"And the beat goes on……………"
The 'What If' question has long been a staple of any number of approaches to things - from Hollywood reconfiguring a movie 'pitch' to make it closer to what their audience research says, to Pentagon War Games Scenario Planners. It's an intriguing way to ponder what certain sets of circumstances might lead to, and as a device to try to get out-of-the-box in coming up with responses. Asking What If questions is premised on the unexpected happening; that which you didn't see coming. Sure, it seems like a waste of time asking about the aftermath of something that is highly unlikely to happen -- except that things that are highly unlikely to happen seem to be happening with increasing frequency in an ever changing dynamic. It's hardly new. Isn't, for example, the whole premise of insurance to have a back up for things that are unlikely to happen?
We play this game sometimes in our own strategic planning, often without even knowing it. We ask ourselves questions about our goals and objectives and whether or not our actions might get us to where we want to be. It might be interesting, and telling, if not necessarily immediately helpful, to ask the question directly about a host of our assumptions - as individual organizations and as a sector. What If something completely unexpected were to happen, or What If we were to do something really left field? What would be the impact, the outcome, the results? How would we have to change if something happened that was completely illogical? What changes would we make, and are we capable of those kinds of fundamental changes on short notice. WHAT IF we did things differently?
Here are just a few What If Questions that -- were the scenarios to become reality -- might change what we do and how we do it on profound levels.
Big SECTOR Questions:
1. What If the demand for certain of our art forms is finite, and unlikely to ever -- no matter what we do in terms of marketing, engagement, programming, changes to delivery systems, or attempts to make it more convenient, less expensive, and culturally friendly -- grow beyond what it is today?
2. What If public funding for the arts were to grow by two hundred percent across the board in the next three years?
3. What If ALL the baby boomer Executive Directors in the arts sector were to retire by 2017?
4. What If virtually none of our research is accurate?
5. What If the top ten companies in Silicon Valley publicly insisted on STEAM?
6. What If foundations abandoned territorial funding restrictions?
7. What If cities without world class cultural organizations starting putting together packages of incentives and sought to steal the best organizations from other cities?
8. What If taking a selfie photograph doesn't really qualify as participating in cultural activities?
9. What If everybody in the field gave ten dollars a year for arts lobbying?
10. What If yet another generation is a have / have not arts education cohort - with half the kids having had a rich mixture of arts education course offerings, and half having had nothing at all?
INDIVIDUAL Arts Organization Questions:
1. What If we closed our four wall performing facility and had to find other places to perform next year?
2. What If we put all our advertising dollars into social media outreach?
3. What If our three biggest donors didn't give us a dime next year?
4. What If the economy collapses again.
5. What If half the board left, and were replaced by people in their 20's?
6. What If the artists associated with our performances demanded twice the pay before they would perform again?
7. What If the media in our city started covering the arts in a really big way on a daily basis?
8. What If we drastically changed the length of our performances?
9. What If we tripled our $500 donors?
10. What If we focused ALL our efforts exclusively on Arts Education?
It may well be that this is no more than an interesting game to play at the bar during a convention. But while it may have little practical application, it may be that the What If questions you might formulate to ask, and the answers you might come up with when asked a What If question by someone else, change the way you think about things and move you to points you haven't yet been, nor which you thought you would ever embrace. It may be that some What If questions are simply too ridiculous to even consider. But there may be any number of What If questions that actually hit home and aren't so far off the truth of things. And consideration of those questions by you and your organization may not be a game at all, but a smart exercise in preparedness and innovation.
What If your job disappeared tomorrow, what would you do? What If the two or three things that were holding your organization back were - for whatever reasons - no longer a problem. How would the organization proceed without those handicaps?
What If you could come up with way better questions?
What If you wrote a blog and no one read it?
Have a great week.