Mega-consulting firm McKinsey & Company thinks a lot about trends in the workforce, and how to manage those trends. Their most recent obsession seems to be ”tacit interactions,” and the shift of the U.S. job market in that direction. ”Tacit” interactions are complex and ambigous, requiring high levels of judgment and problem-solving. Workers involved in tacit interactions must often draw on deep experience (called ”tacit knowledge” by the economists among us). Tacit is one of McKinsey’s three categories of work types, distinct from ”transformational” (extraction or conversion of raw materials) and ”transactional” (routine interactions that are the same over time).
The McKinsey wonks suggest that tacit interactions require a whole different organizational style and structure than transformational or transactional interactions. While you can improve transformational interactions through process design, and improve transactional interactions by providing scripts and structures, tacit interactions require loose boundaries, flat hierarchy, individual empowerment to innovate, and an emphasis on learning over time.
I’m not sure, exactly, where the creative artist fits into this scheme (they provide a transformation well beyond extracting raw materials). But it’s clear that the arts organization could benefit from defining the difference among its various activity centers beyond the creation of art. For example, we’ve all seen ticketing staff and box offices that are considered “transactional” by their organization — efficient and streamlined but also rigid and nonresponsive to individual customer needs. We’ve also experienced box offices that are run as ”tacit” activities — giving each staff member the power and incentive to understand and solve the customer’s problems, not just sell a ticket.
I always take these large trend discussions with a bucket of salt, since they have a ”truthiness” to them, but often fall flat in actual implementation. But this distinction seems useful enough to kick around in a staff meeting. If you’re interested in the insight, there’s more about it here.