- - Thursday, December 7, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When I was a kid, on Sundays my dad would always have the “60 Minutes” television program on. My brothers and I had an open invitation to watch.

I clearly remember (initially, at least) how much I didn’t really want to watch it. Yet, every Sunday dad would turn it on and again “invite” us to gather around the television.

I remember hearing the ticking of the stopwatch at the beginning of the show, and then how at each segment an image of a 15-minute block of time would flash on the screen.

I knew the show was getting close to the end when Andy Rooney came on.

Now, I liked Rooney. He had a way of telling a story that made you look at the world differently.

I would always walk away from his segment asking myself,  “Why does the world have to be that way? And what was Andy really saying to us about our own lives and the world we live in?”

For me, Rooney’s satirical approach to describing the realities we faced as people trying to find our way always hit home. Rooney’s segment opened my eyes and made me want to watch more. As I got a little older, I began to see the genius of the entire show, in particular the work of some of the reporters on the show like the iconic Mike Wallace.

Fast forward 35 years and I assure you that if you come to my house on a Sunday evening at 6 p.m. you will find “60 Minutes” on the TV.

Amid the chaos of another week getting started, the faces and voices of modern-day 60 Minutes personalities Scott Pelley and Anderson Cooper fill the air from the same seats once occupied by the greats like Rooney, Wallace, Leslie Stahl, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Bob Simon and Ed Bradley. And yes, my kids are invited to watch.

Recently, I saw a “60 Minutes” segment that reminded me of just how special this show is — and just how much this show can be used as a powerful teaching tool as well.

It’s not just the stories that make this show great; it’s also the reporters, and specifically the way they ask well-researched, probing questions and find a way to really connect with the person they are interviewing. The net effect for the viewing audience is like peering into the soul of the people being interviewed.

In this particular segment, Mr. Cooper masterfully interviewed Danny Meyer, the founder of Shake Shack and a celebrated innovator in the food, hospitality and restaurant industries. Today, Mr. Meyer’s company, Union Square Hospitality Group, oversees 15 different restaurants – all but one in New York – operating upscale eateries, casual bistros, a cocktail lounge, and a neighborhood bakery.

The opener of the segment teased the audience with the tidbit that Mr. Meyer recently eliminated tipping in his restaurants. (What???) Once again I was hooked and unable to look away from the television. What unfolded next was one of the most intimate and insightful discussions about food and people I had ever witnessed. But, in reality, it was about so much more than food or people. It was about connection.

Here’s a taste of the conversation:

ANDERSON COOPER: I don’t know how to ask this. But, I mean, were you a chubby kid, if you were eating all the time?

DANNY MEYER: I actually was a chubby kid — by the time I got to be 12 years old, 12, 13, 14. And that’s kind of how I always felt thereafter. And so it, it gives me great pleasure that today I can kind of eat as much as I want ‘cause I know how to exercise. And I know how to balance it out. But it also probably put me in a position where I love seeing other people eat.

Anderson then got straight to the heart of Mr. Meyer’s obsession with hospitality as the key to a successful food business.

ANDERSON COOPER: So the experience of dining out for you is the most important thing?

DANNY MEYER: I think the experience of how you are made to feel is the most important thing … Hospitality basically says that the most important business principle at work, way beyond that the food taste great, and by the way, if the food doesn’t taste great you’re never coming back here, but if the food tastes great, that alone doesn’t not assure that you will come back here. So what hospitality does is it adds the way we made you feel to how good the food tasted.

The key, Mr. Meyer concluded, is to hire people who are intuitive and empathetic in order to achieve this transcendent level of hospitality. He has more than 2,000 employees, and he trains them to pick up on the customers’ cues. Or, said another way, to read their signs.

Here’s the lesson I heard and why I went in to such great detail about how great a show “60 Minutes” is and how the reporters are the key to the greatness of the show (Thanks, Dad). Everyone on Earth is walking around wearing an invisible sign that says “Make me feel important.” And your job if you want to be successful socially or in business is to understand the size of the font of this invisible sign, how brightly it’s lit, AND TO READ IT!!!

It’s our job to read those signs and to deliver the experience each individual person needs and is advertising if we want to be successful ourselves. Using the Anderson Cooper interview as an example, Mr. Meyer’s sign reads “make me feel important by letting me tell you everything I know about food and hospitality.”

This lesson isn’t just for people who work in the food or hospitality sector. It applies to any sector.

I’ve spent my entire career coaching and educating others. I’ve learned that education tells us “why” and that training tells us “how.” I’ve also learned that people don’t necessarily want personal development, but they do want personal change.

For those of us in the teaching at the college level, before the notes, the tests, the grades, the graduation, and the transcript – before any of these things – the first step in producing real change in the college environment is connecting with the student. Connection is the key. It takes things out of the noisy, distracted, blurry realm, and brings it in to the realm of possibilities. It makes the unimportant important. It makes us vested in the future as opposed to simply “making it” through the day.

The change that occurs as a result of connection is embedded in each individual’s personal narrative. Once you know and understand another person’s narrative – once you know their story – only then can you help them improve it, amend it or rewrite it. Doing this translates into real results. Once they get to a new story I see students who redefine the risks they are willing to take, be more intentional about relationships they choose, and re-imagine the life they envisioned for themselves.

But it starts when they tell you their story.

Danny Meyer wrote a new narrative and changed not just his life but also an industry. He went his own way.

You should, too.

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