Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on…………………”



Malcolm Gladwell defines The Tipping Point as that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. He calls it "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”, and compares the spread of the critical mass to the behavior of a virus. He postulates that these kind of social ‘epidemics’ are the product of The Law of the Few – i.e., the 80/20 rule that twenty percent of the populace does eighty percent of the work. He further qualifies this law with another The Rule of 150: which states that groups grow too large and loose cohesion at 150. The advantage of adhering to the rule of 150 is that you can exploit the bonds of memory and peer pressure to their maximum.

He goes on to suggest that there are three categories of people in the twenty percent that are key to reaching a Tipping Point (Wikipedia summary):

Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are, in other words, "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances".

Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace and know how to share it with others.

Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, that makes others want to agree with them.

He includes two other considerations:

The Stickiness Factor: the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.
• How retainable is the idea or desired behavior?
• Is it memorable?
• Is it practical and personal – how the idea fits in one’s life?
• Is it novel?
• Is there a “simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible?

The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur".

At it’s heart, Gladwell’s theory is that social phenomenon result from “word of mouth”, which is most efficiently and effectively spread by what music industry mogul, Clive Davis, use to describe (when opining how you break a new act) as getting the “tastemakers and trendsetters” to first embrace it.

If you want to consciously try to get to a Tipping Point (for example if we want to get the public to embrace support for the arts ecosystem as one of society’s highest priorities), then Gladwell’s theoretical framework poses as many questions as answers. In general terms:

1. At what point does it become obvious that something has reached a boiling point and is about to tip? Can you measure the progress to a Tipping Point or is it largely non quantifiable until it happens? Was the Renaissance the inevitable result of an identifiable Tipping Point, or was there a Tipping Point that set it into motion recognizable only after the fact?

2. The possibility of sudden change is at the center of the idea of the Tipping Point -- big changes occurring as a result of small events. If we agree that we are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time, is it reassuring to think that we can predict radical change by pinning their tipping points?

3. Most importantly, how do you set the tipping point in motion – what are the motivators, events, intersections that you have to establish and manipulate? How much of an epidemic is the result of small unnoticeable changes built one on the other until you reach the tipping point? Can you consciously set that in motion? Can you quantifiably monitor it?

4. Can you identify the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen (Clive Davis’ tastemakers and trendsetters)? Can you semi-artificially create them? Even if you can identify who they are can you manipulate their behavior to employ them in a conscious effort to move towards a Tipping Point?

5. The media talks a lot about things that are “must see”; “must have”; or “must do” – how do you transfer that designation to daily behavior?

6. To what extent must old behaviors and prior ingrained thinking be first dealt with in order to move towards a Tipping Point that renders such thinking not only obsolete but anathema to those that have long embraced the old behavior, clung to the old thinking? So, for example, in the Middle East Palestinians and Israelis have for so long embraced violence as the response to their plight, that despite the recognition that there is NO military solution; that the only solution will be political, nothing changes. How do they move to a Tipping Point?

7. If what we are really talking about is contagion – the same dynamic that permeates an otherwise peaceful protest and turns it into a ‘riot’, how do you manage the dynamics of contagion? Is the novelty of the iPhone its own Tipping Point, or is the onslaught of ‘applications’ for the device, the Tipping Point?

Let’s look at a couple of examples within our own sector – arts education and the arts / business intersection.

In the arts education arena, how do we finally get to a new Tipping Point where arts education is no longer considered a ‘luxury’, a ‘frill’ – on a par in people’s minds at least to the same extent as math & science have become? Can we trace the rise of math & science as essential core subjects that must be supported? We can start, I suppose, with Sputnik and Kennedy’s clarion call to “land a man on the moon within a decade” as an external event that heralded a Tipping Point. But even today those who are proponents of more math and science in the curriculum, continue to argue for their cause. Did we then ever really reach a Tipping Point for the embrace of more math & science in the curriculum? Is the continuing cry for more math & science the response to the reality that we never did reach a Tipping Point the result of which was that more students embraced those two disciplines. What does it matter if educators recognized, accepted and embraced the need for more math & science and moved to provide it, if the student population simply wasn’t interested in taking more math & science. Did we reach one Tipping Point, but not the essential “second” Tipping Point in this case? Will today’s efforts (largely that of the Silicon Valley industries who need more students versed in math & science people to fuel their R&D departments) finally succeed in reaching a Tipping Point that will bring more and more young people to embrace those disciplines, or are those current efforts ignoring that “second” Tipping Point objective and still stuck thinking the first Tipping Point is where they should focus their efforts?

We have, for a decade or more, been consciously trying to convince educators, funders, the media and the public, that arts education should, no must, be a ‘core’ subject – every bit as important to the education of our kids, as any other subject. We have amassed studies and statistics, put forth theories and waged advertising campaigns to accomplish that simple goal. And I think we have done an admirable job. And I think too we have succeeded – in part anyway. But have we yet reached the Tipping Point? I don’t think so. We are still considered a luxury, a frill. Is all that effort just the foundation on which we can now strategically move to the Tipping Point? How do we do that? How do we move educators, teachers, parents, students, funders, corporate America and government to get to the Tipping Point?

Take the corporate sector as a sub-case. We continue to argue to business & industry that arts education is key to graduating students with the very skill sets that business wants. Yet business has not taken up the arts education banner to the extent we have sought. And beyond business support for arts education, for three decades, the nonprofit arts sector has been seeking – with very limited success – to capitalize on intersections between it and the corporate / business community. The vast majority of efforts in this arena have been small and localized (i.e., individual arts organizations attempting to build bridges and form partnerships / alliances on individual, isolated projects, often limited to seeking corporate sponsorships; or Arts & Business Council/Business Committee for the Arts initiatives, for which arts organizations have shown far more enthusiasm than businesses). Larger forays into the promotion of sector wide collaborations have principally been limited to periodic dialogue characterized by the most general of precepts; lacking specificity, strategic / practical next steps, and any timeline for the accomplishment of specific agenda items.

Recent developments that have elevated the importance of creativity to America’s global competitiveness, and expanded research into the role and value of certain skills that arts education purportedly deliver to the job preparedness of the workforce, have further opened (slightly) the door to move towards potentially more substantive relationships between the arts sector and the business community.

The arts sector knows what it wants: more vocal support and money. The business community is not yet convinced what (if any) benefit accrues to it from furtherance of the relationship between the two sectors (aside from building community “good-will”), nor, specifically, how the arts might help it to harness the elusive concept of “creativity” to its benefit. Recent studies suggest the two sectors, even after decades, do not yet even share a common, consensus vocabulary when discussing the issues. Most of the stimulus for further dialogue, research, and pilot partnership programs originates in the arts sector, not in the business community.

While concerted effort has been made over the past decade to convince government (at the local, state and federal levels), and the education and business communities, that arts education should be of equal value and importance (to other core subjects) to schools and to corporate America, and of the direct relationship between arts education and proficiency in science and math, the arts remain the step-child to science, technology, engineering and math, and continue to be regarded as an ‘elective’ subject. Business does not value art to the same extent it values science and math, nor does it acknowledge any linkage between studying the arts and either proficiency in other academic subjects, or success in school in general (including attendance, behavior, motivation and self-esteem). Business and industry have yet to buy into the proposition that an arts background has a relationship to innovation in the workplace.

In short, though we have supposedly been in a dialogue with corporate America for years, we are still at the very beginning of fashioning any kind of workable, sustainable partnerships / relationships between business and the arts on a large scale. We haven’t gotten to any Tipping Point where we can move dialogue to action.

As a precursor to that Tipping Point, we need to move our agenda forward by:

1) Understanding what, specifically, the business community might want from a working relationship between the sectors (i.e., how such a potential relationship could be perceived of as actually benefiting business);

2) Establishing a common, consensus based vocabulary centered on the concept of “creativity”, its role and value, and the methods by which creativity can be demonstrably grown, quantified, and managed;

3) Devising a strategic approach to insure that the potential value to both sectors of continuing exploration into the possibilities of collaboration and cooperation filter across and through all levels of the sectors;

4) Laying the foundation for the development of sustained channels for dialogue and action by and between the two sectors at a high national, executive level.

Specifically, we need to ascertain:

1) What the concept of creativity means to the business community in terms of it’s:

• Place as a core corporate value
• Role in driving innovation
• Function in identifying challenges and obstacles
• Value in problem solving
• Relationship to motivation, productivity, competitiveness and talent recruitment and retention
• Intersection with corporate communication, marketing, design, and product development
• Advantage in the development of business relationships, including, specifically, global partnerships.

2) What role the arts sector might play in addressing the perceived needs of the business community, and how what the arts sector has to offer might positively support corporate goals in the areas of innovation, talent acquisition, employee retention, job satisfaction and training.

3) The near term opportunities to advance the dialogue and move to real, working partnerships.


Our core base has been substanially the same for a long time. Certainly we have widened that base considerably over time. The sheer number of those who sympathize and empathize with us, who support us has increased. But the sources of that increased number may not have expanded. More people are on our side, but they come from the same places they have long come from. We haven't yet drawn into our sphere precisely those we need to champion our cause, or, to put it another way, those who do champion us simply aren't the right people to get us to Gladwell’s Tipping Point. We haven't yet 'activated’, as it were, the tastemakers and trendsetters to put in motion the “word of mouth” campaign that is essential, and so, I would argue, we need to first Cast A Wider Net than we currently have, and to do that we need to know what those potential Connectors, Mavens, & Salesmen really want – what are their self-interests that we can satisfy that will move them. And, I would argue we really don’t yet have that information. If we want Arts Education to really be a core subject, simply making the case isn’t really the first step. Our Making the Case is all about us. I don’t think Gladwell’s Connectors, Mavens & Salesmen move because something is about someone else. They move because something is about them. Now, Making Our Case may strike some chord in those we want to enlist, but we would arguably do better if we could identify some of those chords we might strike.

The first step is to identify, then determine how we can satisfy the needs of those whose help we need – teachers, administrators, students, and parents. If we want business to really partner with us, we need to know what benefit we can offer that will move them. Step One in really Casting A Wider Net is to identify what those who would spread the word of mouth campaign want / need. This is true whether our goal is arts education on a par with math & science, new financial support from the corporate sector, expanding our audiences or gaining new financial support. In every situation, simply making the case for our value doesn’t necessarily address the “needs” that will move those we need to help us move to the Tipping Point – which I would argue is far less about “us”, and far more about those that will spread the message. We have been focusing far too much on “us” and not enough on “them”. You can’t cast a Wider Net when the focus is on ‘our’ needs, wants, positions, value. We have to shift the emphasis. Please note I am NOT arguing against Making Our Case, not suggesting that there hasn’t been tremendous inherent value in the Herculean efforts of the past decade – only that we now, more than ever, need to become even more sophisticated in our approaches and designs.

Take arts education: we need teachers, school administrators, parents and students to get to a point where the demand for arts education reaches a Tipping Point. What do they want? Teachers are largely concerned with their own classrooms. Who will teach the arts? Will it be them? Will they get training? Will they be paid more? Will this mean more work for them? Will it help their students succeed? Are we addressing those questions? Take school administrators: what do they want? They are concerned with scheduling - where in the day is there room to teach arts? Where are the classrooms? Where will the supplies and teachers come from. And most important to Administrators - who will pay for it all? Take parents: How does this help my kid learn, succeed? And then the students themselves (the biggest challegne for the math & science boosters): will this help me get into college? succeed in business, in my job / career search? in life? Is it fun? Are the "cool" kids into it?

If we want to Cast A Wider Net to move to the Tipping Point we have to figure out how to address some of these issues in order to make our case more persuasively and effectively.

This is a wieldy subject, and as I said a couple of weeks ago, I am only trying to offer a framework for more productive discussion of how we might strategize to reach our objectives. This is just the beginning. I hope you will pick apart my (admittedly) surface thinking here, to help me develop a more cohesive, comprehensive and intelligent theory that can help us all. And as I offered earlier in this blog, the questions I am trying to raise simply raise MORE questions. My hope is that over the course of the year, I can raise questions, get us all to think about the Tipping Point, whether or not we can manipulate it, and how we can succeed in Casting A Wider Net that will yield us the recruits we need to get to a more substantial and meaningful grassroots word of mouth phenomenon that will help us to achieve our goals – including making arts education the equivalent of math / science, and lighting a fire under the business community that will lead to real support by them for our agenda – as only two goals among many.

I know my approach is not terribly sophisticated at this stage. I am not an academician, nor is my approach even close to being as rigorous an exercise as critics could rightly point out. I am, at this point, just a blogger, and my purpose is to spur dialogue and discussion, in the firm belief that within our community of arts and arts education administrators there is, in the aggregate, the experience, talent, critical thinking capacity and enough smart, savvy people that we can develop practical approaches that will get us closer to where we want to be than we have done thus far.

More on this next month.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


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