What Happened to the Graffiti?

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to New York City with his wife. It was his first time there in 20-some years, and I was curious to see if he enjoyed it. He’s not a big city kind of guy, and I knew he wasn’t going to like the fancy restaurants, shopping, or the theatre, but sometimes people still like New York just for being New York.

I got him on the phone when he returned, and while he did enjoy being there for a few days he was glad to be back home. He then asked me a question: “What happened to all the graffiti?”

It’s an interesting question. I hadn’t thought about graffiti in New York in ages. It’s not there anymore.

For those of you wondering what I’m talking about, think about the ’70s and early ’80s. Every movie, every TV show, and every image of New York City showed building walls and subways trains covered in graffiti. From Saturday Night Fever to Taxi Driver, graffiti was as much a part of New York as the Empire State Building.

But graffiti hardly exists anymore. And graffiti is just one of the many negatives that’s changed: crime is down, empty buildings are full, formerly decaying neighbourhoods are thriving. The city has been cleaned up, polished, and repackaged as Sex and the City and How I Met Your Mother. You may love New York or hate it, but you can’t argue that the city hasn’t been transformed from its darkest days.

Like New York in the ’70s, your company may be on the ropes. Maybe it has structural or organizational problems. Or maybe it’s just not running as smoothly as you believe it could be.

Whatever may be wrong with your business today, I guarantee it’s not as bad as New York City in the ’70s. And they turned that around. What’s stopping you?

By the way, if you like hearing about company, city, and brand turn-around stories and theories of how and why it can happen, read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Or download an audiobook if that’s easier.

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