Disney.

To say they were wrong would be a gross understatement.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made a lifetime domestic gross of $184,925,486 across its original release and several reissues. To give some perspective that figure adjusted by inflation is about $866,550,000 in today’s dollars. Compare that to Avatar’s domestic gross of “only” $761,577,300. Apple and Avatar have mastered creative genius in varying degrees, but no one has put all the components of creative genius together quite like Walt Disney. 

The movie was also the first to have an official soundtrack. In a true genius stroke, Disney created multiple licensable characters that he transitioned from the silver screen to toys and theme-park characters. As Edward Jay Epstein notes in his article on the economics of Hollywood: “Here was Hollywood’s future: Its profits would come not from squeezing down the costs of producing films but from creating films with licensable properties that could generate profits in other media over long periods of time.”

Today the name Disney is synonymous with innovation and imagination. The key to Walt Disney’s early success was the strategic ability to anticipate and subsequently create a business model centered on creating entertainment focused on children. Furthermore, Disney entered an industry that was able to leverage its strengths in order to create a stronghold in a rapidly growing market segment. In short, Disney’s skill lay in his creative genius.

Disney in many ways the first artistic entrepreneur.

An artistic entrepreneur is capable of doing three critical things:

  1. Possessing a unique voice
  2. The exceptional capacity to change that voice into a product
  3. Translating the new product for a growing market that will continue

When leading we should never forgot Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Picture Credit: PGamba