Is There Ever A Time Where Two Wrongs Make A Right?

Every now and then, we get to watch a “don’t do it this way” scenario unfold in real-time. Case in point, the recent Twitter spat between Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) music director, Bramwell Tovey, and American University Associate Professor CAS – Performing Arts and author of The Artful Manager culture blog, Andrew Taylor.

What Happened

Tovey posted a tweet pointing out an oversight in that evening’s concert by way of excluding the replacement guest artist from the concert program:

A few hours later, Taylor replied, taking issue with what he characterized as Tovey unnecessarily singling out the VSO marketing department:

Tovey did not take kindly to that assertion and fired back with a pointed reply. The two continued to spar, each attempting to take increasingly larger sized bites out of the other’s ego.

As often happens during a Twitter war, tribalism kicked into high gear and barbs were exchanged.




Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discussion became more about Tovey and Taylor than the guest artist that went without being acknowledged in the program; at least, until someone pointed that out.

For what it’s worth, the VSO’s official Twitter account did acknowledge their oversight after Tovey’s original Tweet, keeping the focus squarely on the guest artist:

The Irony

What’s particularly ironic in this scenario is it seems clear Taylor was irked over Tovey’s decision to call-out the VSO marketing department. As a result, he decided the best option was to act in kind and take a bite out of Tovey via the same approach.

Consequently, it isn’t terribly surprising to see any underlying message warning against the fallout from airing dirty laundry get lost is the shuffle.

One of the cornerstones from my conference presentation last week on developing a healthy data driven culture was to focus more on outcomes than metrics minutia.

Based on their tweets, I’m not sure what sort of outcome either Tovey or Taylor expected. Granted, it’s always easy to occupy the moral high ground from the comfort of hindsight, but I’m curious to know how you would handle the situation.

All of this makes me think about labor negotiations where the purview of zero-sum bargaining is you can’t have winners without losers (spoiler: that’s not a healthy approach).

At a time when tribalism increasingly defines online interaction, what’s the teachable moment here?

From an outcome-centric perspective, one worthwhile approach is to focus on a result where all parties save face while espousing the overarching virtue (don’t air dirty laundry).

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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