An Overwhelming Culture Of Façade

Joe Patti posted a fascinating article over at Butts In The Seats on 3/17/2014 about earnest examination of failure which got me thinking about the upcoming conference season and how much more useful service organizations could be if they spent as much time examining failures as everything else done during a typical conference.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-142One point in particular worth noting from Patti’s article is the stigma associated with failure is strong enough to drive individuals and organizations to spin them as success.

What caught my eye was the assumption by each group that their failure was unique based on the assumption everyone else was succeeding. Not surprising since everyone was reporting successes.

It isn’t difficult to see where this syndrome can snowball into a counterproductive culture unable to benchmark genuine accomplishment.

Let’s call it an overwhelming culture of façade.

Granted, no one digs an environment where everyone is in vulture mode, circling to find the dead meat of failure just so they can tear the offender apart; that’s simply moving the pendulum to the opposite extreme.

But to circle back to the opening remarks about industry conferences, the most useful ones I’ve attended don’t shy away from failures nor do they endure the promotion of bogus success.

In Patti’s article, he points out that most of the failures which end up receiving attention are the ones which play out in the public arena, such as New York City Opera; but in those cases, it is more sensationalism or oversimplification than a useful post mortem.

We don’t know enough about the failures that lead to these situations to learn from them. There isn’t much to be learned from “Don’t Run Out of Money.” A little more transparency and frank discussion may be helpful.

So the question today is this: if this sort of dialogue doesn’t transpire during conferences with the sort of transparency and frank discussion Patti suggests, where else can they occur and have the greatest potential for positive change?

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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