Creative Management

I recently had a conversation with Lois Svard, pianist, academic, champion of new music, and creativity guru, about the work she’s engaged in at Innovera.  Innovera is a consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses and organizations learn how to access their own potential for creativity and innovation, thus improving not only individual and group performance, but also ensuring the long-range success of the organization.

In one of my very first blog entries I wrote a piece about how orchestra managers should be as creative and innovative as their musicians.  At the time I received a good bit of email from orchestra managers stating that musicians weren’t very creative and they thought I was way off base.  One manager even mentioned that musicians were hardly creative since all they had to do was sit there and play the way some music director tells them.

I think this just goes to show some of the fundamental divide separating musicians and managers and their apparent inability to understand each other on a fundamental level.

It also shows why this industry has been so slow to move away from an old 19th century model of governance and administration.

I found it telling that most of Lois’ clients are for profit organizations and educational institutions.  Most of these institutions have lived with a frame of reference which seeks out organizational change to change and adapt to their surroundings in order to survive as compared to orchestras.  Lois said,

“I consult with people in businesses and organizations about how to be creative – introducing them to ways in which to develop creative abilities as well as to learn how to identify and accept the process.  Many people need to learn how detrimental judgmental behavior is to the creative process and to discover that a certain level of failure is part of being creative.

Failure doesn’t indicate a wrong course of action.  Thomas Edison tested 1800 light bulbs before he found a design that worked. He didn’t look at it as failure, however, he looked at his attempts as 1800 ways NOT to build a light bulb. Establishing organizational direction and unified identification of goals is critical to using mistakes positively so that everyone in the organization is working towards the same ideal.”

Lois went on to talk about how she uses exercises to help clients collectively identify what their organization “is” and where they are going.  We also talked about how although this may seem obvious at an orchestra; it’s usually at the heart of their problems.

Board members and managers work on inertia they think; “we, as an orchestra, have always moved in this direction and operated in this fashion so that’s the direction we must want to go.”

Even with changes in artistic leadership, this basic direction rarely changes and the methods to reach whatever goals they have aren’t much different.  I’ve always believed that you could randomly shuffle most of the managers in this business and have them all end up at different institutions and very little would change; and that’s not a good thing.

“I find it very depressing to see so many orchestras that still live in the 19th century,” said Lois.

And I agree.  You can see it in nearly every aspect of the business from programming to operational structure, to how they design and build concert halls.  The real problem with this is that in order for most orchestra managers to catch up to the level of creativity they should be at, it would cause some cataclysmic changes.  And changing any large system too fast too soon is risky at best and disastrous at worst.

All of this leaves us with a few intriguing questions:

  1. Why have organizations which feature creativity at the heart of their product evolved their administrative structures to be so uncreative?
  2. How are orchestras going to catch up to where they should be by moving slower than everyone else?

Any suggestions?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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