Sunday, January 26, 2014

Social Media Trends as a Lesson in Planning?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on...................."

Does your organization have a Facebook strategy as part (or all) of your Social Media Marketing strategy?  Is your thinking that having a Facebook strategy will help you attract the younger demographic that we all seem to want?

There are two big things Facebook (or any Social Media) can (arguably) do for arts organizations:

1.  Increase awareness of who you are and what you do.  Expand your brand and your reach.

2.  And much more importantly, maybe it can help build your audiences and support if people on Facebook use it to recommend to their 'friends' that they ought to check you out, involve themselves with support, go to see your performances or exhibitions.

And we have all been repeatedly advised that we must have a Social Media strategy as part of our overall Marketing plan.

But recent studies suggest that there may be a titanic shift in who uses Facebook and thus in its future.  When the "coolness" factor of a phenomenon is challenged, that often spells trouble for its long term continuation.

One study suggests that the bulwark of the early Facebook base - teens - are leaving the site in big numbers and that the older boomer cohort is dramatically increasing their use of the site.  And, it also suggests, as older people flock to Facebook, that may be the very cause of younger people leaving.  (Time to move on if your mother comments on your Facebook page.  OMG - can you imagine the embarassment).
"From January 2011 through the beginning of this year, there was a 25% tumble in the number of users between the ages 13 and 17, while there was an 80% surge in users with an age of 55 and above. The report also showed users who identified themselves as either high school or college students slumped by 59%, with college alumni seeing a 65% increase."

Nothing seems to last for too long in the accelerating change world of technology (remember My Space and Netscape?)  And so it may be time to rethink using the Facebook platform to (at least) attract the younger audience, but a time to embrace it for advancing your marketing to the core base of your older audiences and supporters.

Is this important?  Sure.  Your approach to using social media to attract one demographic group won't likely work with all substrata groups.  This is the era of tailoring approaches to differing cohorts.  Five years ago, if your goal was more people over 50, Facebook wasn't likely going to help.  Now, things may be changing dramatically.

Another study, uses epistemological models of disease as a way to suggest social networking phenomenon like Facebook might be compared to the lifespan of certain diseases like viruses that spring up, rapidly expand, then eventually die out.  The suggestion being that Facebook may be in the early 'later' stages of its existence.

"Facebook’s growth will eventually come to a quick end, much like an infectious disease that spreads rapidly and suddenly dies, say Princeton researchers who are using diseases to model the life cycles of social media."

Personally, I doubt the Facebook exodus is yet anywhere near enough to conclude Facebook's days are numbered, or that its audience has yet moved in mass from one demographic to another.  And I also think a Facebook presence and strategy is essential as part of our wider marketing approach.  Facebook remains a potent force in the pipeline to reach people.  But it does seem likely that some of its early adherents are leaving and that the composition of its users is likely to continue to morph from one cohort to another, from one geographical center to others and so on.  The time to consider changes in anything is early on, not after the fact.

As the arts seem to be perennially behind the curve on understanding, appreciating and embracing new trends and technologies, it might be to our advantage to look carefully at what we are trying to accomplish with the established platforms in social media, and alter those objectives in line with likely changes that are afoot impacting trends for their future.  We might want to continue to gain expertise and experience with using Facebook as a marketing tool, but appreciate that the audience that is the subject of those efforts may be changing and not what we thought.

This leads to a bigger question.  How do you incorporate adaptation and adjustment into your strategic planning?  You have a strategic plan in place.  Under the marketing section, you embrace the need for social networking to be a part of your marketing strategy, and very likely there is the belief that you need to use Facebook and other social platforms to target the desirable younger demographic.  But what if the shift of Facebook users is now inalterably moving away from the younger cohort to an older one?    And what if that trend moves at warp speed?  Have you built into your strategic plan the necessary flexibility and nimbleness within your organizational culture to make big shifts in the application of your strategy, so that you can use outside changes to your advantage?

That's just one example of how fast changes may make your planning obsolete unless your planning embraces the need to be nimble and quick to spot where adjustments need to be made.  I fear in many quarters of our field there remains an antiquated notion of planning, and that we get stuck with well intentioned strategies to achieve objectives that rapidly end up useless.  The days of five year rigid strategic plans is gone.  The objectives part can remain constant, but the specifics outlined to reach the objectives are, often as not, outdated at the moment the plan is adopted.  A waste of time and energy, and worse, it locks us into doing the wrong thing.   Much has been written, for example, about how - over the past decade - capital campaigns for massive new structures - may have been an ill-conceived approach - ignoring the move towards online access, and failing to appreciate changing patterns of leisure time and the convenience factor's importance to people.  Of course, once committed to, it isn't easy to change direction in building new arts edifices.  But other adjustments and changes might not be so difficult.

Consider the 10,000 hours rule: (Culled from Brain Pickings article on Debunking the Rule quoting from Daniel Goleman's Book: Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence)
"The "10,000-hour rule" – that this level of practice holds the secret to great success in any field – has become sacrosanct gospel, echoed on websites and recited as litany in high-performance workshops. 
No less an expert than Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the 10,000-hour rule of thumb, told me, "You don't get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal."
I think organizations are similarly situated.  While it takes time and experience for an organization to develop its "chops" and expertise to effectively navigate the waters of change and planning, "time" itself is not enough.  The organization must also constantly adjust to what it is learning and how it applies that knowledge in its planning and the execution of strategies to reach its goals.

One plank of any strategic plan ought to be to effect a change in the organizational culture so that it embraces change and prioritizes flexible adaptability.  That includes specific mechanisms that will help create that 'culture' so that from top to bottom, board to interns, the entire organization is constantly reassessing, re-evaluating, re-thinking all of the basic assumptions behind the goals and objectives and the strategies adopted to reach those goals.  And part of that commitment may be to emphasize lots and lots of small changes over few big ones.  In fact, this aspect of planning might just be more important than any other single aspect.  We can't just adopt 'plans' and then blindly adhere to them for long periods of time.  It simply doesn't work anymore.  We have to 'plan' for rapid changes beyond our control, and be ever vigilant in spotting changes that demand our re-thinking.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 20, 2014

Data and Informed Decision Making

Good morning
"And the beat goes on..................."

The Cultural Data Project has just published a report:   New Data Directions for the Cultural Landscape: Toward a Better-Informed, Stronger Sector that looks at cultural data collection issues and the implications for our field.  It's a very good report; not a technical report for data mavens, and I urge you to read it.

As the Executive Summary indicates, the  "report identifies six factors —three at the system-wide level and three operating at the level of individual cultural organizations—that influence the ways that cultural data are collected and used and which may be limiting the sector from effectively incorporating data into decision-making processes. At the system-wide level, it explores:

 Concerns about the accessibility, quality, and comparability of cultural data, which stem in part from the ad hoc way that the cultural data infrastructure has been developed, but which curtail the usefulness of existing cultural datasets.

 Norms in the cultural sector that have traditionally made data collection and use a relatively low priority, including the widespread (though perhaps waning) belief by many cultural practitioners that data are of limited—or even pernicious—value when it comes to making programmatic and/or artistic decisions.

 The ways in which the lack of coordination and standardization among existing data collection efforts inhibit progress in the field.

At the level of individual cultural organizations, the report considers:

 The very real capacity constraints within cultural nonprofits, in terms of both resources and “know-how,” that make it difficult to develop good data collection and interpretation capabilities.

 Dynamics in the internal culture of the organization, particularly with respect to its vision of its relationship to its community and audiences and its orientation to change, that can undermine the effective use of data.

 The lack of a strong organizational vision for how data can be used to inform internal planning and decision-making, as well as the lack of examples of such vision from around the field."

The report offers several suggestions to address these factors.  The one that caught my eye in addressing the "lack of a strong vision, and of examples of such vision from around the field, for how data can be an integral part of internal planning and decision-making":

"Shift the conversation from data’s value as an accountability tool to data’s value as a decision-making tool. Though funder-driven data requirements have helped to develop the cultural data landscape, they have also limited the scope of the conversation; it is time to broaden the conversation beyond accountability and reframe the power of data in terms of responsive decision-making."

The question that always looms is "how"?  How do you refocus all the data, research, information and input that is out there from being merely a tool to prove, after the fact, that a given program, project or approach has met its objective to information that informs decision making in the first place?

For example.  the California State Department of Finance projects that:

"California is growing older and more diverse. 
The Latino population is projected to surpass that of whites in California in March to become the single largest "race or ethnic group," according to a report on shifting demographics in Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014-15 budget proposal. Also, the number of residents 65 and older will jump by 20.7 percent over the next five years, the report said. 
State demographers expected Latinos to surpass the non-Hispanic white population seven months earlier, but Latino birth rates were lower than anticipated. Now, officials say, by March Latinos will make up 39 percent of California's population, edging out non-Hispanic whites at 38.8 percent. Nearly 25 years ago, non-Hispanic whites made up 57 percent of the state, while Latinos made up 26 percent."
"Growth rates vary drastically between age groups, with retiring Baby Boomers projected to reshape the labor force in the next 15 years as more than 1,000 Californians will turn 65 years old each day. At the same time, lower birth rates have resulted in fewer young people, with the 18-to-24-year-old group experiencing a 4.5 percent decline and 5- to 17-year-olds increasing just 0.2 percent." 

Simple enough.  The Latino population in the state is the majority group and growing, and the older cohort (very likely with a white majority) is growing relative to younger cohorts.  That is a profound sea change that will impact everything.  So how do the arts organizations, foundations, public agencies and other groups in the arts use that data to inform their decision making - short and long term on all levels (programming, funding, leadership, communications, marketing and more)?  What do these two simple stats suggest for other kinds of research and data to help in the making of informed decisions?  And how will those data sets be used to help all of us make better decisions?

Without arguing for or against what kinds of decisions ought to be made in light of these projections, the issue is rather what other kinds of information will help in whatever decisions are made to do something, anything or even nothing based on that data.  And that question applies to the whole range of other data available to us now, or in the future about all kinds of things.  What blueprint exists or ought we to create that we can follow to apply the exponentially expanding data and research that is going on?  What help can we provide arts organizations to use data and research?

Central to these questions is how an individual arts organization sees research and data as informing its decision making.  The cultural data report suggested that:

"The extent to which cultural nonprofits use data to inform decision-making depends in complex ways on the internal culture of the organization, particularly its vision of its relationship to its community and audiences.   Many cultural nonprofits, however, seem less focused on anticipating change and creatively strategizing ways to manage it. The leaders or boards of " those organizations tend to concentrate on short-term survival rather than long-term planning, often out of sheer necessity.
Programming and artistic departments generally remain hesitant to use data in planning and decision-making in the first place—even as they wrestle with changing audience behaviors and expectations that research and data could help them understand."

The problem, the report notes, is that data and research continue to be seen as a way to make the case for the organization rather than as a tool to inform future decision making.  What to do?  The report suggests:

"To bolster cultural organizations’ use of data in all areas of planning, it will be important for the field as a whole to do a better job at conducting and disseminating research that reveals ’what works,’ both programmatically and with respect to organizational practices. “The biggest gap in the arts knowledge economy is in the area of practice,” noted one contributor. “What new or different artistic programs are leading to successful artistic outcomes? What new or different business practices are leading to successful operational outcomes? We have such a decentralized system, and the national service organizations are not resourced sufficiently to do a good job of identifying, track"ng, and diffusing promising new practices in governance, fundraising, capitalization, programming, etc.” 

The report concludes with suggestions for other questions to be explored:

"[W]e still have a long way to go before the arts and cultural sector has data that are sufficiently complete and robust to meet user needs. We have lots of partial, idiosyncratic, time- or geography-bound data on specific aspects of arts and cultural activities in the US. ... We don't have a national arts data archive in the same way that we have archives of education statistics, health statistics, labor statistics, etc. It's not that there aren't also many interesting ‘research questions’ that could and should be asked, but many of our basic information needs about the scope, activities, employees and audiences of arts and cultural organizations are still full of gaping holes. 
Participants also called for further inquiry into some fundamental questions about the sector, including: 
New Data Directions for the Cultural Landscape: 
 the relationship between vibrant cultural participation rates and the health of individual cultural organizations (“This would require studying arts consumption behaviors and attitudes in tandem with studying the health of the organizations that those consumers and patrons support. Neither exists in a vacuum. What we're currently missing, by and large, is accessible data on arts consumption/patronage”); 
 the impact of funding investments, as well as new sources of earned revenue, on organizational culture and programmatic success (“The sector requires an honest longitudinal analysis of the impact of different types of institutional investments in organizations of all types. Funders often do not understand the impact of their investments, where they can make the most difference, where they are substituting for market choice, and where they are actually causing dysfunction”); 
 the impact of cultural policy on the cultural sector (“We don't have consistent information about the effects of public policy on resources available to the arts or on public attitudes toward the arts and their different sources of revenue acquisition.”)
All good ideas.  But central to everything is some commitment to helping the people to whom the data might be valuable in decision making, to understand how to go about that use. Specifically what works.  This can't just be an academic question.

The bottom line is that this is an issue that ought to be addressed on a systemic basis, at the national level; it is simply too much for most individual arts organizations to address alone - they need help.   As we ramp up our research and data collection efforts, a lot more data will be coming.  A lot more. But all the data in the world won't be of much real use, if we don't empower and equip our people in how to use it to their advantage.  Data and research ought not to just drive macro policy formation; it ought to help with specific decision making at the micro level.  I would hope national service organizations could address how research and data can help their constituent membership make better and more informed decisions.  I think funders, public and private, need to support those efforts - otherwise they will be difficult to implement.   And there must be links to the research community itself - with a pipeline between those who gather the data and do the research and those who need to use it effectively.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Interview with Devon Smith

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

BIO: Devon Smith  (one of this year's Dinner-Vention guests) is the director of social media and analytics at Threespot, a digital engagement agency in Washington, D.C. that builds online tools and interactive experiences for clients. At Threespot, Smith leads a staff of social media managers and digital analysts who help clients build long-­term, high-­value relationships with their constituents and measure the impact of those connections. Smith has recently led engagements with clients such as the Smithsonian Institution, BBC America, UNICEF, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Planned Parenthood. She has spoken at numerous conferences, covering topics from social fundraising and online personal branding to social media metrics and an industry-­wide social media survey. Smith has worked for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, World Science Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and arts organizations across the U.S. in marketing, development, and general management roles. She holds an MBA and an MFA, both from Yale University, as well as two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington.

Here is the interview:

Barry:  I read an article a month or two ago that claimed that the millennial generation, contrary to what older generations have been led to believe, really doesn’t understand technology and the various applications of the internet very well either.  In fact, the article suggested very few people in any cohort could actually answer this question:  “Without reference to Wikipedia, can you tell me what the difference is between The Internet, The World Wide Web, a web-browser and a search engine?”.  Assuming that’s true, it would seem that the leadership in the arts may actually be even further behind the curve in its basic understanding of what we are even talking about when we discuss how we might better use technology to deliver the arts.  What kind of basic understanding should everyone in our field have so we can talk intelligently about tech opportunities, and how do we provide that basic IT education to our managers?

Devon:  As your example suggests, definitional vocabulary should play a key role in minimum qualifications for everyone in our field. In order to have productive conversations about the role of technology in the arts, we all have to share an understanding about what concepts like responsive design, 3D computing, search rankings, internet of things, and APIs are, even if we don’t need to understand how to design, build, or even run said technology. However, the article’s demand that I don’t reference Wikipedia betrays a non-Millennial approach to knowledge and management. I don’t think I need to know the difference between the Internet and the web before our conversation begins, as long as I have a phone in my pocket that I can quickly consult using my trusty Wikipedia app to bring myself up to speed. Though in fact, I’m likely to start at Wikipedia to grab the definition of the two, browse Quora to see if anyone has already asked and answered what the key differences are between the two, and if I can’t find a satisfactory result, ask the #lazyweb of Twitter what they know.

I don’t think there is any singular way to provide basic IT education to all of our arts managers. BFA and graduate programs that train arts leaders could provide better digital training. Arts-focused national conferences and local professional development events could offer more forward-looking digital workshops. Boards could demand higher digital expectations of arts leaders and arts organizations, and leave it to them to figure out if a Kindle book, or a Khan academy class is the better fit.

One specific opportunity is for more arts leaders to attend digital conferences and events outside of the arts, such as the Nonprofit Technology Conference, XOXO Fest, or General Assembly.

Barry:  You questioned in your pre Dinner-Vention thoughts entry the lack of any Arts Think Tanks.  I have previously written on the same subject.  Still there aren’t any.  While Think Tanks usually involve established policy wonks with academic experience, is there any reason why a whole new younger cohort of arts leaders might not start their own Think Tank?  It might be refreshing and productive to be exposed to the kind of thinking that might arise from a very different version of the form.  What do you think?

Devon:  There are some interesting models for public policy-based think tanks to take inspiration from. Third Way aspires to be the Brookings Institution of the 21st century, with a focus on team-based research rather than siloed experts. PolicyMic uses gaming mechanics to encourage smart crowd participation in the creation of both media and policy. Some see TED’s Fellowship program and Google’s Solve for X as modern takes on the think tank institution.

While a few arts-based examples come to mind, none have become permanent institutions. Createquity considers itself at least part virtual think tank. The Collective Arts Think Tank lasted about two year before petering out. The Yale Drama School’s Theatre Management Knowledge Base is not so far off from a University-supported think tank. The Cultural Research Network seems to be the beginnings of a collaborative venture of researchers. The revered Brookings Institution actually has an Arts and Culture Initiative. Someone from the FutureSymphony in Baltimore commented in that pre Dinner-Vention blog post about their role as music-based think tank. And as I mentioned in a follow up comment, there’s a major university in New York currently raising money to open an arts think tank.

To my mind, an arts think tank would (1) bring brilliant individuals into close collaboration (whether physically or digitally), (2) pay them to author deep research on complex arts issues urgent to the field, (3) disseminate their work freely and widely to the field at large, (4) use the institution’s brand to provide the researchers access and authority with policy makers and funders, (5) incentivize the authors to get those policy makers, funders, and institutions to actually implement proposed solutions, (6) measure their impact, and (7) feed the learnings back into the pool of research opportunities within the institution and throughout the field.

Unfortunately, I don’t think a younger cohort of arts leaders would command enough authority for policy makers or funders to listen to them, nor does anyone seem to have spare cash laying around to pay for this long term research, and I’m uncertain that collecting what few highly talented/technical arts researchers we have into one institution would actually be good for the field, rather than leaving them embedded in their current environs.

Barry:  You’ve made it pretty clear that you want to see some mechanism that would, at the very least, determine a cut off date for funding of arts organizations that continue to function at the margins of productivity, efficiency and relevance.  How would you go about establishing a protocol for making that determination and then enforcing that cut off?  Who should make the decision?  What are the criteria for the decision?

Devon:  Three different stakeholders hold the purse strings on arts organizations’ ability to exist, in order of their ability to influence outcomes: the government; institutional funders; and individual donors/ticket buyers.

Through the IRS, the government could exert more pressure on arts organizations. Current 501c3 exemption requirements include being 1) organized for exempt purposes (charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, public safety testing, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals), 2) earning that are not distributed to individuals, and 3) not attempting to influence legislation. So they have a handful of choices: 1) add a fourth criteria to keep in good standing as a 501c3 related to impact and establish a regulatory agency like the SEC to monitor, 2) outright charge nonprofits for contributing to an inefficient industry that harms the public good, as they do with carbon taxes, 3) require more in-depth impact-oriented questions to the standard 990 form to increase the transparency of failing organizations.

Institutional funders (foundations, local governments, and CSR arms) also have a wide variety of potential coordinated approaches: 1) simply decide to stop financing nonprofits that don’t prove their value according to some (admittedly hard to establish) field-wide evaluative criteria; 2) structure rounds of funding to disincentivize nonprofits from taking too much “outside” donations, for too long, a la venture financing; 3) provide preferential treatment for those organizations that can prove value.

There are few enough institutional funders that they could in theory band together for higher impact (oligopoly-like), and they should be well-trained to recognize non-performers relatively easily. Individual donors/ticket buyers are too diverse, too many, and too unfamiliar with nonprofit impact that I believe they would need 1) an independent rating system (perhaps Charity Navigator-like), plus 2) a field-wide movement to encourage usage of the rating system among individual donors/ticket buyers.

Criteria for proving community impact would probably look something like the B Corporation Performance Requirements, adapted for the arts.

Barry:  You asked why aren’t there any 3D printers in use in our theater, opera, dance and other companies to “print” costumes and props?  Let me ask you why you think we aren’t yet invested in exploring this technology? (at least to “print” stage ‘sets’ to help in their design and build?).

Devon:  We don’t really know how 3D printers are going to transform the world. If we can print guns at home, how will gun regulations fare? If we can print human organs, will we ever again need to harvest donor organs? If we can print custom sized shoes, will shoe sizes still exist, let alone shoe stores.

So I don’t know how 3D printing might impact the arts. Props seems particularly appealing to print because they would be easily customized, cheaper, more durable, and could be made biodegradable, and thus easily disposable. Modern costumes would likely be a novelty to print, though I could see historically accurate costumes getting drastically cheaper with a 3D printer. There are 3D printers meant for buildings, which could easily be adapted for set pieces and sprung floors. Back in 2005, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was already using 3D modeling technology to at least design sets.

But the only way we’re going to figure out what’s lasting impact and what’s a stunt gag is to experiment. There are schools using crowd funding to buy MakerBots. Which by the way, cost less than $3,000. So I’m sure there are Brooklyn-based arts organizations and maker spaces who are already using MakerBots (also located in Brooklyn). I’d love to hear more from them about what they’re finding useful or inspirational.

Why haven’t more arts organizations or universities invested $3,000 and some learning time on MakerBots? I’d guess it’s a lack of awareness that it exists, and a lack of exposure from the media back to the field about successful case studies. A quick search revealed a MakerBot hackathon at the Met, an #ArtsTech event at Eyebeam, BoingBoing has a MakerBot artist-in-residence, and individual artists have already begun showing MakerBot-created artifacts.

Barry:  You suggest arts organizations might employ a “user experience designer”.  What is the job description of such a position, and how might that person function within an arts organization?  What benefits might there be from creating such a staff position?

Devon:  Smashing Magazine says that User Experience is how a person feels when interfacing with a system, and that UX Designers study and evaluate how users feel about a system, looking at ease of use, perception of the value of the system, utility, and efficiency in performing tasks, and goes on to include a long list of tools and techniques. Nielsen Norman says that the first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother; next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. At Threespot, we believe UX Designers define who the users are, what they need, and how best to deliver on that need, while advocating for the user at every step of the design and build process. In my own work at Threespot, I’ve also seen them function as translators: helping developers understand what the designer intended for a given interaction, or explaining to internal stakeholders why end users’ needs are more important than their own. Many UX Designers are trained in Human-Computer Interaction, at graduate programs like IU. Some practical implications of UX are teased out in 52 Weeks of UX.

Allie Houseworth has already started to draw the parallels between UX and the arts. To add to her thoughtful post, I’d postulate that a UX Designer for the arts would be trained in Human-Art Interaction, and would need to maintain a cross-department position between any area of the organization that touches the “user.” Their job remains to be the advocate for the user, in every decision the organization makes. From curtain times, to what goes on the stage; how the website is designed, to how the venue’s chairs are designed; how to put users at ease in the analog space, how to increase the utility and value of the performance to the user.

One particularly tricky aspect of UX Design is understanding there is no single user to optimize the experience for, there is no “typical” user, and it’s harder than you might imagine just to untangle who the users are, and what it is they actually want. I think the largest benefit of a UX Designer in an arts organization is someone who could ask some of these questions, and be empowered to make substantive changes to the experience to benefit the user, who is most often an audience member, but also includes donors, board members, staff members, partner organizations, the press, the community, etc.

Barry:  You also suggested that we need more “Digital Curator meets Community Manager”.  Explain.

Devon:  This is a trend I’m seeing more of in other nonprofit arenas, where social media managers no longer come from a background of purely communications, but they have a deep understanding of the actual subject matter, are encouraged to immerse themselves in the entire organization, and can proactively start and facilitate conversations in the digital community. For a performing arts organization, that would mean a social media manager who regularly attends rehearsals, hangs out backstage, is invited to a wide variety of staff and board meetings, can speak with ease to major gifts donors and foundation program officers, spends time in the lobby with patrons, and works with guest artists even before they’ve arrived in town. It would lead to Twitter Q&As that are just as meaningful as the post-peformance talk back, Pinterest Boards as artistically interesting as costume sketches, and perhaps even live streamed board meetings so the community at large truly has transparency into the public organization. The Digital Curator role means that the social media manager also has the artistic backing of the organization, and has the capacity to articulate the artistic vision of the organization online, just as well as the more traditional guest or resident artists do on stage.

For arts service organizations or foundations, this role would fulfill more facilitator functions. An example with Dinner-Vention would be to aggregate a list of the Twitter handles of all the participants prior to the event, elicits conversations with them in the appropriate social media channels, inspires, coordinates, and perhaps even edits the participants’ blog posts across home and guest blogs, bringing to the attention of participants the community’s response to those posts. They would likely manage a Twitter hashtag during the event, and have the responsibility to bring the community’s voice into the conversation.

In short, a Digital Curator meets Community Manager is charged with ensuring the digital experience is at least comparable to the analog experience, allowing the strengths of each to shine through.

Barry:  Finally, what are the qualities that would make someone a good candidate for Entrepreneurial and / or Hacker Officer in an arts organization?  How do we get more arts organizations to understand the value of such a position?

Devon:  Geeks in Residence are funded by the Australian government to “equip arts organisations with the skills, information and connections needed to be competitive in the digital era.” Sync manages a similar program in the UK for five cultural hosts. Chicago Public Library hosted a trio of Geeks from the Obama campaign’s digital team for three months, available to “museums, universities, environmental groups, trade associations, non-profit hospitals and any other advocacy group that relies on community support.” Meanwhile, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has an Entrepreneur in Residence meant to catalyze new thinking and identify opportunities, so does the San Francisco city government, and the city of Portland, nonprofit Ashoka sends its Entrepreneurs to be in residence at universities around the world, and the world itself now has an Entrepreneur in Residence, through the U.N. Foundation. The Atlantic’s EIR is a temporary-to-permanent role meant to “drive strategic initiatives for existing and new digital products.” Now even technology companies have Hackers in Residence, from LinkedIn, SparkFun (inspired by the artist/engineer in residence at arts org Eyebeam), from the incubator 500 Startups to the startup Betaworks, which has 6! There’s even such a thing as a Hacker (Musician) in Residence.

Clearly there are models out there to learn from. While we have guest artist exchange programs (including the awesome Alaska-oriented program funded by Rasmuson), what I haven’t seen yet is an exchange of a “Hacker in Residence” for an “Artist in Residence.” I’d like to see an arts organization send an artist to Tumblr or Kickstarter in exchange for one of their developers, for example.

The qualities that would make someone a good candidate for an EIR or GIR/HIR are inherent to being an entrepreneur or a hacker. They know how to get shit done, even when there’s no funding available, no time, and too many reasons not to. They have the skills to leapfrog the complex solution and instead build simple, fast. They’re good at unearthing opportunities where everyone else sees chaos or blank space. They are a connector of ideas, and a connector of people.

I think most arts organizations would jump at the chance for such a position to be in residence, but there’s a current lack of funding, and possibly a lack of enough digital foundation at most arts organizations for a HIR to make a meaningful impact, or simply be interested in the opportunity. So I think the bigger question is how to make hackers understand the value of such a position.

Barry:  How can we better track and understand the audience experience during any given performance?  What kinds of information and data might be gained from monitoring an audience during a performance, how do you do that, and how might that data help arts organizations?

Devon:  Our smart phones passively gather all sorts of information already, from our exact location through our wifi signals to out our heart rate. Maybe it could record and analyze our laughter? Fitness bands can track our sleep patterns,  and how often we’re fidgeting. Even simple post-performance audience surveys can help us understand the (self-reported) experience they just had, especially if they’re optimized for mobile.

The truth about big data is we often don’t know what to do with it, until we’ve got a lot of it (see, the many museums on GitHub). So it’s hard for me to predict how we’d actually use that information. It’s an interesting potential feedback loop for how engaged or not an audience is in a particular performance. Whether artists would be willing to substantively change the performance based on that data is another matter entirely. It's another possibility to construct a more accurate Netflix-like rating system of ticket purchase satisfaction across multiple theatres/performances, so we could better *predict* what performances really move our communities, similar to CultureCraver.

The best tracking data would probably come from a Google Glass participant. Every audience member could become their own streaming video service during any live performance. What if audience members start charging their viewers for the cost of the performance they sit through?  Right now we can see if someone's taking a photo of the stage because they have to whip out their phone, but with a blink of the eye, Glass takes a photo. Will Google Glass ever become so prevalent that actors wear them on stage, and live stream their POV to folks at home, or in the audience? Talk about the best seats in the house.

But I’m probably more intrigued by the arts equivalent of a fitness tracker. Something I can wear all the time, that tracks my day-to-day engagement with the arts, whether in formal occasions like going to the theatre, or informal occasions like passing by a busker in the subway, or a graffiti mural on the street. Aggregated across millions of people, I think we’d get a much different picture about how the “average American” participates in the arts economy, and experiences art in their daily life. The individual wearing the device gets subtle prompts throughout the day to pay attention to the art that surrounds them, encourages them to seek out more art, and enables them to compete against friends to maximize their arts exposure. Meanwhile the field gets the data, a more engaged constituency, and a visible demonstration of arts advocates in those nifty little wrist bands.

Barry:  If museums, theaters, opera and dance companies are not part of the WIRED generation’s thinking on culture, how do we change that?

Devon:  I think the question's actually backwards. How do we, as museum, theatre, opera, and dance people, welcome this new generation of artists (who are musicians, board game creators, cartoonists, graphic novelists, tv/film cast/crews, video game designers, athletes, and comedians) into the arts and culture economy/community, for the benefit of all? And we have begun to: the NEA will fund video game creations, modern dancers welcome rock musicians to perform alongside them on stage, theatre artists have long maintained fluid careers between theatre, tv, and film, I now see more of them transitioning into Twitter comedians. In fact, I'm guessing it's a rare artist that considers themselves wed to just one discipline.

And yet, most arts organizations are "just" a museum, "just" a theatre, "just" a dance company. This seems to present a problem from a ticketing/revenue generation perspective (if our communities get their artistic satisfaction and exposure from well-crafted video games, they "need" our services less), as well as from a recruitment perspective (if our artists and administrators are fulfilled by their jobs as graphic novelists and musicians, fewer millennials will choose to work in professions/disciplines they no longer consider at the forefront of defining cultural relevance).

Clearly, we all have a lot to learn from each other. So one road to change is creating opportunities for artists and administrators to mix across these new(er) disciplines--in formal, permanent positions within arts institutions, or in informal, temporary spaces like conferences and single performances. But in order to do so, I think we as a community of "traditional" arts will need to make a much larger effort to participate in, and value, digital arts, literary arts, cinemagraphic arts, and so on. To not hold up a performance of Hamlet as inherently more artistic than a run through BioShock Infinite.

Barry:  Do Reddit and Buzz Feed have any real practical application for marketing of the arts?

Devon:  For some organizations, some of the time, sure.

Reddit is composed of some of the 40 million most prolific and engaged internet consumers/producers, across an incredibly wide range of interests. Ask Me Anything's have proven successful across actors, politicians, astronauts, and economists. When these people authentically participate with Redditors, they market not only themselves, but their parent brands/organizations. Who's to say that artistic directors, choreographers, composers, and sound engineers wouldn't also be popular. But Reddit is a community at heart, or more specifically, a platform where you can build a community, and Redditors don't like being "marketed" to. So a staff member of a theatre could earn the right to be a mod on the subreddit for their city, and then work with the community to actively contribute links and insights related to culture's impact on the city. Woolly Mammoth could coordinate an AMA with a Supreme Court scholar to help promote their upcoming performance on the subject. A choreographer in need, with a good angle, might be able to raise money or track down an interesting venue sponsor. But just submitting a link to your latest press release is more likely to get you banned than upvoted. At which point you might decide to check out CulturalDigital, an arts-specific version of Reddit.

Two routes to BuzzFeed Fame (TM) come to mind: native advertising, and syndicated content. Neither of which I've seen arts orgs do well, or really at all. Native advertising is going to be expensive, but would probably be an invaluable learning experience for arts orgs to understand how content actually spreads through the web, and how to write for a web audience. In this arrangement, a company pays BuzzFeed to help them write articles for BuzzFeed which incorporates their content/message into the articles themselves. Nearly all of BuzzFeeds advertising units now seem to be native ads, rather than "old school" display ads. It is the antithesis of the wall that used to exist between editorial and advertising, and now even the venerable New York Times is doing it. The other is to syndicate "buzz-worthy" content to BuzzFeed, a la Quora, who's top Q&A articles now appear on the site. All this said, Upworthy is probably going to be a better target audience for arts marketing than BuzzFeed.

Unfortunately, most arts organizations' marketing departments are too strapped for cash, time, and staff to look up beyond Facebook and press releases to pursue novel arrangements with these potentially lucrative and transformative sites.

Barry:  Many Millennial generation people in the arts decry the unwillingness of the arts to engage in some of the forward (and risky) projects that Google and others in the high tech industry consider almost essential.  But isn’t that a bit unfair given the almost limitless ‘deep pockets’ of the Googles, and the comparative threadbare financial wherewithal of the arts and arts funders?  If you were going to re-allocate some of the public and private funding towards those kinds of projects, from where would you take the money, and in what would you invest?

Devon:  I would focus on private funding (which has a higher vested interest in seeing long term ROI) over public funding, invest in artists who are solving clear and significant community problems, and in organizations who are figuring out new ways to radically reduce headcount. Here’s why.

I'm in the middle of reading In the Plex at the moment, about the founding of Google, and interestingly they pursued a long shot strategy even in the earliest days when they had no VC funding, and AdWords had not yet made them billions. I think this bent towards innovative R&D, and problem-solving based experimentation, is embedded in the DNA of start ups, in a way that just isn't true of arts organizations. I'm not at all convinced that money is the problem here. It's mindset. Plenty of cash strapped start ups take big risks, understanding that there is a potential for a big payout that make the initial investment worth it. The idea of "hacking" itself is built on the assumption that you have very little to work with, but you're going to muster together something useful with whatever resources you can scrounge up, in a short amount of time, to get the job done in a new/better/faster/more efficient way.

But let's pretend for a moment that Google itself put a one-time $10 billion infusion of cash into the arts ecosystem, and I got to tell them where to put it. Distribution seems to be the missing link to scale, and scale is the only way to achieve demonstrative returns on a $10 billion investment. Basic economics: (price times volume) minus (cost times volume) (minus fixed costs) equals profit. That profit can either be re-invested in the company's work, distributed to the community (via cheaper tickets) or distributed to the employees (via higher salaries).

We know that we want price to stay relatively low, but not so low that people undervalue the experience. So innovation that convinces audiences to pay higher prices is wasted. Moving on.

We know we want to drive costs down, by reducing inefficiencies, duplicative work, work that's not informed by sound data, and time spent on activities that don't impact the quality of the final product/performance. Let's say we have a $10 million in operating costs theatre. $4M goes to admin salaries, $2M to artist salaries, $2M to pay for all the stuff on/related to performances on stage, $1M to fund and operate the building, $1M to marketing and fundraising. So innovation that would reduce the number of people needed to operate a theatre on the administrative or artistic side (since we already know that high salaries are not the major culprit) would move the needle the most, and should be our first area of concern. Then we'd focus on reducing the cost/amount of stuff on stage, since those can rarely be used again. Then on increasing the effectiveness of marketing and fundraising expenses, likely based on better predictive data models. Every hundred thousand dollars you can reduce marketing or fundraising expenses, raises your profit margin by 1%. Useful, but not game changing.

Our last expense category is the fixed cost of the building. Innovation that allowed us not to need buildings is interesting, but basically just gets us back to a question of distribution. It's not the cost of the building that hurts our operating profit the most, it's how "locked in" the building is to a community of people that can walk/ride/drive to it.

And so we're left focusing on innovation efforts on the volume part of the equation. Which could mean filling more empty seats (via marketing, or changes in our offering), adding more seats to existing buildings (if we thought limited seats were a constraining factor, which is unlikely), offering more opportunities to fill seats through quicker turnover or expanded operating hours (if we thought current purchasers were choosing not to attend based on the day/time, which is probably true on the margins but not overall), or thinking beyond seats entirely to new methods for how audiences might consume this theatrical performance. Focusing on this area of the equation seems tempting, but it assumes we're facing a matching problem--that there exist audiences out there willing to pay for our content, who simply don't have access to it currently. I'm not convinced that's true. And even if it were, it would create entirely new competitors that would likely destroy any gains. If every theatre in the world could distribute their content to every person in the world, you're no longer competing simply against the dance company down the street on a given night, but with every dance company, ever, everywhere.

But missing from that economics equation is the product. I think most of our innovation investment dollars need to be going towards new products/experiences, that more people are willing to pay for. Products/experiences that respond to our local communities' (and those around the world) needs. Products/experiences that solve a problem for our audiences, that open up a new opportunity for them.

Barry:  If there aren’t any arts or arts organizations who even own a pair of Google Glass, is that not partly the fault of Google?  Why wouldn’t Google include the arts in its initial test of its experiment?  How do we get the tech companies to see the arts as natural potential partners in their initiatives?

Devon:  It turns out that there are a few artists/arts organizations in the first batch of 10,000 Glass participants. A staffer at the Met has a pair, an independent filmmaker has a pair, another Glass artist made an appearance at Art Basel earlier this year, a DJ and artist-in-residence at USC has experimented with collaborative music making via Glass, and a new exhibit just premiered at Lincoln Center that uses Glass to embed hidden imagery and video into a sculpture. Google itself asked for "bold, creative people" to apply to the Explorer's program, and from everything I've read worked pretty hard to ensure Glass Explorers represented a wide swatch of disciplines from athletes to surgeons. Now Google is inviting all 10,000 Explorers to welcome 3 more of their friends into the 2.0 beta, hopefully expanding artistic representation even further.

But it's true that arts has not been a primary field of focus for Glass. Thus far, Google has seen news media, education and medical fields as some of the more interesting (quasi) nonprofit arenas for Glass experimentation. Because remember, Glass is still about opening up more opportunities for search, and information retrieval. And Google continues to show an interest in "information for good," the idea that information  in and of itself has the power to change the world for the better. Google, nor any other tech company, has any obligation towards the arts. Unless we start showing an interest in using information for good, as a mutually beneficial partner.

We can get the tech companies to see the arts as natural partners in their initiatives when we can make a compelling case about how they benefit from a partnership with us more than any other nonprofit or for-profit field. I'd want to see what kind of new data/information is generated when actors start wearing Glass during rehearsal, audiences start wearing Glass during performance, curators start wearing Glass as they wander through their own, or others, venues, fundraisers start wearing Glass during galas, ushers wearing Glass in the lobby, lighting designers wearing Glass during tech, executive directors wearing Glass during board meetings.

Barry:  What do YOU think are the major problems we’re facing in the arts?

Devon:  In no particular order, the top 10:
  1. Audiences don't find our art relevant, valuable, or interesting enough to attend frequently. 
  2. There are too many arts organizations doing the same thing, and providing no unique value to the industry at large. 
  3. Early career artists are paid too much; late career artists are paid too little. Early career administrators are paid too little; late career administrators are paid too much. 
  4. We pay too much for our buildings, of which there are too many, and of which our audiences care less about than our board members. 
  5. We don't have structured data, which prevents insights from being made across organizations, and across communities. 
  6. Subsidizing arts organizations made sense when no "amateur" could afford to produce and distribute art widely. Digital technology has changed the economics, and it's no longer a foregone conclusion that the arts (not arts organizations) need public funding to thrive. 
  7. There aren't (good) enough mechanisms to share developments and experiments widely throughout the industry via blogs, conferences, journals, or frequent job turnover. Too many people have commented that this discussion isn't new, that such and such company is already doing this, and yet that information rarely travels beyond a local community, and certainly isn't changing the entire industry. 
  8. Unions have too much control, and too little positive influence. 
  9. We have no equivalent of the Millenium Development Goals--no big picture concept about what success looks like in the arts community. 
  10. We talk a lot, but there doesn’t seem to be urgency to move to action. Even now, in what seem to many to be an industry in fairly dire straights, there is no movement towards a “bailout” or even OWS-style protests. 

Barry:  The arts talk a lot about technology providing differing ways to access art, but other than a few very primitive attempts (e.g., The Met doing live theater simulcasts around the country), we have taken very few steps in experimenting with employing technology in the delivery of the arts.  What are some baby steps the arts might consider taking in expanding the ways it delivers its product to a changing public?

Devon:  On the Boards.TV, Better Left Unsaid, and Mike Daisey's All the Hours in the Day are all great examples of experimentation in digital distribution. In each case, they're time shifting the performance (from live to recorded), or making the audience active participants in the production (rather than passive viewers), or opening up the possibility for viewing beyond the standard 8pm curtain time, and turning an event into a "once in a lifetime" experience.

Is there a role for "Netflix of the Theatre"? I don't know, but it's a business model I'd like to see tested. A small step arts organizations could take is recording more (higher-quality) video, and posting it online for free to see if it acquires an audience.

Is there a role for "Hack the Dance" in the same model of "Hack the Museum" or ImprovEverywhere? I don't know, but it's an engagement model I'd like to see tested. A small step arts organizations could take is to engage their communities in real, meaningful dialogue, about what it is they want out of a given performance.

Is there a role for the "e-surance of the opera," which can be accessed online, whenever/wherever you want it, and for cheaper than all the other alternatives? I don't know, but it's an arts model I'd like to see tested. A small step arts organizations could take is to livestream talk-backs and other pre/post performance activities, and to test these activities at all hours of the day rather than strictly tied to a given curtain time.

Barry:  If you ran the NEA, what would you do to change things?

Devon:  I hear the position’s open. In no particular order:
  • Larger grants to fewer organizations.
  • Broaden definition of "arts" to include more of those WIRED culture categories, and promote the NEA heavily to those fields. 
  • More funding to early stage ventures who are taking big risks with the potential to change the entire industry. 
  • Bring more panelists in from outside the arts fields to review applications.
  • Given the press about how Kickstarter provides more funding to the arts than the NEA, partner with Kickstarter to advocate for more public and private funding. 
  • Roll back the talking point about funding artists--the NIH directly funds scientists, even those who undertake controversial research, there's no reason the NEA shouldn't be able to fund individual artists. 
  • Require and track more (meaningful) quantitative success metrics for grants and grantees.

Barry:  How might arts advocates better use technology to move decision makers to their causes?

Devon:  Show social proof that arts advocates are everywhere, vocal, and engaged in the political process. Policymakers care about people in their districts. We can use technology to organize constituents, to make our numbers more visible, to contact policymakers, and test various messages until we find one that resonates with advocates and decision makers alike.

For inspiration, I'd look to social/digital campaigns like,

Barry:  If entrepreneurial skills are important for arts administrators, can you explain what those skills are?

Devon:  Don't get me wrong, many artists and arts administrators are already adept entrepreneurs. In fact, perhaps even too entrepreneurial. If there were fewer small start up arts organizations, it would probably be better for the arts economy. Many small technology start ups actually aid the larger technology ecosystem, because their innovations get consumed, subsumed, and outright acquired by companies who have scale. Not so in the arts.

But generally speaking, some of the high-impact social entrepreneurship skills I think are important are:
  1. Reach for impossibly large goals, and plan for actually getting there.
  2. Beg, borrow, and steal ruthlessly until you acquire the resources you need.
  3. Consider every possible competitor, and then out-compete them for users.
  4. Use a single performance metric to measure progress, and adapt everything you do to maximizing that outcome.
  5. Articulate passionately how your product/service is going to revolutionize user's experience, and make the world a demonstrably better place.

Barry:  What are the important intersections between arts education and social media?

Devon:  MOOCs, educational analytics, and flipped classrooms have taken the educational field by storm. None are particularly social media specific, but social media (media that helps us be social through digital interactions) certainly plays a role.

If MOOC's are about giving scarce resources away for free (typically access to some star professor), having the opportunity to scale an experience once thought necessary to have in-person (classroom learning), and using the wisdom of the crowd (to ask/answer questions, and adapt material to their own needs), it seems like there could be huge opportunity for arts education. But it's going to come at a cost that not everyone likes. Instead of tens of thousands of arts educators who are on average good at teaching drama, music, painting, etc to 30 students at a time, instead you get a single stellar piano teacher that can service tens of thousands of students each.

If educational analytics are about measuring outcomes rather than inputs, uncovering trends in student performance to understand what aspects of teaching work best, adapting a student's individualized learning plan based on what they've actually mastered, and providing more transparency to stakeholders, from parents to principals, it seems like there could be a huge opportunity for arts education. But it's going to come at a cost that not everyone likes. When we can get definitive proof about how beneficial arts education is, or is not, relative to other subject areas, the arts field could (could) be in for a rude awakening. We espouse the value of creativity in the work force, but it's not clear that teaching arts (or at least teaching arts in the way that we do now in most school systems) is the best way to achieve a creative outlook on work/life.

If flipped classrooms are about focusing a limited resource on highest-value transactions (teacher:student time), expecting students and teachers alike to transform their expectations about how, and where, they spend their time (moving homework to the school-day, and "learning" to the home), and commoditizing what teachers formerly believed their job to be (from experts in a subject area, to expert facilitators), I think arts education is probably right on track.

Here, the idea of a flipped arts experience is more interesting to me. The idea of a flipped classroom asks you to erase your notions about what a teacher is "supposed" to do, what a "classroom" is for, and instead say: the purpose of teaching and classrooms is for students to master a subject area, or a way of thinking--how does that happen best, and forget all of the other "rules." If we forget about what a stage is "supposed" to be used for, and instead focus on intended outcomes of that experience, what would we change about the relationship of arts in user's lives?

Barry:  If you had one million dollars to spend on something that would be a potential game changer for the arts field, what would that be?

Devon:  I don't think a million dollars would be a game changer for the arts field. If that were true, I think we could actually lobby the NEA, the Knight Foundation, the city of San Francisco, or Mark Zuckerburg. It's a little like saying if we could spend another million dollars on AIDS research, what could we accomplish? The truth is very little...perhaps the early stages of a new testing protocol.

I think big ideas, big changes, need big money. I currently work with nonprofits and foundations whose communications budgets are larger than the nation's largest arts organizations' entire operating budgets. They measure reach in millions of users, and impact on a global scale, after sometimes decades worth of research.

That said, I already told you what I'd do with $10 billion dollars back in question 11. When I was in grad school, Ben Cameron taught a class which asked my classmates to create the operating plan for a foundation that would spend a million dollars a year for ten years, versus another that would spend a single ten million dollar investment (essentially as a limited life foundation, like Atlantic Philanthropies). But even that is too small. Six Kickstarter projects have successfully raised more than a million dollars in the categories of film, music, comics, or photography. None in art, theatre, publishing or dance.

So if I needed a million dollars, the first place I'd turn to was Kickstarter. If I had a million dollars, and wanted to invest in the arts field, I'd probably run a pitch contest to discover the best million dollar idea. In-person, five minutes to demo a working prototype of your idea, open to any creative discipline, and ask for a stake in the company and seat on the board in exchange for the investment. Because there's no way a single person's idea for what's a game changer would be better than what an entire crowd could dream up.

Barry:  How do we go about mobilizing the millions of people in the country who support the arts, but have little to no involvement in manifesting that support in any specific ways?

Devon:  Effective mobilization remains grassroots plus digital. Political campaigns have state-by-state operations, and county offices, for a reason. Use digital to know who you’re talking to, and what messages resonate with them, but shaking hands and kissing babies is still what makes a convert actually go to the polls. Political campaigns also have big money PACs, buckets of advertising dollars, ten-point plans, and 18-month gear ups for a single day.

Mobilizing the crowd is going to take a Piss Christ-like crisis, or a get-out-the-vote level of staffing to make happen. And so far, we’ve either let the moment pass us, or have been unwilling to dedicate the required resources.

Thank you Devon.

Have a great week everybody as you start out the New Year.

Don't Quit.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Job Satisfaction and Happiness Working in the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..............."

Countless stories have run about how people love to work at Google (or Apple or Twitter or any one of a score of high tech companies, large and small).  Casual work places with play areas and foosball, perks ranging from free lunches and cappuccinos, to subsidized transportation, and of course, the promise of bonuses and stock options that can make one extremely wealthy, all lure those with dreams of starting their own Facebooks or whatever and seemingly attract the best and brightest.  If the stories are to be believed, the challenges of working at these companies approaches the zenith of jobs in the world.  And I have no doubt most people at these places are indeed satisfied with their jobs and happy in their workplaces.  And too, success very likely makes the working environment more satisfying.

But I doubt it's the "fun" atmosphere that makes for the satisfaction.  I suspect there are three principal attractions that swell the ranks of applicants:
1.  Money.  It would be a mistake to think that getting rich doesn't play into the equation.  While most Google employees will never actually become multi millionaires or billionaires, the hope and promise of moving on to that level of success plays a role.  And even if not, compensation packages at these companies are very attractive and certainly outpace what we can generally offer in the arts.
2.  The challenge of being part of something "big" - something transformative and part of the move to the future is I think a big component of why people gravitate to these companies.
3.  The chance to be a part of a first class team of really bright, accomplished and driven people is an attractive incentive on a number of levels - including the opportunity to develop one's own skills and talents and for what that might mean to career advancement.

What about the arts?  Are our people satisfied and happy in their jobs?

A recent report on the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government:  An Index score measuring the overall performance of agencies and agency subcomponents related to employee satisfaction and commitment ranks both the National Endowments of the Humanities (#2) and the Arts (#16) in the Top 20.

The much higher ranking on virtually all the criteria of the Humanities agency over the Arts Endowment is, I suspect, partly a factor of: 1)  the Arts Agency being under more public (and often negative) media and political scrutiny and pressure.  We are much more of a target than the Humanities community, and 2) the frustration felt by many at the Arts Endowment resulting from what they know they could do with all the challenges they face, and having to do with the limited resources (constantly under attack) they have available to try to address those challenges.  Still, the difference between the two agencies' ranking is splitting hairs.  Of the thousands of government agencies, working at either Endowment provides a remarkable level of satisfaction.

This is not surprising.   While it would be interesting and valuable were there a definitive national survey of how people who work at arts organizations across the country felt about working in the field and at the specific organizations, I suspect most people who work in our field do so because of a passion and commitment to what we are all, individually and collectively, trying to accomplish.  And that gives them a high level of job satisfaction.  But I also suspect such a national poll might also show varying levels of dissatisfaction in their working environment; in the chances for advancement, opportunities for development, learning and decision making, leadership and the availability of the tools necessary to do the job.  I would also suspect some differences in satisfaction and happiness between generations, and depending on the the size and even geographical location of individual organizations.

Besides the obvious attraction of the kind of work we do in the arts, what are the other components of what makes people satisfied and happy or dissatisfied and unhappy in their jobs?

Unlike Silicon Valley, we don't offer great financial reward for the majority of those working in our field.  Indeed, in many instances (particularly at the middle and lower rungs of the managerial field) our financial compensation and benefits packages are barely competitive.  So that isn't likely either the lure to become part of the arts workforce or the reason we retain people.

But we do compete, I think, in offering people the chance to be part of something "big" - something transformative and important - different from the high tech cutting edge of the newest in technology, but something perhaps even more satisfying on a different level.

What about the chance to work as part of a team of really skilled, talented, bright people - a place where you are constantly challenged to be your best, to improve yourself and to grow and flourish within that kind of atmosphere?  Is that part of our attraction?  Is it part of our reality?  I think the answer is yes and no.

Yes, there is no shortage of intelligent, idea people in our field; people with whom it is stimulating to be around and to work with, and learn from; people with sharp minds, who constantly teach while they learn.  They are everywhere in our field - at big and small, old and new organizations.  But to suggest everyone in our field so qualifies is, I think, a mistaken conceit.  But no, not everyone is an 'A' lister. The fact is there is deadwood in our organizations (and doubtless in the high tech field too).   That's just reality.

In an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review by Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, she offers two conversations she had with early employees to illustrate the underlying principles the company employed to attract the best talent possible:
"One day I was talking with one of our best engineers, an employee I’ll call John. Before the layoffs, he’d managed three engineers, but now he was a one-man department working very long hours. I told John I hoped to hire some help for him soon. His response surprised me. “There’s no rush—I’m happier now,” he said. It turned out that the engineers we’d laid off weren’t spectacular—they were merely adequate. John realized that he’d spent too much time riding herd on them and fixing their mistakes. “I’ve learned that I’d rather work by myself than with subpar performers,” he said. His words echo in my mind whenever I describe the most basic element of Netflix’s talent philosophy: The best thing you can do for employees—a perk better than foosball or free sushi—is hire only “A” players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else (italics and emphasis mine).
The second conversation took place in 2002, a few months after our IPO. Laura, our bookkeeper, was bright, hardworking, and creative. She’d been very important to our early growth, having devised a system for accurately tracking movie rentals so that we could pay the correct royalties. But now, as a public company, we needed CPAs and other fully credentialed, deeply experienced accounting professionals—and Laura had only an associate’s degree from a community college. Despite her work ethic, her track record, and the fact that we all really liked her, her skills were no longer adequate. Some of us talked about jury-rigging a new role for her, but we decided that wouldn’t be right.
So I sat down with Laura and explained the situation—and said that in light of her spectacular service, we would give her a spectacular severance package. I’d braced myself for tears or histrionics, but Laura reacted well: She was sad to be leaving but recognized that the generous severance would let her regroup, retrain, and find a new career path. This incident helped us create the other vital element of our talent management philosophy: If we wanted only “A” players on our team, we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been. Out of fairness to such people—and, frankly, to help us overcome our discomfort with discharging them—we learned to offer rich severance packages.
I tend to agree that one of the most important factors in making for a fulfilling and happy workplace is working along side of people whom you know will bring out the best in you; who will help you become better at what you do, and who challenge you to bring your 'A' game every day.  Bright, intelligent, idea people who relish challenges and strive for solutions help create a culture in a workplace that is simply intoxicating; people who carry their own weight and are part of finding solutions, not adding to the problems.  A whole team of really good people creates its own dynamic.

But identifying and attracting those people is not always a simple and easy prospect.  Every organization that hires a new person believes that person will indeed be a perfect fit, and a valuable addition to their ranks.  Hiring someone to fill an important post is an arduous task that takes time, resources and money.  Often the decision to let someone go is a prolonged one, and the replacement recruitment process takes even more time and effort.  Competition is fierce, and the playing field isn't always equal.  And the reality is that very often it is simply a crap shoot; a guessing game that you hope will turn out right.  And when it doesn't work out (and if we are honest with ourselves, it doesn't work out much of the time), then there is great reluctance to quickly move to yet another change process - taking more time, more effort, more resources.  And we can't lessen the negative aspects of letting someone go by offering a generous severance package like Netflix can.

Say your current development director isn't working out and you go through a protracted search for a new one, and within a few months that one isn't working out either.  Do you then go through the process again?  Can you afford the time and empty chair to even consider that?  Is the alternative to simply make do with what you have?  Can you afford to do that?  That is a big problem for us.  But if you want to create and maintain a truly "A" team, it is probably essential not to settle, even when circumstances seem to dictate you have no other immediate choice.

In another interesting article (this one by Ryan Babineaux posted on the Daily Beast and reported on Yahoo), the point is made that successful company cultures embrace the idea of "Failing quickly in order to learn fast—or what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs commonly call failing forward—is at the heart of many innovative businesses."  The advice is to accept that there will be countless mistakes made, but that the response ought to be to recognize them as early as possible and move quickly to try to correct them.  If the culture of 'A' list talent is critical to not only job satisfaction and workplace happiness (for everyone) - which directly impacts success - then the advice to quickly move on likely applies to hiring and firing of people as well.

This harkens back to two of the principles set forth by Patty  McCord in her article about the principles employed at Netflix:  1)  Hire, Reward, and Tolerate Only Fully Formed Adults, and 2) Managers Own the Job of Creating Great Teams.  Bottom line is that the culture of a workplace sets the tone for everything an organization does.  It isn't easy to get it right, and arts organizations lack many of the resources high tech companies enjoy in mounting the effort, but we need to start asking the right questions about how we make our organizations the absolute best we can make them.  And people are the heart of the organization.  

Clearly, the chance to work as part of an 'A' list of bright people does not trump all the other negatives of inadequate pay, a dearth of skills enhancement opportunities, limited chances for advancement, ineffective leadership and constantly having inadequate resources to do your job - but it does set a certain tone for an organization and is likely a fundamental stating point to address the other challenges.    The most successful organizations will put that issue on the table and find ways to move in the direction of assembling and then keeping such an 'A' team.  If there are people who aren't cutting it and you need to let them go, do it now.  Your obligation is to the whole of the organization and to all the other people on your team.  Be direct, honest and kind, but do it.  As Patty McCord said in her article - that team is more important than foosball and free sushi in attracting people you want, and, I would add, in your ultimate success and even survival.

Have a great week.  And for those of you in the north and east - stay warm.

Don't Quit.