Growing by guessing in 2024
Guessing in advance, out loud, is one of the best ways to align commitments to capacity in a complex world.
These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
—T.S. Eliot, from “The Four Quartets” (Number 3: The Dry Salvages)
One of the core challenges of arts management (or self-management or any management) is aligning commitment with capacity. A commitment is an obligation to act or to complete a course of action. Capacity is the power, ability, or faculty to do so.
When commitments exceed your capacity, you fall short of your promises. When capacity exceeds your commitments, you fall short of your potential.
The problem is that many or even most commitments are made in advance. When you inherit, discover, or actively choose an obligation, it’s for future action. You can only guess what resources it will require (time, money, energy, effort, emotion, and so on). Worse yet, you can also only guess at the future capacity you and your team will have available when the time comes.
So how do you get better at matching future commitment to future capacity? You strive to get better at guessing.
You guess, out loud, in a clear and accountable way, what a commitment will require. Then you compare that guess with actual experience, recalibrate your next guess accordingly, and repeat that process over and over again.
The difference isn’t the guessing. You do that all the time. The difference is the clarity and transparency of the guess and your attention to the result.
For example, take your daily work. You can move through your day without planning or prediction, without guessing your day out loud. Or, you can begin with a prediction and plan for what you’ll accomplish, and revisit and evaluate your predictions as they meet reality.
One simple way to do this is timeblocking – allocating the coming day into specific time blocks for specific work, and adjusting the plan as you go. [I use Cal Newport’s process, demonstrated here in a five-minute video clip (1:05 to 6:45, you don’t need to buy his planner, any notebook or paper will do).] The initial plan is the hypothesis. The evolving reality is the recurring experiment that proves, disproves, or improves your hypothesis for tomorrow.
For another example, consider your organization’s budget. The budget is a beginning-of-year prediction of revenue and expenses (the hypothesis). The monthly or quarterly “actuals” show the results of the real-world experiment. The variances not only help you adjust for the rest of the year, but also signal where, when, and sometimes why your guesses need improvement.
Once you start bringing attention and intention to your guessing, you’ll find all sorts of opportunities to grow.
Artists and athletes already know the benefits of deliberate practice – “the act of repeatedly performing certain activities with the intention of improving a specific associated skill.” When it comes to matching commitments to capacity, arts managers can build mastery the same way – for the benefit of themselves, their teams, and the missions and communities they seek to serve.
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From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Governance
Governance involves structuring, sustaining, and overseeing the organization's purposes, resources, and goals (often through boards or trustees).
Framework of the Week: Motivation Opportunity Ability (MOA)
The Motivation Opportunity Ability (MOA) framework offers three ways to interrogate the actions or inactions of an individual or a group: motivation to achieve the intended action or outcome; opportunity provided (or blocked) by the external environment related to that action or outcome; and ability or internal capacity to accomplish the action or outcome.
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