Sunday, July 25, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………….”

One of the major concerns expressed by emerging leaders in the Focus Group project I did for the Hewlett Foundation was the lack of available career path advancement counseling and advice.

Here are five good tips from Joann Lubin in her Wall Street Journal column:

1. Network Effectively Rather Than Aimlessly
Focus on forging "strategic relationships".

"Relationships can't be built in 60 seconds. People hire people they like and trust. So, work on building better ties with your contacts by being a reliable resource for them and offering frequent updates about your career.

For the same reason, attend industry conferences. Scrutinize the participant list, pinpoint executives you wish to meet and schedule encounters there.

2. Sweat the Small Stuff

Tiny missteps may derail your career. You appear unpolished when you talk like an adolescent, curse at colleagues or proffer a sweaty palm.

Outdated clothes, frayed cuffs, messy hair, scuffed shoes or excess cleavage also signal poor judgment. "Looking your best at any age is what you should aspire to," advises Patricia Cook, an executive recruiter in Bronxville, N.Y.

This lesson also applies to cover letters. Inspirica, a New York high school and college tutoring concern, found mistakes in 93% of 220 letters from tutor applicants over the past year. Many flawed letters came from experienced writing tutors.

"Pay attention to everything you write in cover letters," warns Lisa Jacobson, Inspirica's CEO. "Otherwise, you will get weed whacked right out."

Send hand written thank you notes.

3. Make Your Résumé and Business Card Work Overtime for You

Too often, résumés chronicle your past rather than promote marketable skills that would benefit potential employers. An additional "pre-résumé" may make more sense, says Rick Gillis, an author of two job-hunting books who devised the concept. The one-page document contains a brief objective statement that describes precise ways you will improve a particular company, he adds.

A pre-résumé also includes highlights of four career accomplishments—plus a string of key words (such as "multi-task professional") that get detected by resume-tracking software.

An online résumé offers another approach. You can show work samples, references' video testimonials and any data that may demonstrate successes in your career, such as surpassing sales targets.

It's equally important that your business card convey a memorable first impression. List your strongest skills or highest degree right under your name. But omit your physical address to appear flexible about relocation. Don't overlook the reverse side of your card. Rather than leave it blank, you can display the name of a prominent prior employer.

4. Pay It Forward

Whether you're on the job or seeking one, you should help others propel their careers without expecting return favors.

5. Know Thyself—and Be Ready for Reinvention

You should constantly take stock of your dreams, values and transferrable skills. Scrupulous self-assessments can help you pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. To succeed at your current workplace, you must be equally flexible about accepting lateral moves.

• Embrace potentially risky new assignments.

And here are five more I would offer for your consideration:

6. Enhance your skills with ongoing training and professional development. Don’t wait until training is offered to you, seek out seminars, courses, workshops and other ways to increase your business knowledge. Learn how to think critically and to analyze issues.

7. Find a Coach or Mentor – even if unofficial. There are many people out there in our field who will be glad to help you, all you have to do is ask. I guarantee you they will be flattered and honored if you seek their coaching,.

8. Be Seen / Be Heard. Don’t blend into the woodwork at events where you network. Offer up well thought out ideas and opinions on major issues. Demonstrate you have done your homework, and have given thought to major issues impacting the sector. Respond to blog postings. Participate in discussions. Don’t worry that all your ideas are brilliant – nobody has a monopoly on good thinking.

9. Become an expert at (at least) one issue. Get known as one of the “go to” people as having expertise in one major area in which you’re interested in. Jockey to get on panels at conferences, publish articles. Get involved in research. But don’t forget that there are many sides to any issue – make room to consider the thoughts of other people.

10. Smile – cultivate an image as an optimist. No one likes someone who is always the pessimist, with the dour personality. Be the kind of person YOU would like to hang out with. Complement those around you.

Some great stuff on the net out there last week:

Arts Journal Blogathon on Creative Rights & Artists

And a great interview with my own Mr. Miyagi – John Kriedler

For a really excellent round up of interesting stuff on the web, see Ian David Moss’ Createquity.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………….”

Here are two GOLDEN opportunities - one for emerging leaders and one for all of us:

I. Emerging Leader Professional Development Funds Available:

You may have received an earlier announcement from The James Irvine Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Center for Cultural Innovation, asking for your assistance in getting emerging arts leaders to take an online survey that will help us all to understand the roles and needs of the next generation of arts leaders in California.

In addition to producing significant baseline data about younger arts professionals, individuals on your staff between the ages of 18 and 35 who complete the survey may also be eligible to apply for mini-grants up to $1,000 to help support the cost of attending workshops, conferences, hiring personal coaches and other professional development activities during the upcoming year.

I am informed that the process for applying and receiving these grants (in the next few months) will be very easy, involve minimal paperwork, and that there are significant funds in the pool – enough to make awards to a sizeable percentage of those that might apply. That means you have a very good chance of getting a grant. This is a real opportunity if you are an emerging leader to get funds to allow you to learn new skills and get professional development training that will enhance your career chances and empower you to be a better administrator / manager / leader.

Frankly, if you are an emerging arts leader, you would be crazy not to avail yourself of this gift. But you have to take this survey to be eligible to apply.

So if you have not done so already, I strongly suggest that emerging leaders 18 to 35 take the survey before it closes on July 31. And everyone should pass this on to anyone they know in our field in this group. Here is a link to the survey.

For further information on this survey and the statewide Next Gen Arts Initiative, please visit CCI's Creative Capacity Fund website at:

II. The California Arts License Plate Drive:

The California Arts Council, with broad based support from both the ‘for´ and nonprofit arts sectors, has launched a drive to sell one million vanity Arts license plates this year. If that goal were reached, it would raise some $40 million for the CAC – allowing it to finally climb out of the cellar in state per capita support for the arts and re-establish defunct, and launch new, programs of desperately needed grant support to arts organizations and artists all across the state.

Click here to order:

While the Arts license plate climbed to the number one position in sales of all the vanity license plates available (near some 100,000 plates back when I was the Director of the CAC), this new goal is ambitious to be sure. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t be realized if the entire arts community will support it. I know some people have expressed concerns about the project, including the fear that this will end up the de facto way, and the only way, the state will support the arts in the future, and that it thus amounts to saying to the arts community that the only funding that should support the arts should be earned income and that money from the general fund should not be allocated to arts & culture – a stance many of us in the field are staunchly opposed to. I’ve heard others express the fear that even if we sold one million license plates, at some point the politicians would covet that pool of money and somehow manage to appropriate it back to the general fund – a move all too common during economic bad times.

Let me address these two concerns:

First, as to the license plate fund or any other earned income strategy replacing general fund allocation for support of arts & culture in California, given the dire economic situation we are in, and likely to remain in for some time, earned income, at least short term, may be the only viable option on the table to support the arts. We have to do what we have to do to survive. We really don’t have the luxury of standing on some principle, unwavering adherence to which might spell our own demise. We can always argue that certain general fund income (such as that resulting from the taxing of the sales of arts works) ought legitimately be (at least partly) allocated to support arts & culture, and we can even argue for allocation of new general fund sharing. Right now we need the money – any money. We need to keep artists working for real wages, we need to increase access to the arts for all segments of the population, we need to support arts education efforts, we need to nurture and facilitate creativity wherever and however we can, and we need to protect at least some of the ecosystem and infrastructure that we have crafted over the past decades. We need money to do that. And there is the distinct possibility that earned income may be the basis for future models of state (but perhaps not local and / or federal) funding for the arts across the whole country for some time to come. We can get creative with such a model, but short term we need to exploit whatever options can result in sustainable revenue streams.

Second, as to future Governors and Legislators playing their old tricks of appropriating pools of money earmarked for a specific purpose back to the general fund, there is less likelihood they will succeed in getting this license plate money back into the general fund because of the Franchise Tax Board’s ruling that the fees for purchase of the arts vanity plate constitute a charitable tax deduction. That ruling will make it difficult to re-characterize the fee as legitimate for re-appropriation back to the general fund – which most certainly is not a charitable enterprise, and should thus protect that fund for the arts. (Though we ought to be vigilant, because there is no guarantee any money is safe from a desperate Legislature and Governor – who may yet find a way to grab this cash).

So while there are legitimate concerns about the future of arts funding, that seems to me no reason to table this effort which the backers at the CAC have spent a lot of time, energy and the marshalling of diverse segments in support. It isn’t an ideal solution to our funding crisis, but it IS a viable, strong, smart plan and it can make a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives if everyone will just support it. Just think about that for a moment – even if this only raised $20 million dollars – that money would impact –directly and indirectly – tens of thousands of Californian’s lives – including a lot of working artists and a lot of the people who run arts organizations that are hurting. And it would re-establish a presence for state support for the arts and an opening to later argue for other kinds of things.

I strongly urge all of you to buy an Arts Vanity License Plate and to urge everyone on your staff, your board, artists with whom you work, your audiences and supporters and volunteers to do the same. The link to the site ought to be on every single arts organization website in the state, there ought to be cut out signs in the lobbies of every museum and performance venue, there ought to be a page insert in every program and a box mention in every newsletter – paper or electronic. There ought to also be a ten second announcement from the stage to every audience before every performance too. I hope the CAC will have some kind of thermometer gizmo on their website that will tell us all on a weekly or monthly basis how many more plates were sold, and how close we get to the one million mark.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

“A Man Hears What He Wants to Hear and Disregards the Rest” – Paul Simon

Good Morning.
“And the beat goes on…………………..”

Questioning our Basic Assumptions:

One of the great dangers in doing the same thing and using the same processes for a long period of time is falling into the trap of elevating basic assumptions to the status of indisputable facts. Continuing use of outdated models can promote a culture that is risk averse, unimaginative, clings to historical ways to doing things, and makes false assumptions on which is premised faulty logic and action. Most of our strategic plans, daily operations, various forms of community outreach (supporters, donors, audiences, volunteers etc.) and operative tactics are predicated on the assumptions we make. For much of our sector, the assumptions that govern our thinking and action were arrived at a long time ago, arguably suspect at the time; too often unjustifiably enthusiastically embraced, and really just a case of the arts collective conclusion that, indeed, the Emperor was splendidly dressed. We really haven’t even taken a look at them in some time. Some remain valid, others do not; some were highly questionable at the outset, others have less relevancy as time has eroded their validity.

But something is happening. In the past year, everywhere there seems to be the initiation of conversations about rethinking our models, questioning some of our dearest held beliefs and assumptions, taking that long, hard look at what we do and how we do it. We have begun the process of more seriously questioning our way of doing things.

It’s hard to change a culture of how things are done; axiomatically harder the longer that culture has had time to insinuate itself into the layers of how we think and how we act. I think as we continue to engage periodically (and regularly) in the exercise of asking whether or not certain of our most fundamental, basic assumptions are in fact based on reality or are just ‘givens’ we long ago accepted as real – assumptions about who supports us and why (or why not); who are audiences are and why or why not; what others perceive about us that might be different from our self perceptions; how we can at least survive, and hopefully thrive in good and bad times and on and on – we will get closer to figuring out how to repair some of the broken models and come up with brand new model designs where that will be the only rational course available to us.

So I started thinking about examples of assumptions I think we might take a look at. Here are three: (and these off the top of my head, doubtless there are more, many of which demand more serious attention). It is the process that I am touting here.

1. Assumption: The chief motivation of our small core of major patrons and supporters lies in their commitment and passion for the art form. These are the people who understand and appreciate the creative process and they give so generously because they have a deeply personal relationship with a specific art form and that process. Their principal motivation is their relationship to the art itself and / or to the value of the arts as a whole.

Fact: Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes the motivation of donors is personal and really may have nothing to do with the art(s) or the value we perceive when we think of the arts. Bob Lynch, in honoring major Americans for the Arts’ benefactress (endowment of $100 million over 30 years) Ruth Lily on her passing, told a story at last month’s conference in Baltimore that he urged people to keep in mind. After receipt of the Eli Lily pharmaceutical heir’s extraordinarily generous gift, Bob asked her attorney: (paraphrasing) What was the tipping point for Ms. Lily in her decision to make the gift? Was it the diversity of Americans for the Arts programs and outreach? Was it their effort to champion the arts for everyone? Was it their role in promoting arts education? Was it their commitment to creativity? Was it their work in defending the NEA?   And the lawyer told him that the one thing Ruth Lily was impressed by, which she commented on, and was thankful for, was that Bob had always remembered her Birthday and sent her flowers every year. Maybe it is, for a lot of our supporters, the really little personal things that tip the balance and NOT as we would like to think that they share our same set of value priorities. Even where we have research that seems to confirm what our supporters want, what they value, why they give – that research may be only a small part of the actual fact of what truly motivates people.  Maybe the personal realtionship of the donor / supporter with the organization trumps the relationship with the art form itself - at least in some of the cases. 

2. Assumption: In order to secure government funding – on whatever level – federal, state or local – we need to more forcefully and convincingly make the case as to our value and worth – both tangible and intrinsic - from economic benefit and job creation, to the education of our kids, to civic and community pride to the pure joy and intrinsic value of creativity. The best way to send that message is both through the example of personal stories of how that value impacted individuals and credible, reliable, academic research, studies and data. One of the keys to advocacy success is staying on message.

Fact: Maybe, maybe not. We have made a better case for our value every year for at least a decade. Our arguments are stronger, backed by more research and data now than before. We have archives of personal stories that quite clearly illustrate the personal value of the arts on every conceivable level. If it were even mostly about persuasively making the case for our value, then we wouldn’t likely be losing (as much) ground on the state and local levels – going backwards and giving up previously won victories. Not every special interest that argues for its value has suffered anywhere near the cuts we have. Could the difference possibly be not that they make a better case for their worth, but rather because they are more politically active in elected officials campaigns? Could it be that making the case for value is not the only (and perhaps not even the most important) part of successfully advocating for a share of the pie?

3. Assumption: All millennial aged emerging leaders intuitively know and understand all aspects of web 2.0 and 3.0 including the mechanics of social networking. If you have issues and needs in these areas, turn them over to the millennial on your staff.

Fact: Maybe, maybe not. Surprising as it may be, there are many millennial aged people that are no more familiar or comfortable with the web, social networking or computer maintenance than are some aging boomers.  And there are many of those aging boomers who are very comfortable with computers, and all things WEB oriented.  This is likely a false and silly generational bias. While not very important in the overall scheme of things, it IS emblematic that the generations have some serious misperceptions about each other and that fact does have serious implications for how we construct and govern our workplaces.  We are probably too quick to stereotype ourselves. 

It is likely that the above three assumptions (and all of our assumptions) may be somewhat valid and somewhat (as suggested) suspect. The important thing is to go through the process of asking whether or not our assumptions are valid, whether they do or do not hold up any longer – or maybe if they ever did. It is the questioning process that is now critical if we are to move forward to rethink all of the models we are using, and we have to dig deeper into and question every assumption that we make.  It isn't that every one of our assumptions is necessarily flawed, it's more likely that most of our assumptions are too shallow and that reality is much more complex.  We shouldn't base action on partly true assumptions.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese

Good morning

“And the beat goes on………………………………………….”

Why We Should Study Worst Practices

Steven Wright, a humorist much more on the stage a decade or more ago, has a unique perspective on life. One of his observations is the title above: “The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Sometimes in life it’s smart to learn from the risks others take, and the mistakes they make. The dead mouse in the trap saw the cheese and went for it. Didn’t work. But the second mouse, though still cautious, was in the enviable position of reaping the reward with no risk.

We talk a lot about “Best Practices” – studying and analyzing programs and protocols that work in one place that might be replicated in another. What are we doing right that we can all learn from? A couple of weeks ago I linked to a site that talked instead about "Next Practices" – where should we be heading for the future. That author offered that “best practices” were fine if you wanted to improve your current business model, but that organizations and leaders ought to constantly be looking for a better business model, and thus trying to find new ways to get to those new models which will allow the organization to remain competitive – hence the notion of “Next Practices”.

I think we also ought to consider paying more attention to “Worst Practices” – studying and analyzing decision making and model adoption that didn’t work, and looking at why it didn’t work – so we can share ways to avoid at least the worst case scenarios, and better equip ourselves for "Next Practices".

But (for the most part) we don’t do that. There is precious little effort, despite it being talked about for at least a decade, in even trying to maintain the best of our institutional memory by figuring out how to capture (and share) the collective wisdom of our best and brightest leaders as they retire and exit the field – before that knowledge is lost to us (condemning us to repeat mistakes and suffer the conceit that every solution we come up with is new and novel). We still don’t have any model that allows us to maintain that collective experience and those insights, and that, frankly is really stupid.

And we virtually never even try to include some record, some analysis, some thinking on all the bad decisions we have, as leaders in our field, made in the past. The programs, plans, strategies, projects and thinking – that despite our good intentions – turned out to be faulty, ill-conceived, mistakes and and a waste of our time. There are some moves in this direction: Funders are asking what was accomplished over the past decade and questioning their own basic assumptions and premises and how they can better realize lofty goals. Government agencies - state and local - are re-examining their missions and what ought to be their priorities. That’s a start. And there is the occasional work out there that looked at failure and tried to understand it (see the Book “And the Band Stop Playing” by Nancy Glaze & Thomas Wolf on the closing of the San Jose Symphony Orchestra – an analysis of failure and lessons learned -- as an exception to the norm).. But despite increased emphasis on evaluation of projects, there has been too little deep, systemic analysis of failed decision making, approaches, philosophies and to me, most importantly, adoption of – and clinging to - the wrong models.

We need to learn from each other’s mistakes. The challenges of the past couple of years have been so daunting, that many of our organizations have fallen into the precipice and have lost the battle and closed their doors. Many others are living dangerously close to the edge. The rest of us need to learn from the mistakes those failures can teach us, and without meaning to sound sanctimoniously critical, the actions of many of those among us can only be characterized as failures. For whatever reason, on whatever level, there are leaders among us who make (made) bad or wrong choices in response to the onslaught of bad news; leaders unable to weather the storms. It may not have been completely their fault, and this isn’t meant to criticize anyone, but certainly some of the blame can accurately be placed at their failure of business leadership.

We need to dissect some of those situations so all the rest of us can learn from what went wrong. We need to look at what decisions were made, and when, that contributed to the failure, and what were, in the final analysis, the real risks that were taken that proved too much. Of course this is hindsight, but that’s exactly the idea. We can’t eliminate future risk of course, but we might make it less risky. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any model in place that allows us to debrief those who were at the helm when things went wrong, no way to deconstruct the decisions and actions that, in hindsight, turned out to be bad moves.

Certainly we can learn from our successes, but very likely people learn as much, if not more, from their failures. And we (the nonprofit arts sector) need to figure out some way to learn from our past mistakes – including the most recent ones in the face of all the challenges now on our plates. Where is the workshop that teaches us how to do that as individual leaders? Where is the model that will allow us as a sector across the whole country to systematically consider what might be learned from analyzing what went wrong. At the AFTA Summit’s Visionary Panel, “New and Emerging Business Models” there was almost no discussion of fundamentals in approaching the issue: what criteria we ought to consider, and how we ought to analyze both good and bad past practices, in the attempt to move forward to those “new and emerging models” we might adopt. As Glenda said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.” I guarantee you that the most sophisticated of enterprises around the globe do exactly that. We do not.

There is nothing inherently wrong with making mistakes, and despite anyone’s best intentions and savvy planning, failure sometimes happens (how stupid is the saying “failure is not an option”? Failure is not a goal, not something you choose, but as a possibility it is always on the plate.) We must spend more time understanding risk and how to take calculated risks balancing payoff and downside. Can that be taught? If we have enough information and analysis available to us, I think so. If we really believe risk taking is part of the creative enterprise, then some failure is inevitable. But to fail, and learn little from that failure, seems a colossal waste of experience.

Cookie cutter approaches are inadequate. What is a Best Practice in one set of circumstances may just be a Worst Practice in another. But knowing why something worked in one place and something else failed in another would be enormously helpful in figuring out what you might want to try in your situation. Obviously small, individual organizations cannot themselves develop this kind of analysis, and thus this is the kind of information that funders and national organizations should try to help provide.

I think the problem is partly because we simply lack the resources available to government and the private sector to spend time and energy looking at failure with an eye to learning from it, that often times we don’t dig deep enough in the development of our business and other models. And while I understand why that happens, I think we are getting to the point where we simply can’t afford that approach anymore. We need to study and analyze best, next and worst practices to learn from all three. There is another Steven Wright observation that might apply -- when he opined: “A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.” We need to keep thinking about this stuff.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.