Sometimes, The Solutions Are Right In Front Of Us

Audience development, identifying meaningful ways to connect to the community, and becoming culturally relevant; these are issues which exist at the core of the orchestral field and preoccupy the minds of managers, board members, and musicians alike. Everyone seems to be looking for new ways to extract results from existing methods and resources; but sometimes, the solutions can be right at your fingertips, yet completely out of sight…Over the past several months, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Bill Harris, a talented systems dynamics expert based in Seattle, Washington. You’ll get to hear more about Bill and the project we’ve collaborated on this Monday. In general, I believe we’ve come up with something that will help revitalize how this business identifies issues and solutions.

But until then, I want to share one of my favorite stories which will set up the basic idea behind what will be revealed on Monday.

Back in the days of the mid 19th century gold rush, miners struck some promising looking veins of gold, and the Gold Rush was on. People came from around the world with nothing more than their hopes and dreams of gold. As the various mines developed, it became much more expensive and labor intensive to get the ore out of the ground. Many people who came halfway around the world expecting to get rich, only got a job working in someone else’s mine.

These West Coast mines were unique in that there was a blue clay that continued to seep into each of the tunnels and mine shafts. They had to assign many workers to do nothing more than scoop up this clay and haul it out of the mine, creating large mountains of this waste blue clay material. This clay removal made the mining process more dangerous and more expensive.

They called in mining experts from around the world to determine how to stop this blue clay from creeping into the mine works. One deep mine expert arrived from Ireland and, as he was walking up the hill to the mine shaft, he noticed the enormous pile of blue clay. He casually commented, “That is the largest pile of silver ore I’ve ever seen.”

As the gold played out, the Comstock Lode became one of the richest deposits of silver the world has ever known. Many fortunes were built in just a few short years; not because of gold, but because of a waste byproduct they had overlooked.

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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1 thought on “Sometimes, The Solutions Are Right In Front Of Us”

  1. Dear Drew,

    I like this story because it may mean that the unconventional, overlooked or unknown aspects of the classical music industry may indeed have to be discovered, in order to save it. I was so alarmed at the Cincinnati Symphony’s attendance Friday, that I think drastic measures may be in order, but the orchestra continues to do things as it has for 112 years. Take a look at my blog:, and let me know if you can offer any ideas! By the way, I appreciate your thoughtful posts, always.

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