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Hammers, nails, and Arts Management
“If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.
Simon J. Ortiz, from “Culture and the Universe”
There’s a saying in consulting (and elsewhere) that “if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” It’s likely a rephrasing of philosopher Abraham Kaplan (1964) or psychologist Abraham Maslow (1966). But all versions suggest the same thing: The tools you use to act in the world shape the ways you perceive the world.
Writer Anais Nin (1961) captured a similar idea from a different angle when she wrote:
We don’t see things the way they are, we see them the way we are.
While the Ten Functions of Arts Management describe bundles of tools arts managers use to solve problems, Frameworks encourage us to refresh, challenge, and reimagine the problems we perceive. The ArtsManaged Field Guide includes a diverse and growing array of ways to attend, perceive, and act in a complex world. To make the list, they have to be durable, fruitful, and useful – proven in practice over time. Give them a browse to see which might help unlock a current puzzle for you.
Not every task needs a hammer. Not every nail-shaped problem is a nail. Frameworks offer different ways to define the tools we need, so that our usual tools don't define us.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: People Operations
Any organization rises, stagnates, or falls on the actions of the people within it – full-time, part-time, contracted, volunteer. People Operations include a wide array of actions that focus on the health, capacity, support, connection, and growth of the people that make the work.
Framework of the Week: Requisite Variety
W. Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety suggests that any system needs a repertory of responses at least as varied as the problems it seeks to address. For arts managers, this means that the repertory of attention, perception, and action of your team needs to be at least as complex as the world you seek to serve.