"And the beat goes on………….."
Arts Entrepreneurship Blogathon - Day 2: If you were off for Memorial Day and missed the first installment of this forum yesterday, click here: http://blog.westaf.org (and scroll down).
If you would like to comment, please go to the site blog.westaf.org and click on the comment icon at the end of the blog.
What knowledge areas are critical to entrepreneurship in the arts? Discuss how the arts are teaching, supporting, nurturing and preparing both artists and arts administrators to think and act entrepreneurially. What does it mean to act entrepreneurially? What are the personal qualities and professional skills that make for a successful arts entrepreneur and a successful entrepreneurial project. Can those qualities and / or skills be taught? Comment on current arts entrepreneurship pedagogy.
Adam Huttler: Beyond basic literacy in budgets and such, formal knowledge is of limited value to entrepreneurs. Far more important are (1) vision, (2) guts, and (3) adaptability.
Vision is the ability to imagine possible futures. In a leadership context, it further necessitates being able to convey that picture to others in a way that is compelling. It depends on a big-picture perspective, a talent for connecting the dots among seemingly unrelated ideas and trends, and skill at communicating both logical and emotional arguments. (If you have vision and can’t share it persuasively with others, then you’re just a crazy hermit.) Vision is the fundamental prerequisite for entrepreneurial leadership. Sadly, I do not believe it can be taught (or if it can, I haven’t a clue how to teach it).
Guts is the ability to recognize risk but proceed confidently despite it. Having guts means accepting that failure is not merely a possibility, but is in fact the yin to success’s yang. At the same time, part of being a gutsy entrepreneur is knowing how to mitigate or compartmentalize risk, which decreases the cost of failure more than it undermines the potential for success.
Without guts, vision stagnates. Fortunately (and perhaps counter-intuitively) educators may have a role to play in cultivating entrepreneurs’ guts. Many would be entrepreneurs are held back by the fear that they don’t know enough – about business, technology, the market – to possibly succeed. This fear is crippling even when it’s unfounded. Training students in the vocabulary and concepts of industry can sometimes unlock guts that were previously suppressed by fear.
Likewise, it’s worth noting that most serious training in the arts requires that we make ourselves vulnerable in ways that a typical accounting student would shudder to contemplate. The experience of having your deeply personal expressions repeatedly exposed and judged by others forces you to get good and cozy with the idea of failure. That’s useful practice for future entrepreneurial endeavors.
Finally, adaptability is the ability to pivot when presented with unexpected setbacks or opportunities. Entrepreneurial ventures never go precisely as planned, so this skill is essential to seeing them through.
To a certain extent, adaptability is a function of intelligence and personality. However, these cognitive muscles can be developed through exercise – another opportunity for educators to nurture future entrepreneurs. When I look back on my own business school experience, what stands out isn’t the Black-Scholes options pricing model. In fact, almost none of the technical models and formal concepts have been relevant to my experience as an entrepreneur. However, the hours I spent reviewing case studies with professors and classmates were transformative. They exercised my brain’s ability to think analytically about business problems and trained me to see and consider many possibilities in any situation.
Andrew Taylor: A key distinction for me between a manager and an entrepreneur is their sense of agency -- their belief and ability to take their own actions in the world.
To put it in an extreme frame for the point: Managers often behave as occupants of their jobs, their organizations, and their markets. To improve as managers, they become better occupants...learning how the machine works, aligning their energy to make it work better. (I'm making this sound sheepish, but I don't mean it that way...it is a complex and beautiful gift to make an existing system work well).
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are architects of their jobs and their markets. Their work, their resources, the structures around them, and their audiences are all objects worthy of creative attention, connection, and reinvention.
In the many arts enterprise courses I've taught and co-taught, personal qualities and professional skills were certainly essential. But the transformative power was in student discovery of their own agency. Many had spent their whole academic life moving from one institution to another (schools, ensembles, studios, colleges, etc.), positioning themselves for the next institutional transition. Few had been invited or encouraged to consider themselves as powerful actors within that work.
They had been learning to be good occupants of the arts system, and not architects.
I found that this discovery and development of individual and group agency comes mostly through making things, rather than learning the theory of making things (although people need both). Talking to and hearing from active practitioners. Leaving the classroom to talk to artists, audiences, anyone to test their assumptions and ideas. Analyzing and criticizing the work of their peers. All contribute to this sense of power in the world, and the confidence to exercise that power in the pursuit of their profession.
Richard Evans: The entrepreneur is sometimes confused with the creative ideas person. These are not the same. Some people are naturally brilliant at coming up with divergent thinking and original ideas. The great majority of people talented in this way are less agile and persistent when it comes to implementation (particularly when the complexities of an organization are involved). By contrast, the entrepreneur is not necessarily a fount of ideas. Rather, he or she is brilliant at bringing ideas to market – often building on, or stealing, the breakthrough ideas of others. Specifically, social entrepreneurs can see the ideas to pursue for market advantage and for social return, and have the determination and savvy to see them through. Or, at least, that used to be the case. Today’s complexities are causing these characteristics to shift.
We see this shift in our work with all the Innovation Teams that EmcArts helps arts organizations create and manage. In analyzing likely team performance, we make use of Meredith Belbin’s research into team-role preferences. In decades of research worldwide, Belbin uncovered 9 consistent team-roles that are evident and necessary as people work together. At least four of the team-roles provide insights into entrepreneurship and how it translates into action inside organizations – and the findings are curiously counter-intuitive.
Most closely associated with entrepreneurial activity are the Resource Investigator and Coordinator roles. Resource Investigators are outgoing and curious. Their preference is to explore all available creative ideas, develop external contacts, and negotiate for resources on behalf of the team. They are able to see the system more fully than others, and take account of its dynamics in developing a strategy.
The second of Belbin’s three “social” roles is the other most associated with contemporary entrepreneurship. The Coordinator, despite the mundane title, is often referred to as the “servant leader.” Individuals with a preference for this role gravitate to facilitating the team, to drawing out all its voices and ensuring an equitable balance of input, probing the diversity of perspectives to enable breakthrough thinking rather than the more usual gravitational pull of the loudest contributor.
By contrast, two of Belbin’s team-roles are not clearly associated with entrepreneurship, perhaps surprisingly. The Shaper, who favors rapid action, can propose a compelling way forward, and has the courage and stamina to overcome obstacles in achieving the result, might seem central to entrepreneurship. But this kind of “heroic leader” frequently fails to hear the questioning input of others and is insensitive to their feelings, tramples rather than invests in ideas contrary to their own, and may well propose the one solution to the challenge that is “simple, direct and wrong.” In terms of entrepreneurship, the leader with an advanced capacity for appreciative inquiry is beginning to outrun the Shaper who perennially wants to cut to the chase.
Finally, the Plant, the naturally original thinker whose contribution lies in consistently coming up with creative and divergent ideas, but who can also get lost in the clouds, only contributes directly to entrepreneurism and to innovation if his or her ideas are taken up by others with the motivation and ability to get traction. The ability to work with ideas from multiple sources, molding and connecting them to generate resources, is these days of more importance to an entrepreneurial approach than the cry of Eureka! in the bath.
A further twist is that most people currently employed in the professional arts sector are pragmatists who favor a clearly developed system to get things done, short-term deadlines, and repeatable outputs — especially when resources are scarce and efficiency is highly valued (what Belbin calls Implementers and Completer-Finishers). So it’s not surprising that innovation has been sucked into this orbit, being interpreted as primarily about coming up with new programs and products — commodified innovation, if you will. This focuses on the wrong thing, misses the true nature of innovation, and reduces its power. Because innovation is first and foremost a process, a way of creating the conditions for emergent behavior, for “next practices” to be realized.
All this has led me to conclude that what we most need to do in nurturing and preparing arts practitioners to be entrepreneurs is to build their skills in adaptive leadership, as originally defined by Ronald Heifetz – 1) seeing the larger system by “getting on the balcony” to identify complex challenges, 2) facilitating processes that give the work back to people rather than impose a solution, 3) regulating the distress of letting-go that is associated with innovation and breakthrough change, by choreographing conflict (rather than suppressing it), 4) maintaining disciplined attention to the challenge through reflective practice, and 5) protecting voices of leadership that arise from below by respecting all sources of input and insisting on inclusion.
This kind of personal developmental work requires extended practice in one’s own organization and out in the community, alongside regular personal coaching. At EmcArts, we’ve tried to create these conditions in our new leadership program, Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators.
One of the most exciting trends I see in this area is the evolution of the role of teaching artists. Leaders in this emerging field are bringing the techniques of aesthetic practice and experiential learning through artmaking to bear on larger, longer-term challenges in organizational and community change. Lincoln Center Education, Big Thought, COCA in St. Louis, and Dreamyard are all pioneers of this entrepreneurial approach. Corporations are desperate for it, but the social sector is also beginning to see its utility. Michael Rohd’s Center for Performance and Civic Practice in Chicago offers “arts-engaged partnership work that is developed in service to the needs of the non-arts partner.” At the root of this body of practice is “the need to listen, over time, so as to discover how the artist’s assets and the partner’s needs may serve each other in surprising moments and previously unimagined forms.”
To put entrepreneurship into action, I find myself asking: How in my organization do we promote and celebrate divergent ideas? What might make that safer? How do we charter non-traditional teams to develop ideas into new ventures and test them? How tolerant are we of giving up our individual authority and control in the construction and chartering of these teams? How can we learn to stay in the productive heat of idea conflict, and not descend into relationship conflict?
Anthony Radich: The area of arts entrepreneurship is often treated as something that is entirely new. More widespread knowledge of highly successful arts entrepreneurs in the history of the arts would help that field understand that business entrepreneurship in the arts is part of a continuum that over the years has included some very savvy practitioners. In the visual arts, the 16th-century artist Titian was a highly successful entrepreneur, in the early 17th century, Shakespeare was a remarkable entrepreneur; in the music field, 19th-century composer Giuseppe Verdi made millions by knowing how to monetize his innovations. These are examples of not only great artists but great entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial strategies these successful artists used need to be understood by today’s art entrepreneurs. Many of their strategies are as viable today as they were hundreds of years ago.
I would also argue that recognition needs to be given to arts entrepreneurs who have long labored behind the scenes practicing arts entrepreneurship in less visible positions in arts organizations. These individuals have created value and new revenues by using entrepreneurial tools to grow earned income. They have succeeded as business entrepreneurs by increasing ticket sales, expanding revenues from arts festivals, building museum shops, designing online collateral sales programs, and developing and deploying art classes for youth as both a means of income and as a way to cultivate future audiences. Art entrepreneurs can be some of the lesser known individuals in arts organizations. Our field has a large number of unrecognized business entrepreneurs working away behind the scenes far from the spotlight.
Linda Essig: First, the art has to be there. In other words the knowledge that is used to create the art is a prerequisite to the knowledge critical to entrepreneurial action. As in many fields, we can look at both domain knowledge and technical knowledge. Arts entrepreneurship domain knowledge is currently being built and far more research is needed. One of the reasons we started Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts is to provide an outlet for the dissemination of new knowledge of and about arts entrepreneurship. Domain knowledge in arts entrepreneurship has to do with the unique context(s) in which artistic production and dissemination happen and the cognitive processes one undertakes to recognize/create opportunity, innovate, and actuate. Technical knowledge relative to arts entrepreneurship is the more fixed type of knowledge such as the mechanics of new venture creation or budget management.
It is relatively easy to teach fixed technical knowledge. Domain knowledge is trickier to teach, but I’ve found that providing experiential learning opportunities can help the nascent arts entrepreneur to develop habits of mind such as resilience, persistence, meta-cognition, and the like that support entrepreneurial action. A recent article in Artivate coming out of Australia extends the “habits of mind concept” to develop teachable means for developing an “arts entrepreneurial mindset” including “Creative, Strategic, Analytical and Reflective Thinking,” “Confidence” (or what I would call self-efficacy), “Collaborative Abilities, “Communication Skills,” and “Understanding of Artistic Context.”
I’ve written a bit about arts entrepreneurship pedagogy and don’t want to take up space on your blog repeating myself, but in summary, I have found three pedagogies to be successful in teaching the domain knowledge of arts entrepreneurship: collaborative team-based projects, one-to-one mentorship, and experiential learning.
Russell Willis Taylor: The knowledge areas that are most critical to the practice of entrepreneurship would include: technology and how it can be harnessed to increase impact, revenue portfolio creation skills, environmental awareness (active feedback loops), sales, understanding of the value being created (domain expertise), strong team-building skills and talent management abilities, personal resilience, and an understanding of how to build flexible organizational structures. So that should be pretty easy then – forgetting only the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I also think that the ability to see the patterns in the work that is being done and in the environment is a less easy to train for but characteristic skill of successful entrepreneurial leaders.
There is a lot of good training out there for all of these areas, and I think I will be forgiven for noting that quite a bit of that good training is done by National Arts Strategies. But we are not the only providers by any stretch of the imagination, and the diversity of good training is very important if we want to encourage and nurture the types of leaders our field will need in the future. The challenge is not the availability of good training; we have a wealth of universities offering graduate programs, online resources, Creative Capital, providers like the Center for Creative Leadership, specialist training organizations like GLI and the leadership training at all the national service organizations -- to name but a few.
The two big challenges are having (making) the time for learning, and knowing how to assess what training will improve your personal entrepreneurial skills. My personal bias is that any training should have good solid theory behind it, and should also have a high degree of practical utility. Expert testimony (or “Here’s how I do my job” training) is the training that makes me the most uneasy – as I think it can too easily slip into the unhelpful category of unintentionally training tomorrow’s leaders to run yesterday’s institutions -- but there is more than enough superb training in all these areas to go around without relying on those of us who are “elder statesmen” trotting out our war stories.