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Value and the arts experience
How does the artistic work you make or share into the world solve a problem, alleviate a pain, or amplify a gain? Does it have to?
A good poem, then, is a solvent, a kind of WD-40 for the soul.
Jane Hirshfield, from Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World
A fundamental focus of marketing and sales is customer value. What experienced benefits does your product or service provide? And how is your offering different and better than the other options available?
Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen framed this value as “jobs to be done,” suggesting that people “hire” a product or service to achieve an objective. Says he in this expensive strategy course:
“A 'job to be done' is a problem or opportunity that somebody is trying to solve… We call it a 'job' because it needs to be done, and we hire people or products to get jobs done.”
Those jobs can be practical – reach a destination, drill a hole, organize a closet. But they can also be emotional, social, sensory, or metaphysical – find solace, deepen a relationship, discover or develop a meaningful life (see last week’s post on personal projects for more).
To truly understand someone’s “job to be done,” you have to set aside what you’re making (for a moment), and focus instead on them. You need to look and listen and learn.
One useful framework to do this is the Value Proposition Canvas, which places your offering in direct relationship to the jobs, pains, and gains of an individual or group, and encourages you to meet them where they are:
JOBS include what they are trying to get done in their work or in their world that might be served by your offering (again, these can be practical, emotional, social, sensory, civic, and on and on);
PAINS include the challenges or negative experiences associated with those jobs - risks, barriers, frustrations, confusions, stress, or the like;
GAINS include the beneficial outcomes or positive experiences of a job well done – satisfaction, pride, joy, connection, status, financial or physical or emotional reward.
Once you discover and document these jobs, pains, and gains, the canvas asks you to consider and adjust how your offer actually matches them – completing the jobs, reducing the pains, amplifying the gains.
While this seems an obvious approach for a commercial product or service, it can feel awkward in the nonprofit arts.
For one, in a for-profit endeavor you can and do change the offering in response to customer needs – “You want hats? Ok, then we make hats.” A nonprofit tends to build from mission, which is often anchored in a particular artistic discipline or practice – “You want hats? Sometimes our dancers wear hats, but not often. Are you sure you don’t want dance?”
For another, artistic process and practice is often about solving the problem of the artistic impulse, not the audience – creating a coherent and compelling response to an evolving creative vision. As Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch describe it in their book on Meaning (1977):
“…all the arts work in this way. They search for means of solving a problem – a problem which was conceived for this very purpose, i.e., its solution; and they pursue this question while continuing to shape the problem so that it will better fit the means for solving it.”
And, of course, there is the focus and feeling that art is not and should not be a “product,” as Margaret Atwood writes in her intro to Lewis Hyde’s The Gift:
“What is the nature of ‘art’? Is a work of art a commodity with a money value, to be bought and sold like a potato, or is it a gift on which no real price can be placed, to be freely exchanged?"
But despite how you feel about an arts expression or experience doing “a job” for someone, it’s worth remembering that meaning is always a co-production of artist, art work, and audience. And that all of those co-producers deserve attention and respect.
No, your visual art exhibition is not a potato. But it does (or could) offer gifts to the people who experience it. Why not honor and understand those people and the jobs, hopes, struggles, and lived experiences they bring?
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Marketing
Marketing involves creating, communicating, and reinforcing expected or experienced value.
Framework of the Week: Value Proposition Canvas
A strategic discovery and planning tool designed to help business innovators unbundle and build out the value of their products or services for target audiences.
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