Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reading list: Great by Choice

From the blurb: "Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?"

Sounds an awful lot like the np arts orgs world, doesn't it? Why is it some theaters succeed, balancing budgets, retaining audiences, basking in critical acclaim? While others stumble along, maybe having a hit or two, always wondering if people can be paid, eventually shuttering rather than enduring more stress?

Collins doesn't set out to write about our world (unfortunately. Mr. Collins, if you ever do, please call me to be on your research team.) but his key findings--in all of his books--apply not only to the publicly traded for-profit corporations he studies but to the myriad sized and structured art centered, community building, nonprofit arts organizations we love.

The companies he looks at in GbC all have the same traits: their leaders have Level 5 ambition; they have empirical creativity AND fanatic discipline AND productive paranoia; they stick with a SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) recipe; and manage their luck, both bad and good. I'm sure if we looked at our arts orgs, the ones that have survived turmoil and grown to greatness, we would find the same principles to be true.

The point I want to make here is how can we use these principles in our own organizations now that our world of funding and audiences, engagement and advocacy, has changed from a "build it and they will come" to "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks".

To examine each point in turn would be a good blog series, but the one that strikes me as most interesting today is the SMaC recipe. For all our talk about adherence to mission statements and blind fanaticism to value propositions, we do not, as a rule, have a Specific, Methodical, and Consistent recipe for achieving our missions. This recipe should be based on both what works and should be repeated over and over again, what doesn't work and should never be done, and have built in what our success metrics are based on. There is room for amendments, but only with empirical evidence that such amendments are necessary and beneficial.

Each arts org will have a different recipe, certainly. My point is not to try to argue what those recipes should look like, but that each organization should have one. The leadership needs to sit down and hammer out what their SMaC recipe is, as they have seen produce results and differentiate themselves in the market. This is not doing strategic planning for the next 3-5 years of projects and presentations. This is not specific art, marketing, or development plans per se. This is a statement of what the organization will do methodically forever in order to achieve its goals (of course, there is a presupposition the org knows what those are).

In our time of trouble, of downsizing, right-sizing, cutbacks, and closures, figuring out how to consistently move forward means finding a business recipe and sticking to it.

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