New York after Sandy and Barack: Beware of what you see and what you hear

Storm in New York

Last week I was fortunate enough to be in New York during the Presidential Elections and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was an interesting reminder that being close to something may give you a totally different perspective on how events are unfolding. This doesn’t always mean you get a better one. 

A false image of Times Square 

Presidential Election night in New York 2012

A quiet Times Square on Presidential Election Night

Wednesday morning in New York brought the evitable analyses of why Barack won, why Mitt lost and claims and counter claims of who knew what and what this meant for the country. In the middle of all of this the TV news described the previous evening and how the events had unfolded. In particular, journalists talked of a frenzy of people cheering and partying long into the night on Times Square to celebrate Obama’s victory.  Interestingly, there were no pictures of this enormous crowd.

This is perhaps not surprising. I had been fortunate enough to witness events in that very same place having arrived just a few hours earlier in New York.  What I saw with my own eyes was about 50 very cold people looking up a Giant TV screen and waiting for the numbers to change. If anything, the Hard Rock Café seemed to be pulling in more of the crowd that the election. Don’t believe everything on TV, eh?

 No signs of devastation 

Still, the media is a necessary evil because there was also something that I didn’t see; any real physical sign that there had been a hurricane only a few days before. Having watched the shocking pictures on TV like everyone else I had half expected the Empire State Building to be in ruins. And yet, the traffic was flowing smoothly, the subway system was working and New Yorker pushed and shoved their way past you in the usual manner as they rushed to work. The Big Apple was surprisingly normal, though shockingly cold and wet in the awful weather.

Again this picture was incredibly deceiving. Colleagues told me that their universities had been shut down for the week due to lack of power (which means no light and no heat). For once, this was no blessing for any students who were a bit late on their assignments. Since they lacked power in their accommodation too, this was hardly a fun time to skip a few days of class. Indeed, if the universities seemed surprisingly crowded it was because they were now trying to catch up on all the classes that had been missed.

On the coastal regions things were even more difficult. Many of the people I met had spent the week trying to get food to those affected by the storm. The Wall Street Rotary Club was an excellent example of a team of people who had begun working within hours of the storm’s passing. Colleagues told me of the difficulties of doing this due to lack of petrol or how they used their cards to charge up their cell phones and tried to stay in contact. None of this was apparent to the passing visitor but had clearly been the major occupation of residents for over a week.

Strategy and the Elephant

In Strategy Safari, Henry Mintzberg retells the story by John Godfrey Saxe of 6 blind

blind men touching an elephant.

Professor Henry Mintzberg retells the story by John Godfrey Saxe of 6 blind men touching an elephant.

men who are touching an elephant. As they are all touching different parts, they each have a different vision of what it is. Hence, the man who touches its tail declares that it is a snake etc. None of them realizes that it is an elephant.

Being close to something may give you a different perspective. But if you want the real picture you may need to cross check your different sources of informations.

Good luck to all those people who are trying to get back to a normal life.

Grenoble  Studying in Grenoble  Business School  Grenoble EM  International Affairs   Higher Education   ESC Grenoble   Strategy  Blog  Global Ed   Graduate Business School    Mark Thomas

See also:


Peter Lorange

Barack Obama: The Six Billion Dollar Man

Is innovation becoming less and less effective in business schools?

Censorship: The Berlin Wall and the Great Firewall of China


Filed under Careers, Countries, Culture, Education, Leadership, News, Politics, Presidential Elections, Society, Travel, USA

6 responses to “New York after Sandy and Barack: Beware of what you see and what you hear

  1. As an American who witnessed last week’s events from a distance, this is an excellent and wise reminder. The old adage believe half of “what you see and none of what you read” has new merit in our age of instant news and analysis. Perspective is everything.

    • Mark Thomas

      Thank you Graham for your excellent comment.

      I was reminded this week of the astronaut, Michael Collins, who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission that put the first men on the moon.

      HIs job was to circle the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic landing. This meant that despite being the third closest person in history to the moon, unlike people across the world glued to their TVs, he saw absolutley nothing of the landing. Again being close doesn’t always give you the best view. Your adage sums this up very nicely.

      Anyway, I hope that you and your community weren’t too badly affected by the weather and have been able to get back to normal as quickly as possible. If you can call working in academia ‘normal!’ 🙂

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