Harvest, Build, And Destroy – Part 2

Part 1 of this series concluded by asking if it’s possible for musicians to pay more attention to administrative activities without also having to sacrifice their artistic duties.  Is it possible to harvest resources, build procedures, and destroy a competitor’s opportunity to act in bad faith?

It is possible to accomplish those goals without also overloading the musician representatives elected to function as the liaison between managers and the players.  Although every orchestra will develop a system which works best for them, the most difficult task is making the transition between the current Turn Based mentality toward a Real Time Strategy (RTS) course.  The first step is to realize the potential of making the transition.

Realizing the concept’s potential
The difference between how you process information and conduct strategy between Turn Based and RTS simulations is staggering.  The first popular medium for experiencing a RTS comes from the world of video games.

I remember the first time I played a RTS based game, it was the wildly popular “Age of Empires” game created by Microsoft.  I ran across the game while in a bookstore, it was running on a display computer and offered shoppers the opportunity to give it a try before buying.

It was intuitive and in a few seconds I had my trio of Stone Age workers off chopping down a tree, collecting some berries, and the other was building a house.  Suddenly, one of the workers was being attacked by a lion.  In response I had the remaining workers go to his defense. 

It took awhile for the lion to die and during that time the little colony was running behind schedule for collecting food and wood, but I didn’t realize that (yet).  To make things worse, the computer controlled opponent colony decided it was high time to launch a raid on my village with their burly club wielding soldiers.

The brutes walked right in and started destroying my buildings.  I took my trio of men and attacked one of the soldiers just to have him kill two of my men before he died.  Then my opponent’s four new soldiers (he was creating while I was busy killing the lion and defending my village) strolled right in and made mince meat of my final villager.

At the time I could figure out why I had lost.  So I stood there for another 30 minutes until the clerk told me to buy the game or go away.  So I went away and promptly came back the next day.  I ended up defending myself slightly better but still lost quickly enough not to raise the ire of the clerk.

On the third day I simply broke down and bough the game.  After reading the instructions and learning how to manage the villagers more efficiently in order to maximize the potential results of harvest, build, and destroy, I eventually defeated my computer opponent.

Before playing this game I had always been a superb chess player but no matter how far out I planed out my moves in advance in the RTS game, I didn’t win.  I had to make the transition from one mindset to another.  I had to increase my ability to process varying amounts of incoming information while keeping all of the production and resource gathering events geared toward the goal: beat the enemy.

At the game’s highest level of difficulty, I discovered that it was impossible to win (now it was six different enemies all aligned together against me) but you could accomplish a sustainable level of coexistence.

The Goals
The musicians need to create a system capable of providing them with the same level of control and involvement within their organization that a RTS provides without also detracting from their artistic obligation; in effect, they shouldn’t have to practically become managers in order to achieve these goals.

Additionally, it’s important to realize that this change in attitude will create a better day to day relationship between managers and musicians.

In order for any orchestra to define the goals of a program like this, it’s important to realize what this change in approach won’t accomplish. 

It’s counterproductive to believe that this sort of program will achieve peace and harmony with all things related to management/musician relations.  Everyone won’t be sitting around a fire holding hands and singing Kum-Ba-Ya.

The program won’t emasculate the authority of managers or dilute their ability to adequately operate the organization. Conversely, it won’t force musicians to become involved in leadership positions either.

It won’t prevent abuses from either side, in the end, anyone who wishes to take advantage of the other side will find a way to do so, however, this program will reduce the likelihood of that happening and work toward minimizing its detrimental effect. 

What the program will accomplish is a regular framework for dealing with preventing conflict from growing out of hand.

Although each organization will identify and prioritize the areas which require their attention, there are some basic goals all orchestras should work toward:

  • Creating avenues of regular access to the organization’s decision makers in order to provide representative input (including executive and board nomination committees).

  • Establish and participate in oversight committees (executive management review, strategic planning, artistic leadership review, artistic planning, financial affairs, operational procedures, community outreach efforts, etc.).

  • Create a mandatory, regularly occurring system of instruction for incoming musicians in representative positions.

  • Create a self sustaining system capable of moving a variety of members in and out of representative positions without suffering a loss in effectiveness.

  • Create a system that is flexible enough to meet the needs of the musicians (and managers) events develop.

  • Develop “catastrophic stop gap measures” to prevent the negative results from any sudden loss of key historical members.

In order to realize these goals, musicians will need to elect a framing committee who will be responsible for building a consensus among the membership and develop a phased plan of implementation to transition into the new system of internal governance.

Creating the initial groundwork by allocating the necessary resources in time and money, identifying capable members, and creating a mandate are all crucial elements of success.

Tomorrow’s final installment will examine the procedural aspects of implementing this approach.

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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