1,000 True Fans


I recently revisited a talk given by the excellent Diane Ragsdale in which she refers to Kevin Kelly’s theory of 1,000 True Fans*. Kelly tells us “a True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.”

I actually first heard about this concept from Ragsdale four or five years ago when she gave a talk in Vancouver. I still remember the excitement I felt at learning about this seemingly simple idea—one that I believe is ideally suited to nonprofit arts organizations.

Now, being reminded of the concept, I am surprised that this—in its revolutionary simplicity—apparently has not caught on.

What could be more desirable than a solid base on fans eager for your art, productions and presentations?

Every arts organization has some fans, and with some degree of activity there is always the potential of acquiring more. Imagine building a league of followers who are eager to attend your performances, advocate for you through word-of mouth, donate, subscribe, share and comment.

Kelly acknowledges we do not need to fix on the number 1,000. He says, “in fact the actual number is not critical, because it cannot be determined except by attempting it. Once you are in that mode, the actual number will become evident. That will be the True Fan number that works for you.”

The point is to nurture the right number of fans that will allow your company and work to survive and even thrive. A small dance company offering one or two performances a year in a small venue will be fine with fewer fans than, say, a large presenting venue that may need 1,500 fans and perhaps many more.

What is important is to work towards the number you need, adding one a day or one a week, and reaping the benefits as you go along.

Imagine the return on your communications efforts. On one hand you can communicate to a group of people who actually want to hear from you, or you can market to a great mass of unknown people hoping a miniscule percentage will actually see your ad and take action.

Thanks for reading!


*Learn more about Kelly's work here.

Trickle or Torrent: How Successful is Your Customer Retention?


The idea of customer retention is quite simple: have the same people buy tickets year after year.

But, it is not that easy, and on the other side of retention is attrition: the rate at which your patrons leave, never to buy tickets again.

It is natural to experience some attrition, but, if the two sides of retention and attrition are not well managed, it can make the difference between a trickle and a torrent of lost patrons.


Most arts administrators know it is an endless and costly search to acquire new ticket buyers.

  • It is estimated to cost 5 times more to obtain a first-time ticket buyer than it does to keep an existing customer.
  • The Harvard Business School reports a 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by at least 25%, and possibly up to 95%.
  • A returning ticket buyer is likely to spend twice as much as a newly acquired patron.
  • 9 out of 10 first-time buyers are not likely to return.

So it doesn’t take much to recognize the sound economic necessity of retaining your ticket buyers from one year to the next.


To a great extent, retention is tied to the loyalty your ticket buyers feel towards your company. But that implies the relationship flows from the customer to your organization.

It is much wiser to reverse the direction of the relationship: retention comes out of the emphasis and investment you place on customer service and overall experiences.

You have to earn that loyalty.


  • Customer retention needs to be embedded in the marrow of your organization and the actions of its people. Don’t wait until you are about to launch a new ticket campaign; instead work on retention throughout the year, so your ticket buyers are there when you need them.
  • Your front line staff should be your ambassadors of customer retention and contributors to your patrons’ experiences. Give guidelines to your team, but give them flexibility to be responsive to situations as they arise. Fast, courteous service is key to great experiences.
  • Get to know your ticket buyers through your data. Create a picture of them and understand why they attend your performances. Delve into the data to learn the attrition patterns. If you discover the patron life cycle is shorter than you thought, you have an opportunity to work towards extending the relationship.
  • Use surveys to help collect information, so that you can better understand your ticket buyers. Go beyond basic satisfaction questions, and ask about their interests and motivations. And continually ask for feedback.
  • When you receive feedback, you need to listen to it. A customer may not always be right, but their perceptions and opinions are right to them and that is what matters most. Try to understand the root cause of negative feedback, as there may be more to it than you were initially told.
  • Relationships are based on interactions. If the interactions are few and far between, the relationships will have little substance and no staying power. Find frequent and varied opportunities to connect with your tickets buyers in order to deepen the relationships.
  • Communicate with your patrons; don’t talk at them. Give your patrons value, and provide them with information. If you only focus on ticket sales, you will never build relationships. Also, communicate frequently, as you never want to give your patrons an opportunity to forget you.
  • You know the service you want to provide to your customers, but do you know what they are actually experiencing? That subscription form that took so long to design may not be as user-friendly as you thought. The “on hold” music on the telephone may be completely inappropriate to your company’s brand.
  • Set goals. Go back to your data and look at how many people bought tickets over two years and how many bought tickets in the first year only. What is your retention rate? Now consider what you will do in the next year to improve that rate and set a goal accordingly. If you reach a retention rate of 75% or 80%, you are doing well.


  • Send personalized welcome cards to first time buyers.
  • Surprise people with unexpected gestures. It doesn’t have to be expensive - it is surprising the joy a little piece of chocolate can bring.
  • Send a thank you email to your patrons following a performance.
  • Immediately after a first-time experience, send new ticket buyers an incentive to return for an upcoming performance.
  • Above all, be proactive.


A lot of money and time goes into finding new ticket buyers, and the majority will not return. Invest in your current patrons and you save time and money on marketing, you have more people attending your performances, and you have a stronger bottom-line. Designing a customer retention strategy is not difficult or costly, but it does have to be deeply rooted throughout your organization. Customer retention is a mindset. Add greater loyalty and increased satisfaction to the already mentioned benefits, and you are well on your way to a long-term relationship with your patrons.

Thanks for reading. Paul

Are You Talking To Me? The Art Of Communicating


In a noisy world of cluttered, distracting marketing messages, it is a good question. Is anyone aware that you are trying to communicate to them? Have you actually captured the readers attention, not just once, but on an ongoing basis?

Much of traditional marketing is a one shot deal. Money is spent on ad campaigns that have limited shelf lives, and the worst part is you have no residual benefit when the campaign has run its course.

But, if you place relationships at the centre of your communications, then you have something that can be yours forever.

Relationships are built on trust, value and communication. Relationships are about talking with people, exchanging ideas and sharing interests.


Of course, if you want to relate to someone, you have to know to whom you are talking, and this is where personas come in.

Consider who is at the receiving end of your communications:

  • Are they old or young?
  • What is their income level and where do they live?
  • What are their experiences with your art form?
  • Are they long-time attendees, or are you trying to reach first time buyers?
  • What are their interests in your company and what motivates them to attend your events?
  • What are their connections to your company?

The more detail you have in describing the persona, the better you will understand your target audience and the greater chance you will have in crafting communications that will build relationships.


As you work through this process, you may realize your target audience really has more than one persona. Just as you are unlikely to talk with an elderly relative as you would to a twenty-something, you are not likely to communicate in the same way to long-term donors and first-time audience members.

Multiple personas require multiple conversations and that means different communications directed at different target groups. Of course, this is not manageable for every arts organization, but the key point is you must define your target audience and write for that persona.

If you do not have enough data to describe your target persona, consider online surveys or place questionnaires in your programs. Organize a small team to circulate among the audience members at intermission and later share observations. Talk with your frontline staff, the ticket sellers and ushers, to learn from their own observations and experiences.

Because it takes at least two to have a conversation, you also need to consider your company’s persona. What does your company represent and what are its values? What are your company’s voice and tone when presenting its unique point of view? What is its personality?


Now that you have at least two personas, yours and your target audience, you can begin to craft a writing style that is personal and relatable. Instead of communicating from an impersonal business to the faceless masses, you can communicate person to person.

This type of communication is not about ‘we’ the company, but rather about ‘you’ the reader. It is not about ‘the sell’, but about sharing well chosen information and inspiring interest.

It is about individualizing your audience and caring about them as people. And most important, it is about building relationships that can be around for a long time.

The Takeaway: identify the persona or personas that describe your target audience, and understand your business’s personality and voice. Know the person to whom you are writing, offer inspiring communications and ‘talk’ with them as individuals. Establish trust and you are on your way to creating lasting relationships.

6 Strategies to Guarantee Productive, Purposeful Meetings


Our lives are full of meetings. Some are productive, but unfortunately many are not.

So much time is lost with wasteful, ill-conceived meetings. Imagine this scenario: a group of 10 people are scheduled to attend a 2-hour meeting. On average, it takes each member 30 minutes to travel to and from the meeting. That is a total of 30 hours, or almost an entire workweek, that has gone into that one meeting. It better have been worth it!

A couple of years ago, I vowed I would do what I could to lead meetings that valued time and the participants. Practice and experience taught me a lot.

Here are my six strategies that will help you lead productive and purposeful meetings.

Purpose: There should always be a good reason for people to drop what they are doing in order to attend a meeting. Even if the meeting schedule was set well in advance, make sure the original purpose is still valid.

Before confirming the meeting, you should be able to complete at least one of these statements: “We are getting together so that we can… because we need to… so that we can…”

If there is a clear, purposeful reason for the meeting, go ahead. If there isn’t, cancel it.

Prepare: When sending out the meeting confirmation, let the committee members know what is expected so that they can prepare for the meeting. I usually tell the group to read the circulated materials prior to the meeting, as we will only take questions and comments. In other words, the reports will not be read aloud at the meeting.

Of course, this means materials need to be prepared in advance, so that the committee members can prepare.

Plan: Before finishing a meeting, it is a good practice to plan what needs to be done at the following meeting. Review the questions that are awaiting answers and the tasks needing action. Document these in the minutes and include them in your next meeting reminder. It’s a great way to ensure your next meeting has purpose.

Participate: Do your best to get everyone to participate by calling upon each for their comments and questions. If you are dealing with an important topic and need full participation, tell the committee, prior to the meeting, that you will be going around the table asking every member for their feedback. Once again, the participants have the opportunity to prepare in advance.

Persistent: As the meeting leader, always be gently persistent. It’s your job to keep the conversation on topic, prevent individuals from dominating, and avoid unnecessary repetition. You may sometimes feel like an autocrat, but at the end of the meeting your colleagues will be happier to have experienced a well-run meeting that ends on schedule.

Professional: This means respecting your colleagues’ time and contributions. Prepare and conduct meetings like a professional and expect professionalism from your colleagues. The meetings do not have to be stuffy and formal, but you will be surprised what can be accomplished from a well-run meeting.

The Takeaway: Implement the six Ps of meeting management and you will find the quality and productivity of your meetings quickly improving. You may even find the duration of your meetings start to shorten.

Remember: Your meetings need purposeplanning and preparation. Get everyone to participate. And be persistent and professional.


Thanks for reading The Takeaway, a concise digest of current ideas, curated especially for not-for-profit arts organizations. If you read a useful tip or discovered a new idea, please consider passing this page along to your friends and colleagues by using the share button below.


Quick Pitch in a Fast Machine


It is the oddest thing, but I often provide awkward answers to the question, “What do you do?” I obviously know what I do, but condensing experience and variety into one or two sentences, my elevator pitch, is not as easy as it may seem.

That is why I was intrigued to read Charles McFarland’s recent post Three Steps To Nail Your Elevator Pitch in which he suggests we flip the answer to the question. Instead of answering, “this is what I do”, Charles suggests we go further by answering, “this is what I can do for you.”

To find this new perspective, Charles offers three steps:

  1.  Start by offering “an emotional reason why you do what you do.”
  2. This will lead you to describe “How you achieve results and what exactly you do.”
  3. And finally, close with a call to action.

Armed with this information, and intrigued with the notion of responding to the implied question “what’s in it for me?”, I decided to try out my own elevator pitch.

So, what do I do (for you)?

I enjoy the challenge of working with arts organizations that are seeking change, transformation and revitalization to help them reach their potential and achieve the success they desire. I accomplish this with years of experiences, inquiring investigation, and a lot of dedicated, hard work.

Thanks Charles.

3 Questions to Launch Your Content Marketing Strategy


Communications can be daunting and confusing. There are some many options today, it is difficult to know where to start, and there is so little time sort it out and launch a marketing campaign.

But, with a little time and a little preparation, you can develop a content marketing strategy that will get you on your way and give your communications some focus.

QUESTION 1. Who is your audience?

We are selective when we talk with different people. We do not choose the same words and tone, and we filter our topics, when we talk with our mothers, partners and strangers.

Before you start writing, consider your readership – your target audience, your ticket buyers, subscribers, and donors. Are you able to describe this group? Would you say there is a general homogeneity? Do you know anything about their lives and personalities? Do you know what connects them to your company and your artistry?

If you are not able to describe your audiences in general terms, you should find out about them. Talk with them at intermission. Solicit their feedback and ask them to complete surveys.

Once you have an idea of your audience, your can explore the appropriate tone and wording of your communications.

TIP: Multi-disciplinary programmers and presenters may want to consider segmenting their communication lists and developing different tones.

QUESTION 2. What are you trying to achieve?

It is easy and obvious to say we want to sell tickets. But challenge yourself to think beyond this. Do you want to raise the profile for your brand? Do you want to build a community of loyal fans? Do you want a platform to assert your artistic vision?

A short list of objectives will go a long way to helping you develop a consistent tone and guiding the selection of your topics and themes.

TIP: Make sure your communication objectives are matched to your business and artistic output. If not, success will be elusive, and you are very likely to confuse your audience.

QUESTION 3. What is your unique position and value?

All artists believe they have something unique to say through their art. It should not be any different with your communications. Consider what sets you apart from all the other theatre/dance companies, actors and musicians.

Finally, consider the value of your communications. Are you simply adding to a world of over-saturated media, or are you adding something of value?

The Takeaway:

Before your start writing your communications, take a little time to think about your content marketing strategy. Make sure you know for whom you are writing, and why. Communicate appropriately with the right tone, words and stories. And finally, write from your unique perspective so that you add value to the conversation.

Thanks for reading The Takeaway. If you read a useful tip or discovered a new idea, please consider passing this page along to your friends and colleagues by using the share button below.

And thanks for the inspiration: Rock-Star Content Marketing Strategy.


Long ago, and well before I had heard the term ‘content marketing’, I discovered that sharing stories and information about music, dance and theatre had an amazing effect on building and retaining audiences. Rather than relying solely on the unrelenting deluge of advertising (‘buy tickets!’) and typical press releases, I wrote articles about the concerts I was presenting.

My best illustration of this is a jazz series I initiated despite the fact I knew nothing about jazz. Obviously, I had a lot to learn in order to succeed and to find an audience. I tackled both through research and writing.

Turning my budding knowledge into informative and chatty articles, I wrote out the instruments and rhythms of Cuban music, the history and harmonies of Delta blues, and the legacy and ladies of the Great American Songbook.

It was a good experience: I learned a lot, and the jazz series found a strong and loyal audience base.

Content Marketing is actually something of a misnomer. ‘Content’ refers to the curation of information that readers and audiences will find enlightening and valuable. The word ‘marketing’ is a little problematic, as the goal is not to sell, but rather to illuminate, illustrate, and share mutual interests.

Content marketing is powerful. It has the ability to establish trust and build relationships. It is eminently shareable through email and social media, easily increasing word-of-mouth. It differentiates your company from everyone else, and it places special attention, often with a unique perspective, on what you put on the stage.

Best of all, it really doesn’t cost a thing – except time and imagination. But, before you say you don’t have time, consider the benefits that far exceed a few hours of researching, thinking and writing.

The Takeaway: rather than placing yet another newspaper ad urging people to buy tickets, or writing another press release that will not likely see the light of day, communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your passions. You will find that people actually share your passions as they learn more about your interests and your art.



Like anything, content marketing takes practice and dedication. Here are a few simple tips for getting started on writing content that will find an audience.

  1. Give your readers a reason to care: your content should be focused, well written, and relevant. Tell your readers something they likely do not know.
  2. Write for the reader: it’s not about you or your brand. Don’t sell or tell. Write as if you are talking to someone.
  3. Offer pictures and videos: it is a quick and easy way to illustrate a point and tell a story. Plus, it is also very shareable.
  4. Be creative: use your imagination and you can find interesting new angles about anything. If someone can write great content about bubble wrap, you can write awesome content about your art. In other words, don’t underestimate what people will find interesting.
  5. Tell a story so people want to keep reading: it doesn’t have to be long, but give your writing some shape with an introduction, development and a conclusion. Spell check, get a critical second opinion, and then spell check again.
  6. Keep writing: dole out one story over a few posts or keep coming up with new content, but don’t stop – this is a long term commitment for a long-term relationship.

My inspiration: 15 Content Nuggets



There is a lot riding on the title of your writing. It is said that eight out of ten people will read your title, and only two out of ten will carry on from there. You want the subject line to be good, eye-catching and inviting.

One of my best (I think) was "Wombats, Missiles and Radios", which was actually the title for a story about Christmas carols leading up to a typical seasonal sing-along concert.

Here are 10 sample titles that you can use to boost your readership and perhaps ever inspire a few stories.

  1. How To Look Like A Diva In 10 Easy Steps
    • Write about stage make-up tricks and techniques
  2. 20 Ways To Boost Your Inner Shakespeare
    • Research ways to sound like a Shakespearean play
  3. Dieting Like A Dancer
    • Tell people about your eating habits when preparing for a performance.
  4. So You Want To Be A Singer? (or Dancer, or Actor)
    • Give people a glimpse of what it is like to be a professional artist.
  5. [Your Play], Then and Now
    • describe historical and current interpretations of the play.
  6. My Most Frightening Moment On The Stage, or My Best Moment On The Stage
    • Tell your readers about something that went wrong or right during a performance.
  7. What Everyone Should Know About Ibsen
    • Avoid the usual biographical information; find and relay interesting and unusual stories about the author/composer/choreographer.
  8. En Pointe with Tutus
    • Offer a short history of dance (or theatrical) costumes.
  9. So, What Really Goes On Behind The Scenes?
    • An introduction to the backstage world of your production.
  10. Why Is The Green Room Never Green And Other Myths
    • There are lots of theatrical superstitions and oddities that will be fun to describe.

Some of these may seem a little over the top, and they will not suit every situation. You can use these titles as inspiration for your own creations, or you may copy them directly. No matter what, remember the goal is to pique the reader's curiosity so they go beyond the title.


My inspiration: How to Write Magnetic Headlines 102 Headline Writing Formulas

Thanks for reading The Takeaway. If you read a useful tip or discovered a new idea, please consider passing this page along to your friends and colleagues by using the share button below.

Fanvocates and Millennials



No doubt you have some fans. These are the people who regularly attend your performances, retweet your tweets and like your Facebook posts. Perhaps they make annual donations or buy subscriptions. You know them to see them and you probably know their names by heart.

Your fans also are your advocates... or at least they could be with a little extra attention on your part.

More and more we are hearing about ‘advocate marketing’ or ‘customer advocacy’. In this edition of The Takeaway, we have a quick look at the concept of what I am calling the 'fanvocate'.

  • Discover new fanvocates in your social communities: Use HootSuite and other search tools for ‘social listening’. Find out who’s talking about you and say thank you. Don't be shy.
  • Identify opportunities for fanvocates to help: You don’t have to respond to or comment on everything. Why not invite some of your fans to do this for you?
  • Mobilize your fanvocates to do more: Come up with some fun and engaging ways to encourage advocates to do even more for you. How about awarding badges or points?
  • Tap into the synergies of advocacy marketing and social media: Everyone talks about word-of-mouth. Why not encourage it to new heights?
  • Give your fanvocates targeted communications: Develop a program around valuable opportunities with tailored messages.
  • Celebrate your fanvocates and give them a great experience: Help your fan base grow while avoiding attrition with recognition, awards and learning experiences.

The Takeaway?  You probably have advocates waiting in the wings. They are just waiting to be asked, and you know peer-to-peer advocacy is powerful. So why not consider developing a simple and manageable program to turn your fans into advocates?


Up to the minute: Millennials check their smartphones 43 times per day and most will view email on the day it was received.

Socially connected: Five out of six Millennials connect with companies through social media at a rate that outstrips newsfeeds, email and search engines.

Passing it along: Millennials will share six pieces of content via social media and five via email on a typical day.

Instantly gratifying: Millennials consider speed of response very important.

The Takeaway?  Get them onside with relevant and share-worthy communication and you just might find Millennials  among your influential advocates.

Thanks for reading The Takeaway. If you read a useful tip or discovered a new idea, please consider passing this page along to your friends and colleagues by using the share button below.

Calling, Clipping, Culling



  1. Make sure you actually have a call to action: people will not take time to figure out what you want them to do. Be explicit and be clear. Tell them how to order, tell them what they will get, and tell them they have to do it right now.
    • Make sure you place the call to action front and centre. The louder and clearer the message, the more likely your ticket buyers will heed its call.
  2. Give clear instructions with limited options: narrow the options to help your customers focus and to reduce the confusion.
    • More than one performance or production to promote? It's not easy, but consider focussing on just one.
  3. Present limitations: tell your ticket buyers the offer is time limited, quantities are limited, or first-come first-served. Give a sense of urgency, so people feel now is the time for action.
  4. Offer a bonus: provide a special incentive and connect this to your limited offer.
  5. Make sure your message is appropriate to your purpose: know what you are trying to accomplish and design your offer around that goal. Want to connect with first-time buyers? Go in with a low offer to get them in the door. Want to up-sell? Promote something higher end, such as seat or subscription upgrades.
  6. Give your patrons piece of mind: Let them know they can cancel, return, or opt out. Reduce their risk and give them a sense of protection.
    • Some theatres have had a lot of success with ‘money back guarantee’ offers.

The Takeaway

You probably know all of this, but the point is to make sure you are actuallyapplying these simple tried-and-true rules. Consider your copy and your design with a critical, objective eye. Have a friend read your piece and ask him or her to tell you what are the top two or three points you are trying to make.

Credit: from a list compiled by Craig Simpson for Entrepreneur (link).


The online use of coupons has nearly doubled in the past three years and entertainment ranks among the most popular searches. Here are 10 reasons you just might want to consider adding coupons to your arsenal of marketing tools.

  1. 92% of consumers used coupons in 2013 (up from 63.6% in 2007).
  2. Nearly 80% of consumers say they regularly use coupons.
  3. 91% of those who redeem coupons say they will visit the retailer again after using a coupon.
  4. Men actually use coupons more often then women.
  5. 72% of those using coupons are between the ages of 18 and 40.
  6. 43% of consumers consider discounts of 25% or less to be a “good deal”.
  7. 71% of consumers will search online for a coupon after hearing about it on social media.
  8. 67% of consumers will ‘like’ a Facebook page to obtain a 25% or more savings.
  9. 93% of coupon users say they are vey likely to use coupons they receive via email.
  10. 40% of consumers share email deals via email to their friends.

The Takeaway

The public is clearly primed for coupons. Rather than offering your standard discounts and 2-fers, coupons could be an excellent way to introduce new people to your productions. There is a good chance you will find more men are buying tickets,  and people under 40 are attending your performances. Plus, there is a really good change you will generate more social media buzz. Definitely something worth considering for your next marketing campaign.

Credit: These statistics and more were compiled by Vouchercloud. An infographic can be found here.


Avoid words that lack strength and action, such as may, maybe, hope, wish, try, but, could, perhaps, strive,  just, really, very, perhaps, amazing, and literally.

Instead, use words that will inspire your audience to feel your excitement for the your next production.

The Takeaway

It's not what you are writing, as much as it is what your audience is reading. Remember to be concise and accurate, and always inspire and excite.

While we are at it, perhaps we should be using more imaginative descriptions than the usual grandiose and much overused phrases, such as "one of the world's best" and "world class".

Source ideas from Entrepreneur (link and link)

Know What You Do Well: Believe, Nurture, Trust And Share


I recently finished Just Kids, a sensitive, personal and loving retelling by author, poet and musician Patti Smith of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Beautifully written, this is an homage to a friendship of remarkable depth and affinity.

It was only by chance the two meet: the poet and artist, and the jeweller and installation maker, each penniless and near homeless. The connection was instant, enduring for a lifetime and beyond.

If we did not know the trajectory of their lives, we could easily have said they had a profound innocence and naiveté, adrift and directionless in their youth.

But they were not bereft of ambition, as each had an immutable belief in the talent that lay within. And this strength of personal conviction was matched only by the faith they had in each other.

Patti continued as an artist and is, perhaps, better known today as a musician. Robert eventually discovered photography and is now remembered as one of the 20th Century’s most prominent and provocative photographers.

“I always thought I was good. That’s why it was so frustrating when other people didn’t agree.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

It is the inner strength of personal belief that I found most compelling. It was not questioned, but trusted. It was not ego, but determination. It was not taken for granted, but nurtured.

And it was also the strength of their personal relationship that nourished their spirits and feed their creativity.

Their’s is a story of self-belief and determination; a story of dedication and of vision; a story of empowering relationships.

It is also a story that tells us…

To know what you do well,

to believe in what you do,

and to nurture, trust and share what you do.

Thanks for the ideas: Just Kids, Patti Smith A Live Beyond ‘Do What You Love’, Gordon Marino Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon
Mapplethorpe quote.


So, A Gorilla Walks Into A Room


Do you think you would notice if a gorilla walked by?

In a well-known experiment, test subjects were asked to watch a video and count the actions of a group of people dressed in white, while ignoring the actions of those dressed in black. Without warning, someone wearing a gorilla suit walks through the scene.

Did everyone see the gorilla?

Actually, no. It turns out the task’s focus ‘blinded’ many of the subjects to what would seem to be rather obvious. I am sure you have had that experience many times (although, minus the gorilla), just as you have seen situations where this blindness is the result of a fixation — a singular focus on an idea or belief.

A director of small theatre company decides to leave his community, in which he has been producing for many years, for a smaller venue in a neighbouring city. The reason: the director had an enduring grievance about the cost of the venue.

With the move came loss: With the smaller venue there was no more box office and marketing support; no more front of house and technical staff.

The audience from the director’s original community did not follow him to the new location, and the new community did not discover the company. Ticket sales were poor, and prices had to be reduced 50% before opening night.

This is not a fictional story. I have seen it happen almost as described and in numerous variations. In this telling of the story, the director became so fixated on one idea, his singular focus, that he became entirely blind to the value and benefit of his home theatre. His company paid a high price as a result.

We all have beliefs and ideas onto which we hold tightly. But our grip should never be so tight — so fixated or obsessive — that we can no longer see the options, alternatives and new perspectives and ideas right before us.

We don’t want to be the cause of our own self-inflicted blindness. That gorilla could walk through the door at any time.

The gorilla study is described in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, as well as many other sources.

Photo source.

Wean Yourself and Create A Masterpiece


This past week I participated in a two-day workshop, led by Jeff de Cagna, that focussed on business models and value-based memberships for associations (yes, it was heady stuff). One of the participants happened to mention 'Orbiting the Giant Hairball' by Gordon MacKenzie. Jeff gave the short book an enthusiastic endorsement, saying he has handed out a hundred copies. Sounded good to me, and so I traipsed around downtown Toronto looking for the book so I could read it on the plan trip home.

I was fascinated to read the opening and closing passages (as well as what came in between) for the coincidental and synchronistic alignment to my previous blog post, Prison Walls of Experience. I thought you might enjoy the passages:

Wean Yourself  (excerpt)

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed. Listen to the answer

There is no "other world." I only know what I've experienced.

                                             --Rumi _________________________________________

To be fully free to create, we must first find the courage and willingness to let go: Let go of the strategies that have worked for us in the past... Let go of our biases, the foundation of our illusions... Let go of our grievances, the root source of our victimhood... Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable.

You will find it is not a one-shot deal, this letting go. You must do it again and again and again.

Now when I say let go, I do not mean reject. Because when you let go of something, it will still be there for you when you need it. But because you have stopped clinging, you will have freed yourself up to tap into other possibilities--possibilities that can help you deal with this world of accelerating change.


You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be.

And remember:

If you go to your grave

without painting

your masterpiece,

it will not get painted.

No one else can paint it.

Only you.


Excerpts from 'Orbiting the Giant Hairball' found on pages 3, 216, and 224.

Prison Walls Of Experience


"All of us are prisoners, to one degree or another, of our experience."

And it is the prison walls of experience that obscure potential, possibilities, change and seeing the future.

Not too long ago, I met with someone “to imagine the future, not relive the past”. The intention was not to divorce the conversation from the past, but to avoid the fixation on past grievances, perceived wrong doings, and missing opportunities – the iron bars of so many conversations.

The meeting was really an interview where my questions focused first on the current condition and later moved to inquiries about an ideal future.

It was interesting to sense in the discussion the presence of the past. But as the conversation progressed with more future-forward questions, I could see the constraints of experience had become an obstacle. A vision of a future was out of sight.

When considering change, I do not think it is possible to wholly disassociate from the past. Our experiences are part of who we are and, more importantly, our past in some way informs our future. Our wisdom, knowledge, creativity and gut feelings are the results of our experiences.

But in considering a bold, new future – say, five years hence – what is the past? There is no yesterday – it hasn’t yet occurred. In fact, there will be a five-year span devoid of past experiences.

If we considered all the experiences, good and bad, that actually occurred over the past five years, is that information not woefully out of date when projecting into the future? In fact, in our five-year visioning plan those experiences will be up to ten years out of date.

I doubt anyone would say that an experience in 2004 is still significantly impacting his or her work in today’s rapidly changing world.

So, why drag forward the past when considering our future?

Somehow we need to find in ourselves the strength and courage to break free from the iron bars and scale the prison walls of our past experiences. The past will always be there, but we don’t need to be shackled to it.

Quote from Competing for the Future by CK Prahalad and Gary Hamel.

Play The Role


Roleplaying is something I do not especially like. It has always made me feel uneasy and, when I was much younger, the flight response could be quite compelling.

Roleplaying was far from my mind when I enrolled for UBC’s Cultural Planning course. After all, it was entirely online and the subject is somewhat dry and straightforward (although by no means easy).

As it turned out, there was a fair bit of the make-believe. Some of the assignments were didactic in nature, but many others were not.

In fact, many of the assignments centred on a fictionalized city, of our own devising, that would be undertaking a cultural plan. We were required to write visions, missions, values for our cities. We conceived of populations and committees. We charted strategies, actions and budgets to ensure our cities could reach their goals. In the end, a complete cultural plan, although shorter and fictionalized, was comparable to what you would expect to see for any real city.

Each time I sat down to start a new assignment there was a little dread (and a dash of resentment) that I had to create more of my imaginary world. It felt a lot like roleplaying, in particular because my classmates could read what I had conceived.

Each assignment started with a struggle, but once I got going I found them curiously engrossing. In fact, there were many times that I quite surprised myself with what I wrote. Ideas would pop into my head as if from nowhere.

Now, having completed the course, I have come to realize that the assignments ignited in me a little spark of creativity and freedom.

With a little reflection, I came upon two small realizations.

First, I have been doing this same type of roleplaying throughout my career whenever I was required to do something without the requisite knowledge and experience. Somehow I had to ‘make it up’ and get it right. But these were real situations with real consequences and, needless to say, I took this roleplaying quite seriously.

Second, playing an imaginary role without the seriousness is wonderfully liberating. The box in which we put ourselves falls away, the mind clears and creative thinking brings forward new connections and once obscured thoughts.

Practice Listening to Develop Others


This week I follow-up Mentoring the Mentor with a guest post from my colleague Margo Gram.

I was recently invited to participate in CAPACOA’s mentorship program, The Succession Plan (TSP). Over the course of a weekend conference, my mentee and I met several times and had lots to talk about.

I was pleased to be asked to be a mentor – flattered that colleagues would think I had something to offer. That aside, I was also pleased because I have gained so much valuable experience from mentors throughout my life and now it is time to give back.

Being a mentor has similarities to being a parent in that we love to give advice.  What is important for me in mentoring is to practice listening and to support my mentee in her/his development of problem solving abilities rather than providing answers that worked in my situation.

What I gained from my mentors and what I hope my mentee gains from the process is a growing confidence to tackle the challenges and to know that we’re not alone. It is the beginning of a new network of contacts. Help is one call away.

I was impressed by the calibre of the TSP mentees. They are bright, fresh, thoughtful, and passionate about their work.  As part of the boomer generation, I have been hesitant to give up control, because I haven’t believed the younger generations cared as much as I do.  I am wrong.

To a first-time mentor, I’d advise them not to overwhelm their mentee with advice. My hope for first-time mentees is that they should not be afraid of being honest about their challenges, and recognize that we have all been there.

Margo Gram

Thank you Margo for your thoughtful insight. And thank you for the powerful suggestion to practice listening to develop abilities in others.

Mentoring The Mentor


I have been thinking about mentorship a lot lately. A friend and colleague recently asked me to be a part of her mentorship team and, this past weekend, I hosted CAPACOA’s mentorship program, The Succession Plan (TSP), at Pacific Contact.

Participating in TSP in three previous installments and working with five participants, I have learned that mentorship is something I enjoy immensely. It is uniquely invigorating to share your experiences and to exchange your ideas with someone who really wants to listen and learn.

Like a piano teacher working with even the best student, you hope you can impart some information that will help someone advance along the path of being the very best they can be.

For a few reasons I am not entirely comfortable with the terminology mentor and mentee, not least of which is the inference of a unidirectional discourse. In my experience, the relationship is really most penetrating when each participant is deeply engaged in creative, open-minded exploration.

A number of months ago, at the 2014 CAPACOA conference, I was paired with a TSP participant for reasons that were not immediately apparent to either of us. Not surprisingly, the conversation did not start with an easy flow. But that changed as we got to know each other and the conversation moved closer to the core of the issue.

Gradually I found I was talking about myself in ways that were uncharacteristic and surprising. Reflecting on the intersection of my personal and professional lives, I found myself articulating thoughts that seemed new to me, and yet somehow seemed very appropriate to the situation.

Peter F. Drucker, the legendary writer, professor and management consultant, defined mentor as “someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.”

Perhaps in my situation, the relationship subtly shifted with the mentee becoming the mentor. My hindsight became my foresight as I advanced along the path of being a better me.



Quote by Peter F. Drucker: source 

Shut Up And Listen!


Okay, I will admit that’s crude. But it was a blunt reminder to myself as I embarked on a new project a couple of weeks ago.

For a new assignment, I had been asked to devise and lead a process that would bring together a number of arts leaders for a brief visioning exercise.

It happens I had met all of the individuals involved in this project through a past job, which meant I was familiar with the situation. After reflecting for several days, I decided the best approach would be to develop two series of questions – one set to be answered during one-on-one interviews, and the other during a meeting of the group.

Keeping in mind my relationship to the people and situation, and knowing I should not inject my opinions into the conversations, I decided my role would be restricted to that of listener and reporter.

The initial phase, the one-on-one meetings, took place recently and they provided a very interesting learning experience for me.

People love to talk about their motivations, interests, passions and challenges, and there was an easy and logical flow to each conversation – or perhaps I should say monologue. My questions were covered in due course and I came away with a lot of information.

Listening to each individual for an hour, and hearing about their work and ambitions, gave me a much clearer appreciation of a past situation I thought I knew. In fact, however, I knew a situation constructed by my own perceptions and unawareness. Now, by just listening, I came to recognize and appreciate a greater depth of reason, experience and desire.

Through the interview process, I came to wonder why I never took the time to listen to my colleagues in this manner years ago. It is not that I didn’t talk with, and listen to these people in the past, but now, with a different relationship, the conversations were freer and more open.

If I could turn the clock back I don’t know if anything necessarily would have changed for the better, but I do know that I would have had a very different appreciation of the people, relationships and situations.

This taught me that we really should find the time and the means to really talk about our work – our hopes, ambitions, fears, plans, challenges and goals – in open and non-judgmental conversations. And, we need to listen to our colleagues in turn, setting aside biases and perceptions. Just listen.

We don’t have to agree with what we hear, but ultimately we will have a much greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the environment that influences our work and decisions, in turn opening doors to new possibilities, alliances and partnerships.

So, one day screw up the courage to ask a colleague about their work: their hopes, ambitions, fears, plans, challenges and goals. But remember: shut up and listen.

The Aspiration Of Excellence


I recently heard Toronto-based contemporary dancer, choreographer, writer, director, arts advocate, and consultant Shannon Litzenberger speak at a conference of artists and arts administrators. She was there to discuss her research and ideas found in Choreographing the Future, Strategies for supporting next generation arts practice.

As the first-ever Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow, Shannon was “given [the] time to consider the relationship between arts funding and arts practice in Canada and ask critical questions about public investment. Questions such as: What kinds of working models best facilitate the creation, production, and distribution of art? Where can partnerships be leveraged to better resource the sector? How can artists and arts organizations better engage with, and create value for, the communities and audiences they serve?”

Related to the latter question, Shannon wondered aloud if we should not fixate solely on artistic excellence, but also consider, for example, excellence of community.

Community has been a concern central to my years as a programmer and administrator. I worked very hard to bring people together around various modes of artistic expression. In developing different audiences, I was fond of saying I built ‘communities within communities’. I believe (and hope) I was good at it.

However, I must be honest here, I never specifically thought about excellence of community. This notion provoked me to reconsider something very familiar, but from a different perspective. Like intensifying the magnification on a microscope, I was now considering deeper layers to my work.

I brought people together to see a performance. But who were these people and why did thy come together? Did I actually know the quality of their experience and could I appreciate the depth of their engagement? Did I change anything, and did I create something lasting, or was the idea of community only fleeting?

It is not that I hadn’t thought of these things before, but it is the idea of applying ‘excellence’ as a measure that was new, intriguing, challenging and, potentially, inspiring.

What if we conceived of an equivalent to artistic excellence in management and leadership? Would we be more dynamic, innovative leaders of more highly functioning, successful organizations?

What if we truly strove to make the experiences of our patrons truly excellent? What would that look like? Would we have more engaged, dedicated and larger audiences?

What if we could say the depth, meaning and quality of our work rose to the same level of excellence as that of the best actors, musicians, and dancers on our stages?

There is no doubt, this would be enormously challenging. But is excellence not a remarkable and worthy aspiration?

Survey Says?


Surveying our audiences has never been easier.

Online tools and email allow us to reach people like never before. With little effort and almost no cost, we can ask people almost anything we want in order to gather the information we need.

But perhaps it is all a little too easy. Perhaps naively, we can also ignore the questions that could produce answers we don’t want to hear and results that will not support our efforts and goals.

Now, you may think that is cynical, but let’s consider a typical word-of-mouth question: How likely are you to tell your friends and family about my company?

This question might return an 85% approval rate from those who scored the question 9 and 10 out of 10. This is great news and something well worth trumpeting to fans and funders.

In the past, knowing I had worked hard, and with a sense of validation, I certainly had been a proponent of this approach to approval ratings.

In the past, seeking validation for the hard work I had done on behalf of the audience, I certainly had been a proponent of this approach to interpreting approval ratings.

However lately I have been thinking about those people who have not been so magnanimous with their ratings. These people have taken the time to complete our survey, and they have purposely told us they are unlikely to – or definitely will not – recommend the company to their friends.

Where do they, the detractors, fit in the word-of-mouth picture? Should their influence really be ignored?

Well, we can think of this situation as a simple profit-loss statement. On one side we have those who have given a high approval rating – they are our assets and our promoters.

On the other side we have those who have given low ratings - our liabilities and our detractors.

In our survey, we might find that 12% of the respondents rated the word-of-mouth question between 1 and 6. Deducting this liability from the assets, and we have a net balance of 73%. Now we can see the real and sobering effect the low-scoring group has on our word-of-mouth clout.

Perhaps for the first time, we are truly seeing the net effects of our successes and failures, and appreciating a more complete picture of our customer relations.

So when considering your approval rating, or any other rating for that matter, don’t just look at your fans, but consider the influence and effect of your detractors. Then consider what you can do to move these people to the other side of your profit-loss statement.

Service On The Front Lines?


In the past week I had two interesting experiences with the same national company from which I purchase several services. The first was a phone call from a nice, energetic man who was very keen to tell me about a new subscription service plan. As these calls go, it was difficult to get a word in. But, when he paused for a breath, I was able to inform him that, in fact, I was already a subscriber to all the services he was offering.

“Oh?” was the response with a mix of surprise and confusion. He quickly ended the conversation, no doubt moving on to the next auto-dialed number and hoping to reach a better recipient of his sales pitch.

The next experience was in response to a service upgrade, communicated with fanfare in a personalize email. In fact, the day’s newspaper was also full of ads teasing us about the new technological advancement.

I was off to the storefront to find out more. Was this product what I wanted or needed?

Who knows? It turned out the new equipment arrived in the store just hours before my visit and the clerk had no clue how it worked. She made an attempt at guessing its virtues, but she wasn’t convincing anyone, including herself most likely.

I probably can’t begin to imagine the time, money and intelligence that are poured into new technology and immense marketing and telemarketing campaigns. But does it not all come to a screeching halt when the people on the front lines, the customer service providers, have been left out of the communication loop?

It seems so painfully obvious that we should turn our front line people into our advocates for every product, service, and initiative, and yet it is the obvious that is, sadly, so often missed.

This disjunct also suggests our service providers are not part of the process of refining and developing new ideas to entice people into our theatre seats.

Perhaps that should change. Not only will the front line service providers be more knowledgeable and stronger advocates, but we also stand to learn something from their experiences.

After all, the people on the front lines probably know a thing or two about the customers.