Four conversations with uncertainty
Each of us has a preferred way of knowing what to do when we don't know.
Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.
Richard Wilbur, from “Mind”
Education, according to my favorite definition of the word, is about knowing what to do when you don’t know. When you are faced with an unfamiliar challenge or question or context, education offers multiple ways to attend, perceive, and act in your uncertainty.
This matters in Arts Management because so much of our individual and collective effort is in relation to uncertainty – new programs, complex audiences, changing worlds.
In the university setting, where I work, we categorize the ways of “knowing what to do when you don’t know” into broad bundles of sciences, humanities, and arts. In the wider world, those ways include culture, social norms, convention, stories, habit, and tradition. Education doesn’t need to be, and often isn’t, formal or explicit. But we bring it with us into every waking moment.
In addition, each of us brings preferred ways of engaging uncertainty. When we bump into a moment we don’t understand, we each have a dominant conversational style or script we use to interact with it. This style has emerged from our DNA, its manifestation in the development of our bodies and brains, and the full context of our lived experience.
There are many ways to notice and name our preferred conversations with uncertainty. Typology systems like Myers-Briggs, Clifton Strengths Analysis, or Enneagrams, all offer conversation-starters. But as a first-cut interrogation, I often turn to the PAEI Framework by management consultant Ichak Adizes.
Adizes suggests that each of us has a primary “concern structure” that drives our interaction with each other, the world, and uncertainty. That structure is formed at the intersection of 1) the time horizon that concerns us most (short term or long term) and 2) the form of impact we value more: effectiveness (delivering useful results) or efficiency (reducing excess waste).
With a short-term focus on effectiveness, we emphasize impactful action now. Our dominant concern is producing.
With a short-term focus on efficiency, we emphasize considered process now. Our dominant concern is administering.
With a long-term focus on effectiveness, we emphasize impactful action in the world yet to come. Our dominant concern is entrepreneuring.
With a long-term focus on efficiency, we emphasize durable relationships and engagement among our team. Our dominant concern is integrating.
Each of these concern structures brings a different style and script to uncertain moments: different questions we ask and different answers we value. Each also lives in tension with the others, since they look for and care about different things. Because of this tension, Adizes suggests that nobody can be exceptional in all four structures. Rather, only teams of people can assemble competence and capacity across them all.
That means, when facing frequent and various uncertainties, your best bet is to gather a diverse group around you, learn and appreciate the motives and means of styles other than your own, and bridge the inevitable gaps and tensions between those styles.
Sometimes, “knowing what to do when you don’t know” isn’t (just) a matter of more education. It’s a matter of knowing you need to interrogate uncertainty together rather than alone.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Gifts & Grants
Gifts & Grants involve attracting, securing, aligning, and retaining contributed resources (also called fundraising or development).
Framework of the Week: Adizes Four Management Styles
The framework discussed in this Field Note can also be used to understand management style and team dynamics. For a video overview, watch “Which Style of Arts Manager Are You?”