Effort Versus Results

29 Nov

Yesterday, Alan Bedenko posted his review of the Niagara Falls Holiday Market. It was a review filled with a lot of positive feedback.

The Niagara Falls Holiday Market is a phenomenal idea. Take a largely abandoned, gritty street not far from a natural wonder, invite locally-owned businesses and artisans like 464 Gallery, Sarah Walley, Delish, Zillycakes, Tony Walker, and others to set up in little sheds along the street, add a festive atmosphere, some concerts, a skating rink – and voila, a European-style Christkindlmarkt.

It has huge potential to help reinvigorate a dead downtown, to bring people to the New York side of the Falls for something that isn’t casino or waterfall-related, and to start a great tradition

When an event has so much promise, do it right.  I want the market to work – to thrive and to become a tradition.

There was also some honest criticism of what appears to be an event funded with nearly half a million dollars of public monies.

I’m hopeful that this event gets its act together sooner rather than later. Tony Walker was nowhere to be found. Arrowhead Winery and other local vendors we were looking forward to checking out were absent or closed. 464 Gallery had a great tent-full of locally-produced arts and crafts, and we were honored to meet Sarah Walley herself, who had a table set up to sell her famous French macarons. But Tony Walker? There was no evidence of it anywhere. Biscoff Gourmet was shuttered. I didn’t see Menne Nursery. andBuffalo was still under construction. I didn’t see the Sabres store, either. I saw no evidence of DiCamillo’sat that hour. At least two cabins were empty and without signs.

A full forty-eight hours after the market opened to the public and there were still vendors who hadn’t set up? Shuttered storefronts? Alan was much kinder than I would have been in my review.
As usual, any time Alan or I review something and post any sort of criticism of it, we get pummeled by the Reflexively Positive Buffalo Mafia and get chided for being hypercritical jerks. Some people just don’t like criticism and the constant setting of lowered expectations and the mindless cheerleading when those expectations are met is ruining this wonderful region.

It’s times like this that I like to pull out the comparison between efforts and results. I do this to remind people that we should celebrate excellence, not mediocrity.

Efforts: The incremental work done to achieve a particular end. Not to be broadly celebrated unless related to toddler potty training.

Results: Something tangible that comes from the purposeful application of effort. Something to be celebrated.

I save positive affirmations for people who create results and exceed a high level of expectations. I sometimes discuss efforts, offer criticism or get involved, but rarely (if ever) celebrate the mere presence of effort or even the attainment of lowered expectations. I write about it because I want other people to do the same.

Why? Because efforts don’t necessarily align themselves neatly with results. Buffalo and Niagara Falls have enough plans, plans to make future plans, diagrams, development dioramas, proposals, and designs to fill the once proposed Adelphia Tower or Bashar Issa’s City Tower. In fact, old time Buffalo radio host Danny Neavereth once proposed we open a museum in which we would put all those failed plans on display. We could probably even construct a museum of half-assed results in this town and it would be nearly as large.

Celebrating efforts also leads to a exaltation of mediocrity and a lingering stink of desperation. Many in this area celebrate business churn in our retail districts, celebrate announcements about planned future openings of things, celebrate waterfront dioramas featuring buildings without proposed tenants, etc. Many of us celebrate efforts to redesign our zoning code…call me when it’s approved and in place. Until then, get to work and spare me the frigging press releases.

Think about the various boutique and large scale hotel projects that have been announced for Downtown Buffalo in the past three years. How many of those were ultimately built? Think about the various preservation efforts which summarily fell apart due to lack of capital, shortsighted developers, lawsuits or regulatory issues? There are almost too many to count. Remember Mayor Brown’s “Good News In The City” spreadsheet published on the city website which featured all the planned developments in the City of Buffalo? He stopped posting it when the failure rate for listed projects approached 70%.

When you plan an event or a festival and do it with minimal effort and organization, don’t expect to get blind praise. Be better. Plan for excellence, strive to achieve it, accept responsibility when it falls short and celebrate when you blow past your own high expectations. If you fail, own it and don’t make excuses. Don’t look for a soft landing in the platitudinous “Come on, it was good enough, stop criticizing, it was better than nothing” thinking which pervades the region. If you succeed, tell the world about it and drown in the praise.

Does my lack of enthusiasm for announcements and plans make me cynical or skeptical? No, I like to think I’m a guy who demands results and expects success. I don’t like to hand out participation ribbons, I like to get excited about real things. Also, when efforts are announced but fail to gain traction or meet expectations, it simply feeds the dragon of disillusionment and frustration people have with Buffalo and Western New York. The result? The addition of yet another log to the burning sense of disappointment many feel with their hometown and making it that much harder for further efforts to succeed.

So, give me a call when buildings are built on the waterfront, because we’ve seen the sweet, titillating renderings before. Call me when the casino is built, not before bearded men from Parkside sue it into rusted obsolescence. Send me a media advisory when 50 Court Street is done, Mr. Paladino, not when you’ve announced your seventh site plan in ten years. Show me how you executed on an excellent idea like a holiday market at the foot of one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations.

I reserve “Hoorays” and back pats for people and organizations who actually finish something. Who make a plan with little fanfare, implement that plan and ultimately produce a tangible and successful result.

It’s how successful municipalities should measure progress.

4 Responses to “Effort Versus Results”

  1. Zilly December 5, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Nice effort on this post Chris!

    Are all bloggers as black and white as you and Alan? Something is either a screaming success or a Herculean failure? No wonder you are always disappointed!

    Here’s a result for you: my sales for the past two weeks have doubled thanks to the Niagara Holiday Market, which is an actual event, not just an empty promise on paper.

    Here’s another result: I’m thinking about opening a second storefront on Old Falls Street based on the enthusiasm and support I’ve seen from real people in my real booth at the real event organized with much, much more than “minimal effort.”

    Seriously, you and Alan really should choose your adjectives with a little more care. Anybody ever tell you words have connotations? And prose has subtext? And a writer’s voice has a tone?

    If I were your English teacher (or your editor) I’d say “Nice effort, but misses the mark by being too preachy C+

    • Alan Bedenko December 5, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      Zilly, I learned late last week that the Niagara Holiday Market had contacted Artvoice to pull its (pre-paid) advertising in response to what they called my “scathing” article from last week. Now, I’m no PR expert, but if I was running an event that was heavily reliant on gobs of public money, I’d probably reach out to the customer who came and was mildly disappointed, maybe invite them to take a second look. I certainly wouldn’t feign outrage and start putting up my dukes.

      At this point, I’m unpersuaded that I should bother with a return visit, mostly because of the vicious reaction some people have to very very mild constructive criticism.

      In light of all that, I took the time to re-read my article from last week – you know, the one you didn’t properly read before commenting on it? In that article, I had nothing negative to say about your shop. In fact, I linked to your website. Your response was to call my writing, “whiny, petulant, and superior”. Gee, thanks! I guess anyone who drives 30 miles to see the “European style holiday market” should just STFU if they’re a bit disappointed in what they see. I mean, HOW DARE I write that it wasn’t ready during its scheduled opening hours on its second day! Who do I think I am? Some prospective shopper/visitor or something?

      And in light of the adjectives that you used to describe my writing about a “phenomenal idea” where my strongest criticism was literally: “It didn’t quite hit that [rejuvenate all of the Falls’ downtown] mark, but it was fun enough.”

      If you, or the organizers of this event, can’t take this criticism:

      We traveled out of our way to enjoy a stroll and do some shopping in a place where neither really happens, ordinarily. It was surprisingly empty and devoid of holiday cheer. Perhaps it would make more sense to be less ambitious in terms of time, and limit it to the three December weeks leading up to Christmas. Maybe the organizers need to crack down on late and lackadaisical vendors. When an event has so much promise, do it right. I want the market to work – to thrive and to become a tradition, so hopefully its organizers will learn from their mistakes.

      …without attacking its author, then I’m sorry I wasn’t harsher. It wasn’t even directed at you, for God’s sake.

      As for choosing my adjectives with more care, who’s being “whiny, petulant, and superior” now?

  2. mike December 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Wow you drove a whole 30 miles? I hope you had some water bottles and a snack!

  3. pirate's code December 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    I visited the holiday market on Saturday, at 3 p.m. Yes, Zilly, I visited the market personally, I don’t believe Alan was being overly harsh in his otherwise spot-on criticisms. Was it better than the tumbleweeds that normally roll through that stretch? Sure. Is it a good idea? Probably. But, it struck me as (still?) poorly executed, a bit haphazard, and smidge less than festive.

    The ice rink was kind of cool to look at (if not skate on…the condition of the ice was backyard rink horrible), the two pedestal fires were a nice touch, and the two food trucks I passed up appeared to have interesting menus and were doing a decent business given the relatively small crowd.

    I hope the vendors are doing well but, if I were one, I’d make some suggestions/demands before coming back next year. Better event signage, music, booths that are both occupied and open, and so on. Perhaps some tie-ins or promotions with some of the local, permanent business — especially restaurants.

    As it was, a decent idea with an OK start. But, in the end, we spent a couple of bucks and were gone in 30 minutes. Not sure that the taxpayers who subsidized this are getting their money’s worth. At least not yet.

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