Why, Oh Why?


For want of a nail the shoe was lost.For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This old proverb, dating back to the 1300s, is a brilliant example of the butterfly effect: the entwinement of cause and effect as one small action flutters across numerous consequences to an unforeseen and, in this case, monumental outcome.

It’s fair to say such an outcome could not have been forecast. After all, who would have thought a missing nail was the beginning of the end?

It really is only in hindsight that we can trace our way back to the root cause. And so by flipping the proverb and asking the question ‘why?’ we discover an excellent method of problem solving.

Why did we loose the Kingdom? Because we lost the battle.

Why did we lose the battle? Because we didn’t receive a crucial message.

… And why was the horse missing a shoe? Because we ran out of nails.

It is easy to ask ‘why’ the first time. After all, the answer is obviously in front of us: the lost battle caused the downfall of the kingdom. Isn’t that enough?

Not necessarily. It is much more difficult to repeatedly ask ‘why’, each time delving deeper and peeling back the layers to reveal the actual root cause.

The thread of questioning in our example also reminds us of the importance to involve others: from king to blacksmith, those people with the experiences and the answers.

So, the next time you hear someone say ‘ticket sales are down because [fill in the blank]’, ask why. And ask again. And then ask again. The rule of thumb is that you will ask ‘why’ five times before landing on the real reason.

It’s not easy, but then do you want to lose your kingdom just because you didn’t want to ask five simple questions?

Mind The Gap


Some time ago I came to the conclusion that everything we do that has the slightest connection to the public falls under the banner of customer service. For a long time I said that is all starts with the first ad. We announce a new production or a season with a frenzy of adjectives to convey the exhilaration of what we are offing and to build anticipated excitement with our hoped-for audiences.

Over time and with more experience, I have learned customer service actually has its roots in the earlier planning and programming stages.

It is all about perspective. If we believe we earn audiences, nurture fans and build communities, we then must believe that, even in our most formative periods, we are developing services for our customers that carry through the performances (and hopefully beyond).

With the best of intentions, I have often tried to measure customer service. With paper, pencils and computers, it is easy to distribute what seem to be obvious questions. Right?

Well, maybe not so obvious. We know what services we are attempting to deliver and, let’s be honest, we know where we want validation. But we may be missing the point:  do we actually know what matters to our customers?

The true measure of customer service can be found between the gap of customer’s expectation and perception. Here we need to ask: what service did the customer expect to receive, and how did it differ from their perception of what they received?

A simple example: I buy a ticket to a performance based on the ad. The ad copy, with a stunning photo, has given me a clear expectation of what I will experience. However, I leave the theatre unhappy because the performance, to me, did not match the description. In other words, my perception did not match my expectation.

And therein lies a gap of customer service.

The only way we will ever be able to appreciate whether we have a crack or a canyon between expectation and perception is to ask our customers tough questions. But these questions are not tough for the audiences. They are tough for us as we may be digging deeper into an unknown - our relationships with our customers.

Sometimes it is just simpler to ask about the chocolate bars in the concession.

Journey to the Moon


[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]Robert Lepage, one of Canada’s greatest creators and artistic visionaries, recently spoke at the 26th annual CAPACOA conference, The Culture of Curiosity. The conference offered many opportunities for stimulating learning and thought-provoking commentary, and Mr. Lepage certainly did not disappoint in this regard.

Of his many insightful comments, there was one that particularly resonated for its layers of meaning and interpretation.

"We travel to the moon to look back on the earth."

Many who spend their time thinking, researching and writing about the act of creativity will say it is the process, or the journey, that is most important element of creativity. As a result, the creator is not – or should not – be focused on the end result, or destination, but rather the trials and errors, and the failures and successes.

In a few simple and descriptive words, Mr. Lepage beautifully illustrates this point. He eliminates the often single-minded focus on the destination, as he reminds us to look back: to see where we started, to reflect on the journey and to celebrate what has been accomplished along the way.

In business this is particularly challenging in the face of the unending quest for more: increased ticket sales, more performances, bigger productions, additional donors and members, larger budgets.

The continual pressure for more is endless, robbing us of a sense of destination or arrival and seemingly disallowing us the luxury of reflection and perspective.

Mr. Lepage reminds us of the importance of these qualities. I am sure if we take the time to stop, even for a moment, to reflect with a renewed perspective, we just might marvel at our accomplishments and our personal journeys to the moon.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

So, Who Is Managing The Crisis?

The New York Times recently published a very interesting and thought-provoking article in which author Anthony Tommasini asks: what have we learned after a year of crises? (Lessons in a Year of Crises, New York Times, June 8 2014) Mr. Tommasini refers to a number of alarming challenges faced by arts in 2013, and the demise of the New York City Opera tops the list.

In a nutshell, this storied company ran up a deficit of some $7 million. In what could have been a last minute lifeline for the opera company, billionaire, former NYC Mayor, and long-time supporter, Michael Bloomberg, declined further philanthropy. His reason: the “business model doesn’t seem to be working.”

Fair enough. It seemed no matter what they did administratively or artistically, nothing could halt the Opera’s mounting debt.

What was the meaning of Mr. Bloomberg’s statement, asks Mr. Tommasini? “In short, artistic excellence is not enough.” He adds, “In finding the right business model, a performing arts institution must know where to draw limits.”

I have often thought the latter point, knowing when and how to draw limits, is one of the main challenges facing arts organizations and their caretakers.

All too often we are fixated on the next new, innovative, diverse project. As a result, we create organizations that are self-cannibalizing, often adding enormous stress on the organization and staff to raise more and more funds to feed the beast and keep it alive.

Artistic and executive directors and boards make the decisions that create these situations. However, with fear of biting the hand that feeds, we also need to recognize that funders must assume a share of the problem.

With every good intention, funders typically nudge grant recipients to continually produce new and innovative projects, and to continually demonstrate growth. Paradoxically, funds are typically not available for a project’s second, critical year. Organizational stress mounts under the constant newness.

How is this constant flux and reinvention sustainable given an insecure business model?

Mr. Tommasini points out there is no one business model. But what are the business models? That is where arts administrators and boards really need to get creative. With strong leadership and vision, we need to see the situation for what it is, and make clear-eyed business decisions that ensure the manageability and sustainability of our organizations.

Without the underpinning of a strong and supportive business foundation, we run the risk of creating the monster we can no longer feed.


Creativity: A Work In Progress


[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]The future will come. It's an immutable fact. There may be nothing we can do to change that fact, but can we influence the world of tomorrow for the better?

I often say doing nothing or repeating the past are not options, and business pundits have long told us that the world is no longer business as usual. From evolving demographics and elusive audiences to changing tastes and shifting political climates, we only need to look at our own experiences to see the world is a different place.

So, if it is not business as usual and repeating the past is not an option, then change becomes a necessity. But, hopefully not change for change’s sake. Rather, change that is born out of new ideas that have come from knowledge, experience, experimentation and divergent thinking, failure and success, risks and, yes, hard work.

In other words, creativity.

Therein lies the challenge – to understand creativity as it relates to our work, striving for the success of our organizations, artists and audiences.

There is nothing about creativity that is easy. But, perhaps the first brave step is recognizing and agreeing that the future will come and we can do something about it.

At the beginning of a new year, perhaps there is no better time than to take that brave step and use creativity to do something positive to better our lives, our work, and the world around us.



Giving credit where it is due, the opening words come from the following source: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-11-224206-Open-innovation[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Redux Creativity: A Work In Progress


Yesterday, I put forth the idea to “take that brave step and use creativity to better our lives, our work, and the world around us.” Knowing that the future will come, we can, in fact, influence the world of tomorrow through experience, experimentation, divergent thinking, and a little hard work. Obviously primed with this in mind, there were a few words in today’s Globe and Mail’s Managing Books that caught my eye. The last entry of the six habits of successful digital firms was entitled, Innovation, not immediate gratification. The opening sentence read, “These firms (e.g. Facebook, Google) invest in products for the future, spending time on things that might not be used for many years.”

We all familiar with the magnitude and pace of innovation generated by the big tech companies. Just imagine if each of us dedicated just a little daily time and resource to our own personal research and development.

Now that truly would be bettering our lives, work and the world around us.



Source Reading: The Globe and Mail, Six Habits of Successful Digital Firms

Creativity: The Child Within

I have never been able to shake the feeling that, with the start of September, comes the start of a new school year. Although it has been years since I last saw the inside of a classroom,  I have decided to go back to school. Just yesterday I entered the virtual classroom for the second of three online courses: Creativity, Innovation and Change, a MOOC course presented by PennState.

What a surprise this one has turned out to be. I have never felt more like a kid, and more energized than when working through the required exercises.

What a fun and liberating experience it is to give yourself permission to make paper towers, and then share them with thousands of students around the world.

Next up was the creation of a Life Ring. With the  "master in the middle", you "focus on roughly 5-9 major life arenas where you will invest your time, with self, family, work, and community."

Now this type of exercise is not easy for me. I feel I know myself, but, the truth is, I have a difficult time articulating what I think I know. Nevertheless, I pushed ahead, quickly writing out my thoughts  before self-doubt took over.

We had been instructed to group our thoughts in neatly arranged compartments, as you can see from the side image.

Maybe it was because of my new-found inner-child, but I decided to be a little subversive and try something different and, perhaps, something more representational of my thoughts.

It may be messier, but it was fun, invigorating, and I felt infused with a bit of child-like creativity.

I highly recommend it--give yourself the opportunity to be childlike. You will very likely  be surprised with what you discover about yourself.

A Question of Change

A colleague recently posted this interesting question: "I wonder which is more difficult: envisioning personal change and transforming our own perceptions and lives, or effecting organizational change?"                                          I have thought about this for a while, and I have wondered if this is really a like-with-like comparison.

Personal change is entirely inward looking  (excluding concerns about facelifts and the latest fashions, of course). You have to be open-minded and self-critical (but not judgmental), as well as clear-eyed and (brutally?) honest to assess your personal condition.

You can be much more objective and removed from the situation when assessing the need for organizational change.  To start, business challenges can seem tangible, if not actually visible. After all, you can look at a Balance Sheet to see right away that a company is in financial trouble. No emotions or soul-searching required.

In the same way, do we really have the ability to be truly objective with ourselves?

Assessing the need for change and transformation is one thing. Action is entirely something else, and maybe this is where we can start to make comparisons.

Whether internal or external, change is almost always met with fear and resistance. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, it is far simpler for people to cling to status quo.

So perhaps the question is: "I wonder what is more difficult: initiating personal change, or convincing others to embrace organizational change."

This may be a stalemate, but either way it isn't easy.