Monday, November 24, 2014

You Can't Always Get What You Want

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

I always enjoy reading Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog.  While her focus is on museums, I more often than not find her thinking and ideas are applicable to wide areas of our field, and I invariably come away from her posts with new thoughts of my own about the issues for arts managers across our sector.

A couple of weeks ago in a post she noted that she is "part of a cohort of ten arts organizations in California funded by the Irvine Foundation to strengthen our work to engage low-income and ethnically-diverse people. We meet in person twice a year. These are all really smart, dedicated people, and I feel lucky to learn from and with them."  And she recapped three presentations that resonated with her.

One of those she described this way:
"Michael Garces (Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater) shared about a killer workshop that made him completely rethink how collaboration is supposed to work. We usually think about collaboration as a process of compromise and negotiation. But Michael suggested that collaboration really means "You get 100% of what you want. I get 100% of what I want. And we work really hard to make it work."

For a long time, I thought that many of us, in relatively privileged positions, could, in fact, almost always get "what we want".  To be sure, one would have to pay the price for getting what we want - and that price was invariably the sacrifice of many other things as the pursuit demanded that we embrace a single-minded hyper focus on getting what we want to the exclusion of much else.  I still think that is largely true.  The problem is that often the sacrifice is too costly.

But like the Rolling Stones early song lyric:  "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need", I have come to the conclusion that a better approach is to focus not so much on what you want, but on what you actually need (to survive, to thrive, to grow, to make it all work).  What you want and what you need are not necessarily always the same thing.  What you need may be far more crucial to your goals and objectives than what you want, and trying to always get what you want may thwart getting what you need.

One has to ask the question of the relevancy and direct connection between what you want and what you need and which is the crucial variable in success.  It may also be much easier to get what you need than what you want, particularly if you develop the skill of recognizing what others may need, and approaching any negotiation - be it for collaboration or otherwise - (and all relationships are a negotiation of one form or another) with the goal of making sure all the parties get (not what they want) but what they need to make it work for them.  The process of thinking through what it is that you really need to make something work is, in itself, invaluable in helping you define what it is you need, and getting it. And knowing what the other party needs and helping them to get it can make the relationship more meaningful and successful.  In some sense, getting what you need ought to be what you want.

It would be a perfect world if all sides in any relationship could always get what they want, but I think those situations are rare. I'm not criticizing any approach that might actually yield that result, and perhaps some collaborations or other situations lend themselves to that kind of an outcome, but many more do not.  And in those other situations (which I think are probably in the majority), I think a focus on what you need and what the other party or parties need stands the better chance of making the collaboration or situation work.  If that dovetails with what each party wants, great, but it may be an unreasonable expectation going in.

Have a great week.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Don't Quit