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November 2, 2005

What do you really need to know to connect?

Mark Swed of the LA Times poses some great questions in his recent Critic's Notebook. The core of the issue is this: how much do we really need to know about an art work to connect with it? Says he:

Do you understand a piece of music better if you know its secrets, or does illumination destroy mystery just as explaining a joke defuses its humor? Might audiences at classical music concerts be more receptive, not less, if they didn't read program notes? Is there a reason why so many people who profess to believe in the Bible haven't actually read it?

It's a topic that's come up before in this weblog and will likely come again. Our answer to the question, as managers, informs how we market an exhibit or performance, how we inform it through program notes or signage, and how we measure our success in engaging an audience. Our default assumption seems to be that the more information we cram at an audience about the technical or biographical elements of a work, the better their experience will be.

Louis Pasteur's famous quote -- ''chance favors the prepared mind'' -- could certainly apply to ''meaningful cultural experiences'' instead of ''chance.'' But does ''prepared'' always mean ''educated'' in the traditional sense? Couldn't a particular life experience, sense memory, or emotional state also prepare us to be moved, even if we have no idea of the mechanics of the moment that's moving us?

Swed doesn't offer many conclusions, except to describe two conceptually intense cultural events -- one that was over-described the other under-described for his taste. And since the interest and benefit of such educational efforts varies by the individual, it might be best to offer opportunities to learn more (through many paths of knowing), without preaching to the whole congregation.

Posted by ataylor at 8:19 AM | Comments (3)

November 3, 2005

Tell your donors now (if you haven't already)!

The Chronicle of Philanthropy outlines the unique tax benefits available to donors if they give to any nonprofit before the end of the year. Says the article:

President Bush last month signed into law a measure that allows donors to write off up to 100 percent of their income for cash donations they made from August 28 until the end of the year. Members of Congress passed the measure to encourage people to give generously to hurricane-relief groups as well as to other organizations that might otherwise suffer a loss in donations because so many people want to help hurricane victims.

The standard ceiling on writing off such gifts is 50 percent.

While the specifics of the temporary benefits are complex (some states won't allow the write-off, even though the federal government will), those organizations with donors mulling over a major gift might bring the temporary opportunity to their attention. It just might nudge them along.

Posted by ataylor at 9:16 AM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2005

Off to Ottawa

I'm off to Ottawa to speak to the good folks at CAPACOA for their conference, Culture Counts: Measuring the Value of the Arts. As always, I'll post my keynote to this weblog shortly after I deliver it. Hope to see some of you there!

Posted by ataylor at 6:27 AM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2005

If Culture Counts, How Do We Count It?

Download this speech
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a keynote by Andrew Taylor, Director
Bolz Center for Arts Administration
author of The Artful Manager
CAPACOA Conference: ''Culture Counts: Measuring the Value of the Arts''
November 5, 2005, Ottawa, Ontario

NOTE: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License, which means that you may copy it, print it, distribute it to colleagues, paper your wall with it, or republish it in your own newsletters or web sites without the specific permission of the author. Just follow the basic rules of the license:

[Thanks and acknowledgements went here...I was very gracious.]

[Personal introduction went here, which I needn't bore you with.]

This convening focuses on how to measure what we value. So, I thought I should begin by defining what I value in professional convenings like this. We are all here for a few days (I mean here at this conference, not here on earth). And while many of us attend many such convenings, the opportunities they provide are extremely rare.

Certainly, many of you communicate on-line and by phone, as fellow professionals in a common industry. You happen upon each other at community galas or opening nights. But here we are, all together, all focusing on a common theme. It's easy to forget how extraordinary this is.

This is what performance analysts in the corporate world call ''face time'' -- real people in real space in real time. And you might be shocked by the energy spent, especially in large corporations, optimizing ''face time'' for their salespeople, their support staff, and their chief executives (sometimes to encourage more, sometimes to urge less). Many of us in this room are also in the business of ''face time.'' Audiences, artists, donors, trustees, and volunteers commit this rare resource into our care. It's an awesome responsibility, and a glorious gift. We'll get to that soon.

Such convenings, therefore, deserve respect and clarity. In deference to both, I'll express out loud what I value in these rare moments:

Face-to-face, we have an extraordinarily rich communication opportunity. I see you, you see me. There's content, of course, but the context surrounding it is rich and full of meaning and nuance. In technology terms, this is very high bandwidth. We can forge meaning and understanding here better than anywhere. We should make every opportunity to talk back and forth.

With so much knowledge, experience, and perspective in one place, at the bandwidth I just described, there's an astounding opportunity for discovery -- finding a new way of saying something we implicitly knew but couldn't express; hearing an angular view of something we only saw in one dimension; listening to what one of my colleagues calls our ''inner conference'' -- that interior dialogue that's running within each of us right now, triggered by the conversations around us, perhaps, but running independently. It's a powerful part of how conferences work, and I encourage you to honor both the outer and inner conferences now underway.[1]

You all are part of a densely connected network, which has gained in power and intensity through the on-line world. But there's even more power in having pieces of that network together in space and time. You can hear about a project or concern of a colleague, and instantly connect them to another colleague that is on a similar path -- not just with an e-mail, but in person. It's like ''speed dating'' for the isolated arts warrior in all of us. High touch. High bandwidth. High context.

Finally, to take full advantage of the opportunities above, I also suggest a fourth element that makes all of them more likely and more profound:

Boldness & Humility
All productive conversations I've experienced balance the values of boldness and humility: Boldness to say out loud what you believe to be true, or to express honestly what you don't understand; humility to accept that you are likely wrong, as all of us are, if not in fact then by degree. This delicate dialectic is crushed by posturing and politics. I hope we make space for it here.

I'm sure you have other things you value about these convenings. And I encourage you to voice them to your inner conference as we progress. But let's begin with these. Plus, I'm the one with the microphone, so I get to pick for now.

Discourse, discovery, connection, boldness, humility. I say these things out loud so you can hold me accountable, and so that you can help me stay true to what I claim to be important. You're all smart enough to know when someone states a core value and then violates it with their actions. Heaven knows your audiences and communities are smart enough, too.

When you call a customer service center, for example, and a recorded message tells you how much they value your call, you know they don't value your call quite enough to answer it.[2] When a speaker says they value discourse and then continues with a monologue, you know that their wires are crossed. In fact, if I'm still talking at 10:25, someone in the back should waive at me. That will be an indicator to me that I'm not serving the things I value. I want to leave time to talk together.

Beyond someone waiving at 10:25, I'll need some other indicators to help me define what I value with increasing clarity, and determine if my actions actually serve what I say I value. And, since I'm a busy person who is easily distracted, my indicators need to have a few basic qualities: they should be spontaneously generated, easily observable, and reasonably connected to the value I have in mind. In a perfect world, my indicators should also be participatory, so other people can carry some of the burden and have an active voice in the process.

Let's run those requirements again:

  • Spontaneously generated
    that is, not generated by me, but by the natural progression of the world, the residue of action or activity
  • Easily observable
    as I said, I'm busy and easily distracted, if an indicator is overly complex to extract or observe, I won't use it
  • Reasonably connected
    if I can't readily explain how the indicator is relevant to my stated values, it's probably time to find another
  • Participatory
    If indicators are available and obvious to a distributed group of people -- especially those who have a stake in the value at work -- I can have a bunch of eyes watching on my behalf, and again, keeping me honest. My eyes are biased, after all, as are all of our individual views of the world.

What might those indicators look like? Here's a first shot that I'll be using today:

If I deliver a keynote consistent with my stated values:

  • At least one of you will publicly disagree with me (respectfully, of course).
  • At least three of you will feel compelled to send me a related link or resource that you connected to some element of my speech (tell me directly, hand me a note, send me an e-mail, post a comment to my weblog, whatever).
  • At least two panelists or speakers will echo a phrase or concept from my conversation, or your response, over the course of this event -- again, either agreeing with it, or disagreeing...don't care which.
  • I will change my mind on at least two conclusions I make today before I get on the airplane home.
  • In six months, I'll find some evidence that we had this conversation at all (in my teaching, in some on-line conversation, in a chance meeting with one of you somewhere else, in a fresh link to this speech on the web).

Are these perfect measures? Of course not. They are horribly flawed and imperfect. But they are useful to me. And if I use them more than once, I can make them slightly more useful each time.

While you're considering those indicators, also consider this: Now that you know what I'm measuring, will you behave differently? Does the attention to an indicator change how we behave together? It's another topic for your inner conference, which we'll get to later.

By now, many of you are likely saying to yourselves: ''Get on with it, already! Stop talking about how you're going to talk, and actually talk about something!''

Others might have figured out that I've been talking about our conference subject all along the way. Our subject, in a nutshell, is this:

If culture counts, how do we count it?

Or, to say the same thing in far more words:

If cultural experience and expression offer uniquely powerful value to our lives, our relationships, our communities, and our world, where do we find the residue of that value in a form that's useful to us and compelling to others?

If we follow the process of the beginning of my speech, it doesn't seem all that difficult to do:

  1. State what you value out loud;
  2. find observable indicators of those values;
  3. watch for them to appear or accrete over time; and
  4. change your measures as you must.

As cultural professionals, we should be particularly good at this, since we're all in the business of creating meaning, discerning excellence and worth, and conveying both to a wider audience. Better yet, we have thousands of willing helpers to keep us current and keep us honest. We have audiences, volunteers, friends, critics, and supporters.

This should be cake.

But, of course, it's not cake. It's more like soufflé -- a process prone to consternation, frustration, and even resentment. Why is this so vexing and so awkward? There are a few obvious answers that we might as well get out of the way:

First, cultural expression is, itself, a ''way of knowing.'' It exists alongside scientific inquiry, the social sciences, and other defined disciplines precisely because it does things that other modes of expression and discovery cannot. As Elvis Costello (or Steve Martin, or Clara's hard to know) once said: ''Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.''[3] Any attempt to measure the value of art in some other form (whether scientific measure, social research, economics, and the like) is therefore silly. While this is absolutely true, I'll suggest that we should just move on from this particular point. It's a dead end. It's a conversational sand trap.

The second challenge is that we don't get to pick the essential values or indicators for our community. Our communities have their own values and indicators, thank you very much, and we're left to retrofit them as best we can: educational attainment, for example, or economic development, or social welfare, or civic engagement. These are the values and measures our constituents understand, especially those who decide how to allocate resources and power. While it's nice to dream about defining our own values and indicators, some might say, they wouldn't be useful in the world we live in. True? We'll get to this in a minute.

The third barrier to the conversation just struck me last week as I was preparing for our discussion today. Perhaps we are emerging from an era when arts and cultural activity was an indicator, itself. During the great global competition among socio-political systems, the arts were one of the boasting points lobbed from dignitary to dignitary. Great societies have great art, went the argument. So great art was an indicator that your chosen political system was great. Communism and capitalism certainly used that indicator a lot, along with Olympic sport. But I'd suggest that nationalism and boosterism had some significant role to play in the growth of cultural infrastructures around the world, as well—in China, in Europe, and yes, in Canada, too.

In some small corners of the world, this arts-as-indicator mindset is still in active play. In a fabulous news article out of Havana just last week,[4] Fidel Castro was congratulating a new class of arts educators, and boasting about the arts instructors now present in every one of his island's 4800 schools. Here, in the very first sentence, is an example of the arts as an indicator:

The conviction that our people have sown the seeds of a better society was shared by President Fidel Castro with the 3,092 arts instructors of the second national graduation in this specialty.

And I can't let that article go by without highlighting Castro's charge to the graduates, which has immediately become the motto of our MBA program in Arts Administration:

''Forward, valiant standard bearers of culture and humanism! A life of glory awaits you!''

To be an indicator is a glorious thing. You don't need evidence to prove your value because you are a placeholder for value. You are the goal. You are the absolute good. Just look to Gross National Product as the golden child of modern indicators, or the Nikkei Stock Average in Japan. Whether or not they are the best indicators of social or economic health, they are the measures that are now anointed, and we manage our societies to improve them. Cultural infrastructure, at least in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, benefited from that indicator status, and perhaps it was in those years that our industry established its persistent sense of self.

But somewhere in the collapse of communism, the national posturing around cultural achievement became less essential (except in Cuba, perhaps). The health and vitality of public and nonprofit arts wasn't an indicator anymore, and slowly arts organizations came to need indicators to prove their public worth by public measures. I suggest that transition began during the 1980s, and continues to ripple around the world today. Whether guised in conversations about privatization of public cultural institutions, allocation of increasingly scarce public funds, or the tension between serving social needs and serving the muse, the discussion challenges our collective sense of self. We shouldn't need indicators, we should be indicators!

In the movie Big Night, one of my favorite films about cultural management (yes, there are films about cultural management), two Italian-born brothers struggle to keep their family restaurant afloat in 1950s New Jersey. One brother, Primo (Tony Shalhoub), is a consummate artist in the kitchen, a creative genius of cuisine. The other, Secundo (Stanley Tucci), is trapped between the uncompromising artistry of his brother, and the practical reality of running a business: Customers that dare to demand a side of pasta with their risotto and competitors that pander with spaghetti, meatballs, and cheap Chianti. In one wrenching scene for any of us in the arts, Primo says to Secundo: ''People should come just for the food.'' Secundo replies, ''I know, but they don't.''

It's the same truth for the perceived public value of arts and culture. Public value is not an entitlement. It's a glacial conversation that crosses borders and decades, and we can't sit aside and wait for the glacier to ooze back in our direction.

Finally, I'll suggest a fourth barrier to our conversations about measuring value. To my mind, it's the biggest and realest of them all: Indicators are a dangerous game. Indicators, measurements, and metrics can often take on a life of their own. If they're not grounded in or resonant with what we believe to be important, they can pull us and our organizations far off course.

As sustainability advocate and systems guru Donella Meadows wrote:

"We try to measure what we value. We come to value what we measure. The feedback process is common, inevitable, useful, and full of pitfalls."[5]

If we lack a ''north star'' to keep us on course, what we value and what we measure can blend together, and we can lose our way in the world.

Take, for example, the common metric of growth as a universal indicator of success -- more audiences every year, more productions, more exhibits, more endowment, more facilities, more programs, more revenue, more staff. Growth certainly offers us easy indicators to observe over time -- headcounts, production days, fund balances, square footage, net revenue, staff rosters. If one or more of these indicators goes up, we must be doing well. If some or all go down, we must be doing poorly.

Of course, that's nuts.

Or, take, for example, the metrics of utility we've come to embrace as an industry over the past decade. Arts for economic impact. Arts for social good. Arts for educational attainment. Arts for personal health. Since contemporary society is riddled with vexing and complex problems, it makes sense to position the arts as problem-solvers. Again, the indicators for these values are measurable -- dollars spent and spent again (that glorious multiplier effect), pro-social behavior among at-risk populations, standardized test scores, years of productive life. And they make an effective argument with decision-leaders, especially if we ignore all other activities that might produce similar or even bigger results.

Certainly, creative expression and cultural experience have utility to social and personal issues. They do change lives. They do shape communities. They do refocus economic a point. But utility as an indicator is not the same as utility as a core value.

As Frank Zappa said:

"I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone's teeth get cleaner?"

Audiences don't engage in cultural experience because they seek to refocus economic activity in the urban core. At-risk youth don't stay in theater programs to encourage their pro-social behavior. Students don't play in a school orchestra because they want better spatial reasoning. All these things are byproducts of the true value in what we do. As I said in another speech I gave, they are the footprints, not the giant.

Now, we all want to be useful. Where's the distortion or distraction in wanting our cultural efforts to be useful, as well?

Consider this: What if it is that moment of connection between audience and artist, between artist and art, between a young performer and their performance that is the engine of all utility? What if it is the accumulation of thousands of such moments -- moments of awakening, of identity, of discovery, of connection, of meaning -- that constitutes the public value of our work?

If that's the case, then turning our attention from that moment to be more useful would actually dissipate our usefulness. And growing to extend our circle just because we think growth is good might leave us hollow at the core.

Indicators are a dangerous game, to be sure. We can lose ourselves and what we value when we measure things around us. But it's not like we have a choice. We are all constantly measuring, whether explicitly or implicitly. It's how we engage our world. Our only choice here is to choose to do so with intention, or without it -- in the daylight or in the darkness.

So, how does this all shape the conversation of the next few days? You have the resources and the extraordinary ''face time'' to shape it any way you like. But as we discuss what value we create with our work, I'd like to suggest some framing statements that might help keep us all honest and on track:

First, value is always a co-construction. It is not something delivered and received, produced and consumed, it is created in the moment it is experienced.

Second, value is always the product of multiple experiences, never just one. That moment of connection may seem like a sudden flash, but it's really the product of an entire lifetime, if not two. The philosopher John Dewey has a wonderful metaphor for this fact in the experience of a lightening flash in an open field.[6] The lightening may have suddenly illuminated our view, he says, but it was our previous life experience that let us recognize the elements of the landscape that were illuminated. Without that previous experience, the flash would have no meaning.

This fact is essential to our measures of value, since no single organization has the power or capacity to generate that value. They can only do so as part of a continuum of experience, and an ecology of opportunity.

Third, we must always remember that future experience has a present value. Preserving the opportunity of cultural experience for those not yet born has an important place in our calculus.

Fourth, all measures are subjective. How we select what to measure, how we measure it, and how we interpret what we find are matters of human perspective and human limits. The physicist Werner Heisenberg had a wonderful way of expressing this fact for his peers in the sciences:

"...what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language we possess."[7]

Of course, we should strive to design around our biases and blind spots -- especially by inviting others to participate in the cause. But we should never assume we are being completely objective, and we should hold an honored space for blatantly subjective measures in the mix.

Finally, regardless of our indicators or our metrics, value is where we begin and where we end this conversation. It recalls a stanza from T.S. Eliot that I think perfectly describes the journey we're all traveling together in this glorious ''face time'' we have together:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.[8]

It's a circular journey I truly look forward to. And I thank you again for your precious time.

Now, let's talk.

[1] Laurent Lapierre, Leadership Professor at HEC Montréal, used this wonderfully in a keynote of his own.

[2] For more, see Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit by Laura Penny

[3] The quote is actually attributed to many different individuals, from Steve Martin to Frank Zappa to Laurie Anderson. For those that care to know, there's a long treatise about the attribution here:

[4] Granma International, English Edition, October 29, 2005, available on-line at:

Thanks to my student Derek Kwan for the link!

[5] ''Indicators and Information Systems for Sustainable Development,'' Sustainability Institute, 1998

[6] John Dewey, Art as Experience, read an overview here.

[7] Werner Heisenberg, quoted in Physics and Philosophy: Encounters and Conversations, Harper, 1958.

[8] From T.S. Eliot, ''The Four Quartets''

Posted by ataylor at 8:46 PM | Comments (0)

Greetings from Ottawa!

Having a wonderful time at the CAPACOA conference in Ottawa. Wish you were here. Please send money and duty-free liquor.

As promised to my wonderful audience this morning, here's the text of my keynote address delivered fresh and piping hot:

[ If Culture Counts, How Do We Count It? ]

Posted by ataylor at 9:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2005

Measuring the creative community

One of the problems in measuring the health of any community's cultural ecology is that you first have to determine what a healthy cultural ecology looks like. If you don't have an ideal state in mind, you end up with random and irrelevant measures (dollars spent by nonprofits, dinners bought by patrons, room nights in local hotels, etc.) that distort your sense of purpose and dissipate your sense of self.

The good folks at Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley are among the few I've seen to take the process in the proper sequence: define (out loud) what you believe to be a healthy cultural ecology, and then determine the measures by which you'll measure that health over time. It sounds blazingly simple, but it's astoundingly rare.

The organization just published the second edition of its Creative Community Index, with even more thoughtful and targeted data than the first run in 2002. Better still is the introduction to the index, which lays out how they define a healthy cultural ecology. You can disagree with that definition if you like, which is actually the most powerful result of their approach: it fosters a conversation rather than just advocating a cause.

So, what makes up a healthy cultural ecology? According to the index, it's the health and balance of three interrelated elements: cultural literacy, participatory cultural practice, and professional cultural goods and services. In their words:

  • Cultural literacy is defined as fluency in traditions, aesthetics, manners, customs, language and the arts, and the ability to apply critical thinking and creativity to these elements. Cultural literacy is acquired through formal institutions such as schools, fraternal groups and religious congregations, and informal institutions such as the family.
  • Participatory cultural practice is the engagement of individuals and groups in cultural activities in a nonprofessional setting. Drawing, writing poetry, cosmetic makeup, singing in a community chorus, social dance, and garage rock bands are examples of participatory cultural practice.
  • Professional cultural goods and services are the products of formally organized cultural producers and individual professional practitioners, whether working in the commercial or nonprofit sector. Examples of professional goods and services might include a production of Tosca by Opera San José, a new video game produced by Electronic Arts, a public sculpture commissioned by the San José Arts Commission, or a computer graphic created by a local artist.

The inclusion of ''participatory cultural practice'' (a more productive label than ''amateur,'' which has come to mean ''bad'') is a powerful element of this index, and a radical departure from the usual focus on only professional nonprofits. It's also great to see commercial goods and services in the mix of creative goods and services, which likely annoyed some nonprofits to no end.

Posted by ataylor at 9:09 AM | Comments (2)

November 9, 2005

You be the editor

Today's post is just a pointer to another discussion unfolding on the Internet. My weblog neighbor Greg Sandow is writing a book ''out loud'' -- that is, he's posting sections of what will become a book, and asking the world to respond, argue, enhance, edit, and engage with that process.

If you have any interest or insight on The Future of Classical Music, go read it as it's posted, and lend your voice to the choir.

Posted by ataylor at 9:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005

Constructing our public self

Three fascinating art/sociology projects explore how people construct their ''public'' self through the astoundingly popular Flikr photo-sharing web site. The two German design students suggest that Flikr provides a public platform for the intentional construction of personal identity through photographs. Says the web page:

This is a series of three projects investigating what constitutes the self. It questions the relationship between self-perception (a passive concept of the self) and active construction of identity. It tries to identify the methods, motivations and paradigms underlying both concepts, yet clearly focusing on the latter.

mirrrAmong the projects: ''egoshootr'' (a mini set where users could stage and photograph a fake memory), ''fixr'' (a web site that lets users describe important moments in their life that weren't photographed), and ''mirrr'' (a photo series of Flikr users wearing T-shirts with the most common keyword tags they used to describe their posted photos).

The projects wonderfully underscore what most of us already know: that we curate the arts objects and experiences of our lives not just for personal pleasure, but in the conscious construction of our public self. Just as we choose what to wear each morning with an eye toward how the world will see us, we also attend the arts and adorn our spaces with things that help others know who we are (or want to be).

Great stuff. Go see it.

Photo: Sascha Pohflepp and Jakob Schillinger (cc) 2005

Posted by mclennan at 9:43 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2005

Playing a positive role in innovation

Tom Kelley of the famous IDEO design firm is clearly fed up with at least one role-playing game used in organizations: the devil's advocate. Invoking that role, he says, instantly absolves the invoker of any personal accountability for their criticism (it's not me criticising that idea, I'm just speaking on behalf of Satan). The resulting unaccountable criticism can be death to a great idea, and can keep a group of otherwise creative people from being creative.

Kelley was so fed up, in fact, that he wrote a book (okay, co-wrote a book) suggesting 10 positive roles individuals can invoke to actually help their organizations become more innovative. The Ten Faces of Innovation is also excerpted in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine, if you'd rather have the shortcut.

What are the 10 roles you can play to actually build innovation rather than kill it? You can play one of the ''learning personas,'' including The Anthropologist, The Experimenter, The Cross-Pollinator. You can play one of the ''organizing personas,'' including The Hurdler, The Collaborator, or The Director. Or you can play one of the ''building personas,'' including The Experience Architect, The Set Designer, The Caregiver, or The Storyteller.

For an industry that spends a large bundle of its energy creating characters and staging experiences for its audience, it sounds rather appealing to do some intentional role-playing around the staff table, as well.

Posted by ataylor at 8:30 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2005

Honoring Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker QuoteA tip of the hat and a note of thanks to Peter F. Drucker, who passed away last week, at age 95. Drucker was considered by many to be the father of modern management, and was most certainly among the more persistent voices bringing a human and social perspective to the profit-making world. Beyond that, he was an early and active proponent of the nonprofit sector, as both an essential engine of society and a complex management challenge.

As business schools and management gurus were pushing technical excellence, technology innovation, and ''command and control,'' Drucker focused on the human qualities of leadership and the need for clear and compelling goals. Both elements are evident in this excerpt from his essay on ''Management as Social Function and Liberal Art,'' which defines both for-profit and nonprofit management as essentially human endeavors.

  • Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is all about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor....
  • Because management deals with the integration of people in a common venture, it is deeply embedded in culture. What managers do in West Germany, in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Japan, or in Brazil is exactly the same. How they do it may be quite different....
  • Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment there is not enterprise; there is only a mob. The enterprise must have simple, clear, and unifying objectives. The mission of the organization has to be clear enough and big enough to provide common vision. The goals that embody it have to be clear, public, and constantly reaffirmed. Management's first job is to think through, set, and exemplify those objectives, values, and goals.
  • Management must also enable the enterprise and each of its members to grow and develop as needs and opportunities change. Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels -- training and development that never stop.
  • Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility....
  • Neither the quantity of output nor the ''bottom line'' is by itself an adequate measure of the performance of management and enterprise. Market standing, innovation, productivity, development of people, quality, financial results -- all are crucial to an organization's performance and to its survival. ...
  • Finally, the single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. The result of a hospital is a healed patient. The result of a school is a student who has learned something and puts it to work ten years later. Inside an enterprise, there are only costs.

The L.A. Times article announcing his death also references his fondness for the orchestra as a modern management metaphor:

''Each institution has to do its own work the way each instrument in an orchestra plays only its own part. But there is also the score, the community. And only if each individual instrument contributes to the score, there is music.''


NOTE: For more on Drucker's work with nonprofit management and leadership, see the Leader to Leader Institute, the current iteration of his Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management.

Posted by ataylor at 9:28 AM | Comments (3)

November 15, 2005

Welcome to the future...get used to it

At a recent gala orchestra opening in Madison, guest soloist Kathleen Battle paused mid-performance to wag her finger at someone in the balcony. It seems they had a recording device of some kind. Once she left the stage, an announcement reminded the audience that such things weren't allowed. It's a common problem at popular music events. It's bound to grow at nonprofit events, as well.

The first question is: how do you stop it? Now that mobile phones are mini video production studios, and digital video cameras fit in the palm of your hand, it's nearly impossible to spot them in action.

The second question is: should we stop it? If audiences are so enthralled with the live experience, and want to share that excitement with someone else, how is that bad for our team? If the video is low-resolution and the audio is scratchy, does the recording hurt anyone? Or is it just a new form of audience evangelism? It's not that I want an audience full of electronic equipment pointing at the stage (that would be annoying). I'm just suggesting it's a worth a moment to ponder both the harm and the benefit of audience-recorded content.

video blogIt's an issue raised in a home-grown video weblog (yes, there are video weblogs now) from a cranky fan of a rock band who was detained for recording a live performance. Says the blogger in his on-video captions:

Welcome to the future...where phone cameras have replaced lighters. The genie is out of the bottle. Even the band's web site has fan-recorded content. That's what fans do! You may have noticed I'm not charging you for this crappy video. That would be stupid. There is no economic motive. The point is to capture and share fantastic fleeting moments...

So, inevitably the questions come: Who owns the moment in a live performance? Who's allowed to share it? What conflagration would await us if we allowed that spark in our theaters? And finally, do we have any choice in the matter? Welcome to the future, indeed.

Posted by ataylor at 9:14 AM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2005

The demise of civil society

From the British comma commissioner, Lynne Truss (author of the hit grammar book Eats, Shoots & Leaves), comes a new diatribe, this time exloring the collapse of civil society. Her new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door is excerpted in The Age.

It's a bit of a wandering whine-fest, but speaks to the essential issue of human interaction, with particularly sharp barbs poking at modern customer-service practices. Does this extended excerpt describe your organization?

Manners are about imagination. They are about imagining being the other person. These systems force us to navigate ourselves into channels that are plainly for someone else's convenience, not ours.

In the past, if you phoned a company to ask a question, you would tell an operator: ''I'm calling because you've sent my bill to the wrong address three times'', and the operator would attempt to put you through to the right person.

But in the age of the automated switchboard, there isn't an operator any more. If we want something done, we must just get on and do it ourselves. ''Why am I the one doing this?'' we ask ourselves, 20 times a day.

And it can only get worse. ''Why not try our self-check-in service?'' they say, brightly. ''Have you considered online banking?'' ''Ever fancied doing your own dental work?" "DIY funerals: the modern way.''

This ''do-it-yourself'' tactic occurs so frequently, in all parts of life, that it has become unremarkable. In all our encounters with businesses and shops, we now half expect to be treated not as customers, but as system trainees who haven't quite got the hang of it yet.

Posted by ataylor at 8:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

The on-line communications toolkit

If you're looking for a crash course or a quick refresher about how to plan, implement, and evaluate your organization's communications efforts -- marketing, PR, etc. -- the folks at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation have anticipated your need. Their marketing and communications kit offers a short and snappy overview of the strategies and action steps you should be considering.

Designed primarily for their grantees, the kit is handy for any nonprofit looking for where to begin. It's not nearly the full story, or the last word in how you should be connecting with the wider world (the ''evaluation'' section is surprisingly thin and vague, for example). But it's a start toward an essential organizational skill set. Says the kit's author:

As nonprofits, we focus most of our attention on the issues and clientele we were created to serve. Too often, we underestimate the value of what we’ve learned from our work -- the human stories, research findings, and best professional practices. Yet this field-tested knowledge can be invaluable when placed in the hands of the public, policymakers and other nonprofit and government agencies. Improving your group’s ability to communicate can have two-fold benefits: It can inform policies that will help advance your mission, and by increasing your visibility, make your organization more attractive to new members and donors.


Posted by ataylor at 9:23 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005

Mathematics for Musicians

It's a chilly Friday in Madison, Wisconsin, that demands a little light humor rather than a pensive tome today. So here are a few selections from the hilarious Mathematics for Musicians recently forwarded to me by a colleague (thanks Bob):

  • Wilma is tired of paying for clarinet reeds. If she adopts a policy of playing only on rejected reeds from her colleagues will she be able to retire on the money she has saved if she invests it in mutual bonds, yielding 8.7%, before she is fired from her job? If not, calculate the probability of her ever working in a professional symphony orchestra again.
  • Jethro has been playing the double bass in a symphony orchestra for twelve years, three months and seven days. Each day, his inclination to practice decreases by the equation:
    (Total days in the orchestra) x .000976
    Assuming he stopped practicing altogether four years, six months and three days ago, how long will it be before he is completely unable to play the double bass?
  • Betty plays in the viola section. Despite her best efforts she is unable to play with the rest of the orchestra and, on average, plays .3528 seconds behind the rest of the viola section, which is already .16485 seconds behind the rest of the orchestra. If the orchestra is moving into a new concert hall with a reverberation time of 2.7 seconds, will she be able to continue playing this way undetected?
  • Ralph loves to drink coffee. Each week he drinks three more cups of coffee than Harold, who drinks exactly one third the amount that the entire brass section consumes in beer. How much longer is Ralph going to live?

Happy Friday!

Posted by ataylor at 8:45 AM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2005

The thrift belt

New Englanders aren't taking kindly to a new national index on generosity (covered in an AP story posted here and elsewhere). It turns out that New Hampshire and Massachusetts ranked at the very bottom of the index for generosity. That's fairly embarrassing on its own, but becomes insufferably so when the top three states are Mississippi, Arkansas, and South Dakota (leading many Bostonians to question the math).

The index determines generosity by measuring what the taxpayers of each state contribute to charity against what they earn (with data from tax returns). So the math is rigged against states with wealthier populations, and biased by the individuals who itemize their charitable giving. Of course, as with almost all published indices, the forced perspective of the Generosity Index is designed to make a point:

We do this to illuminate a fact: that nationwide, giving is not consistently related to income; rather, giving is shaped more by cultures, which tend to be regional, and by religion (not politics). If all Americans were equally ''generous'' (in relating giving to income), those differences in rank would be zero -- all states would be giving at the same rank as their income. But the Bible Belt and Utah are, with generally low incomes, giving so much (as tithing evangelical Protestants), that in effect they set a high example, which suggests that the wealthiest taxpayers in the wealthy states can afford to give significantly more.

So, pony up, Massachusetts, or Mississippi will whup you again next year.

Posted by ataylor at 8:26 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2005

If you don't know your own community, don't blame the government

census mapFriend, colleague, and research wonk Neill Archer Roan reminded me of the wonderful riches available on-line from the U.S. Census Bureau. Their American FactFinder is a treasure trove of market research and demographic information on your community.

Just run a quick ''fact sheet'' search of your city and you'll see what I mean: median household income, education levels, ethnicity, median home value, mean travel time to work, median age, and on and on...all available in numbers and many available in maps (see the income distribution map of Madison, Wisconsin, included in this post, or just jump to the fact sheet).

Take 10 minutes to sort your own membership or ticket database by ZIP code. Pick the three most popular ZIPs and get a fact sheet on each. E-mail the links to your staff. Then tell me it wasn't time well spent.

Thanks Neill.

Posted by ataylor at 9:06 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2005

What about Sim conservatories?

I've written about the Sims before, but this announcement of an upcoming University add-on pack for the software game was just too much to let pass:

This addition to the popular ''people simulator'' includes the young adult age group, which enables Sims to head off to college. Collegiate Sims can vie to become the Big Sim on Campus, earn one of 11 types of degrees that open one of four new careers when they return home as adults, join fraternities and sororities, pull off pranks and more. The expansion pack features three college town settings as well as more than 100 new objects and decor items. Players can also build their own campuses.

With all the resulting educated and affluent Sims, someone should be building a Sims performing arts center to employ the Sims artists that will be looking for a Sims job.

Posted by ataylor at 7:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2005

Of characters and authenticity

As corporate America explores the informal, conversational world of blogging, a new form of the format is coming into controversy: the character blog. These are weblogs written from the perspective and with the narrative style of fictional characters. Some, like the Captain Morgan Blog, are built on characters we all know are fake. Others, like Panasonic's Tosh Bilowski blog create a brand new character for a specific purpose (promoting high-definition video, in this case), and aren't always clear about the reality of the author.

In the blogosphere, some pundits hate character blogs outright, others are willing to let them evolve in appropriate places.

All of us in the arts business should be familiar with the benefits of fictional characters. But we should also be cautious about bringing that fiction from the stage or experience space into the business communications of our company. Blogger Amy Gahran puts it rather well in this post:

Character blogs are risky business, since authenticity and transparency are the basis of credibility in this medium.... In a nutshell, I think that if you’re offering a character blog, you’re asking for trouble if you don’t make its nature clear. Don’t present a character as a person; approach it as a theatrical device. Theater is cool. Deception is not.

So, if you're organization is planning to launch blog, stick with a real person with real perspectives for now. You're audience will be watching, and they know the difference.

Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2005

Can culture save downtown?

Adrian Ellis has a good overview of the role of arts facilities in ''saving'' cities. Chief among the challenges, he says, is the disconnect between iconic arts facility development and the arts organizations that surround them. Says he:

...the discussions about arts organizations and those about arts buildings are curiously and uncomfortably divorced. The role that buildings are seen to play is usually in the context of bravura high-profile physical redevelopment, while the role of arts organizations is more often discussed in the context of fine grained community-building and the knitting together of anomic and atomized populations through the generation of ''social capital.''

Proponents for the iconic cultural facilities, he suggests, are following a script that's more appropriate to dense, urban areas than to midsize or small cities. As a result, they may well be overbuilding for the audience and infrastructure they have, while starving and stressing the resident arts organizations that actually provide the experiences.

Ellis suggests three key issues when considering cultural development to save or re-engage a city:

First, culture cannot revitalize downtown alone. Where cultural infrastructure plays a role it plays it alongside public and private investment in other civic amenities, transport systems and housing....It is depressing, however, how often significant investment in cultural buildings is made outside of an integrated urban renewal strategy. These cultural institutions then come to bear impossible expectations alone and without context.

Second, the cultural building boom has not been driven by ‘consumer demand’ in the sense of an increase in audiences. Global cities like London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo have a density of population in their immediate catchment and a sophisticated cultural tourist market that smaller cities cannot match, and yet many “supply driven” infrastructure projects do not take this into account....

Third, vibrant arts centers require thriving occupants, if culture’s role in revitalizing downtown through generating social capital is to be realized. In the Faustian pact between cultural organizations and urban planners, both parties have tended to gloss over the longer term financial impact of expansion on the resident organisations whilst playing up the economic impact on the community as a whole....

Sobering but useful thoughts for communities and civic leaders that long to build an icon. It recalls an earlier post on a satirical perspective on cultural facility development.

Posted by ataylor at 9:08 AM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2005

Perhaps we installed these by accident

The New York Times has a piece on a new invention in the UK designed to annoy and chase off a younger crowd. Says the article:

The device, called the Mosquito (''It's small and annoying,'' Mr. Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away.

The invention is just one of many designed to keep loitering teenagers away from storefronts and public spaces. Another option, described in the article as ''zit lamps,'' ''drive teenagers away by casting a blue light onto their spotty skin, accentuating any whiteheads and other blemishes.'' Lovely.

So, while the arts are hungry for younger audiences, others are happy to be rid of them. And don't be too quick to assume they'll be annoyed enough to wander toward the symphony hall. In an older article in The Economist on breaking up teenage gatherings (no longer on-line, but excerpted here), classical music, itself, was proving almost as effective as the Mosquito:

Six stops on the Tyneside Metro currently pump out Haydn and Mozart to deter vandals and loiterers, and the scheme has been so successful that it has spawned imitators. After a pilot at Elm Park station on the London Underground, classical music now fills 30 other stations on the network. The most effective deterrents, according to a spokesman for Transport for London, are anything sung by Pavarotti or written by Mozart.

Quite a bummer for the folks in the Mozart marketing department.

Posted by ataylor at 8:31 AM | Comments (3)

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