Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lessons in Failing or Why The Arts Need to Pay Attention to Business Trends

One of the articles from this week that caught my attention was the Carrol and Mui article Seven Ways to Fail Big. With the changing landscape for non profit arts institutions, arts managers are jumping through a lot of different strategies that eerily mirror the lessons from this article. Instead of remaining an insular industry that is only focused on what the other arts star is doing, maybe they should take note of how  other private sector stars have fallen on their faces. Taking some lessons from the private world may help avoid colossal missteps that could easily take down an organization in a industry with limited funds and revenue streams to go around.

Some lessons I was able to apply from the reading:

The Synergy Mirage: There has been a move, especially in Pittsburgh, that joining forces, creating trusts or alliances, may be the key to long-term sustainability. But move into this area with caution, because will joining together really create a system that will solve your problems or just create a maelstrom of bad practices?

Faulty Financial Engineering: With the Sarbanes Oxley act effecting how businesses need to conduct their finances, non-profit arts should pay close attention to the changes and ways that finances are engineered. With the desire to drive up revenue, many nonprofits fall for the allure of big moneymakers in the for-profit industry. Be wary of where you place those investments.

Stubbornly Staying the Course: Symphony orchestras.

Pseudo-Adjacencies: More than anything, the misson defines the organization. Having that mission clearly spelled out and sticking to it is of the upmost importance to provide long term success of any arts organization. I think arts orgs need to watch to not get sucked into trends that don't really fit within their means, risking costly ventures in markets they don't really belong in. Case in point - Major museum travelling, blockbuster shows do not work across the wide spectrum of museums in the world, the obsession with them put many museums in the hot water they are currently in.

Bets on the Wrong Technology: You have a limited budget. No matter how attractive interactive Kiosks are, mobile apps, flash websites, etc., make sure that they work for your organization. It's a high cost to make the wrong bet. On the same token, do not repeat the mistakes of the late 90's by ignoring the boom of the web and taking forever to create your own functional website. Follow the trends and make small, strategic moves into new tech.

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