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Arts Management and the cost of virtue
"We want the energy cost of virtue to be less than that of sin." – Dave Snowden
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
Mark Strand, from “Keeping Things Whole”
Halsey North, a late, great consultant friend and colleague used to say: “If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.” And if you ask almost any funding organization for advice (or for money), they’ll tell you to focus on strategy. “Give us a reasoned and reasonable plan for your better future and how you will achieve it, and we'll consider supporting the journey.”
And so we plan.
The problem is that planning is only part of achieving positive outcomes, and usually the flimsy part. Real impact is shaped by what we do, not what we say we will do. There are a thousand sandtraps between a thoughtful plan and disciplined action. But so many efforts begin and end with the plan. As consultant to consultants David Maister puts it:
The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve. The essential questions of strategy are these: “Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever? Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make? What issues are we really ready to tackle?”
The “planning” part of strategy, Maister argues, leads most organizations to predictable and obvious conclusions. In the arts, for example, most strategic plans commit to some version of “make ambitious and compelling work, market it well, grow a loyal community of fans and funders, repeat.” Says Maister:
Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do.
That doesn’t mean that strategic planning isn’t useful, just that it’s nowhere near sufficient. A shared vision and narrative of the organization and its work in the world is certainly important. But even more essential is shared resolve and mutual accountability to take difficult or different actions each day, rather than the conventional or convenient ones. To help make that possible, Arts Managers need to make the right actions easier and the wrong actions more difficult.
As complexity consultant Dave Snowden frames it:
…we want the energy cost of virtue to be less than that of sin…
The ArtsManaged Field Guide is built on the belief that human beings are action figures, evolved not to mull about things but to move. As useful and interesting as advice and planning can be, they exist only as fiction until our actions make them fact.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Marketing
Marketing involves creating, communicating, and reinforcing expected or experienced value. Marketing the arts is largely about getting people to know about, care about, and actually participate in an arts experience. And, if you’re good at it, getting them to come back again and again.
Framework of the Week: Nonprofit Lifecycle
All nonprofit organizations have natural lifecycles, from a grassroots idea to peak vitality to a turnaround (or termination). A clear understanding of your organization’s “life stage” can help frame critical conversations, inform strategic decisions, and offer a starting point for capacity-building.