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Why do we "hire" an arts experience?
"Jobs to be done" shifts focus from who might buy a ticket to what they want that ticket to buy.
Let me have your abyss.
I’ll cushion it with sleep.
You’ll thank me for giving you
four paws to fall on.
Wislawa Szymborska, from “Advertisement” (tr. Stanisław Barańczak)
In our search for new or returning arts audiences, we often focus on who might come. We group current or potential audiences by geographics (where they are), demographics (what population characteristics they have), psychographics (what lifestyle they align with), or behavior (what actions they’ve taken). Then we try to correlate those identities with offerings and messages that entice them to attend.
Academic/consultant Clayton Christensen and colleagues found that this approach offered more heat than light, making companies “masters of description but failures at prediction.” Instead, Christensen et al suggested a focus on what outcomes people are seeking when they encounter a product or service – their “jobs to be done.” Christensen et al wrote (2016):
When we buy a product [or service], we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative.
Sometimes those “jobs to be done” are practical, tactical, functional, and focused – satiate a hunger, quench a thirst, fix a sink. But more often the jobs are complex bundles of functional, emotional, and social goals – strengthen a relationship, escape boredom, support a friend.
In 2020, Advisory Board for the Arts used the “jobs to be done” lens to understand arts audiences, finding a wide array of “work” that people hired an arts experience to do (see chart). Some jobs were directly related to the art itself (“see art performed at the highest level”), some were only tangentially related (“show friends I’m unique”). All suggested opportunities to communicate, connect, serve, and support your audience in more resonant ways.
It can feel awkward to consider an arts expression or experience as a product, service, or tool. And it can be disruptive or even disastrous to purpose-build artistic creations to solve a named or nameable problem. But it’s important to acknowledge that people come to artistic experience for a range of reasons – some explicit and some implicit. One role of the arts manager is to help them find what they are looking for (for a start, try the Value Proposition Canvas).
Jane Hirshfield named the odd tension between the uselessness and essentialness of artistic work. I’ll let her words close this Field Note in a way that holds the conversation open:
A lyric poem does not solve any outward dilemma; few answer any practical question, none refastens a single loose shingle to a house. As Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Yet when crisis requires a mode of negotiation with the chaos, entropy, and loss-terror that co-inhabit any human life, poems are turned toward, as a plant requiring its photosynthesized sugars turns toward the sun… A good poem, then, is a solvent, a kind of WD-40 for the soul.
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From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Program & Production
Program & Production involves developing, assembling, presenting, and preserving coherent services or experiences.
Framework of the Week: Requisite Variety
W. Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety states that any regulating system must have internal variety that is equal to or greater than the system being regulated.
Advisory Board for the Arts. “What Is the Jobs to Be Done Theory, and How Can Arts Organizations Use It?” Accessed October 30, 2023. https://www.advisoryboardarts.com/jobs-to-be-done.
Blume-Kohout, Margaret E., Sara R. Leonard, and Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard. “When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance.” NEA Research Report. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, January 2015.
Christensen, Clayton M., Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan. “Know Your Customers’ ‘Jobs to Be Done.’” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 9 (September 2016).
Hirshfield, Jane. Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Reprint edition. Knopf, 2017.
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