This is the second in a series of posts focused on the Psychology of a Great City. The purpose is to identify specific psychological traits present in the psyche of citizens of the country’s greatest cities and examine how our city measures up and where we have opportunity to grow.
How an individual or a team copes with a set back is an important characteristic of leadership. How a city rebounds from adversity can define its ability to achieve greatness.
Reflect on the sentiment expressed by the Memphis Grizzlies after a devastating collapse in the NBA Playoff opener last Sunday. The Grizzlies had put the Clippers in their place for three full quarters, inflating the score advantage by 27-points at one time. Then somehow, despite the deafening noise in FedEx Forum and despite a clear athletic advantage, the Grizzlies lead slipped away, leaving the team, its fans and arguably the entire city utterly crushed.
National commentators wrote the team off. They said the Grizzlies were done. Memphis couldn’t come back from that loss, couldn’t regain its composure. The fabricated storyline of how Memphis starts Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph could never share the spotlight.
I heard a few people preaching that same tired narrative: “Well, this is Memphis. This is how it always goes.” I thought the fans might start jumping off the bandwagon. I was terrified that atmosphere would be sucked right out of the FedEx Forum at tipoff at the start of Game 2.
But something amazing happened instead.
The fans were there, displaying those now beloved Believe Memphis Growl Towels in defiance for the national television audience and world to see. And at the end of the fourth quarter, the streamers fell again and the Grizzlies declared victory, proving once again that you can never count Memphis out.
How does Memphis respond to adversity?
If history tells us anything, I’d say this is a trait of greatness we’ve got in spades.
In fact, in 1879, after more than 30,000 citizens died or fled due to the Yellow Fever Epidemic, the City of Memphis lost its charter. Until 1893, the city was governed as a taxing district.
The city and its citizens have a rich history of comebacks, even in the most devastating circumstances.
Consider the story of specialty bike outfitter Victory Bicycle Studio.
After years of guiding friends and acquaintances through the bike purchasing process, long-time friends Clark Butcher and Robert Taylor decided to open a full service bicycle sales and repair shop that catered to customers seeking a personalized bike purchasing experience.
On September 1, 2010, Victory opened its doors in a small business complex at the East side of Midtown’s Cooper Young neighborhood.
“We were really meticulous in our planning,” recalls Butcher, who’d studied business and was responsible for marketing the bike shop’s launch. “In those first few weeks of business, we were booming.”
Three weeks into operation, while Victory was closed for the staff’s typical Monday day off, a contractor doing some welding work at an adjacent retailer accidentally set fire to insulation in the wall separating the two stores.
“Our launch had gone so perfectly,” Butcher remembers. “We’d executed our plan well and had gotten so much positive buzz…then the fire happened.
No on writes a how-to book or blog on how to handle that, he says.
After just three weeks in operation, all of Victory’s positive momentum had literally turned to ashes.
To make things worse, the fire occurred three weeks before the grand opening of the Shelby County Greenline, a time period which propelled nearly all other Memphis bike shops to their best sales figures in years.
Conventional wisdom said the start-up bike shop was finished.
But something amazing happened instead.
“We lost sleep over it for a few days,” says Butcher. “Then we moved on.”
Turns out that the most important part of Victory survived the September fire – the spirit of its owners.
“You can’t play the blame game,” Butcher says. “We learned a lot from it (the experience).”
It may have even made their business stronger.
In the four months it took to rebuild the bike shop, Butcher, Taylor and one other full time employee worked out of their homes. With bikes scattering their dining rooms and hallways, the trio continued to repair bikes for their small client base.
“We knew we had to keep servicing our customer,” Butcher says. “We were building a brand (about service) and we had to keep going, even though it was a challenge in that environment.”
Two and a half years later, Victory is a flagship of the revitalized Broad Avenue district in Binghamton, an area once left for dead that’s experienced a resurgence thanks to the spirit of ownership of a group of new tenants determined to make the once-blighted area thrive once again.
And there’s a new fire burning at Victory – this one less destructive, but perhaps even more powerful.
“There’s a bullish, ‘we’ll do it ourselves’ attitude,” Butcher says of the mindset of his colleagues and the business owners on Broad Avenue who last year took it upon themselves to paint bike lanes and decorative crosswalks on the street.
Business is booming and Butcher and Taylor aren’t looking back, only forward.
The lesson here: Don’t let a temporary defeat define you. The people, companies, neighborhoods and even cities that can turn a defeat into a fire that fuels them will in the end be a great success.