Article below taken from : http://www.artsjournal.com/artfulmanager/main/008768.php
July 31, 2006
Act like a business? Why aim so low?
I wrote this opinion piece for the July/August 2006 issue of Inside Arts, the magazine of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters [available on-line (registration required)]. I reprint it here with my permission.
In his recent monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins makes a rather bold statement: "We must reject the idea -- well-intentioned, but dead wrong -- that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become 'more like a business.'" His point is that most businesses are poorly run, and that many business practices correlate with mediocrity, not greatness. So, to him, telling nonprofit organizations to "run like a business" is like telling artists to lower their standards, or telling a visionary leader to "aim low."
For those of us who have been struggling to convince cultural leaders to work with more focus, more discipline, and more responsiveness, Collins' words come as a bit of a blow. But I have to admit he has a point. For the past decades, our industry has fundamentally misunderstood what it means to run "like a business." As a result, we've tended to become more rigid, less joyous and increasingly disconnected from the communities and the creative spirit we were formed to serve.
In the Arts Administration MBA degree program I direct, we get to see both sides of the question -- dwelling in a School of Business, and working every day with cultural nonprofits. From that perspective, I suggest a six-point alternative to "running like a business," to give ourselves more worthy targets:
In the end, behaving "like a business" is a matter of semantics. Arts organizations are businesses, so their behavior is businesslike -- just as good or just as bad. The deeper question is what kind of business do you want to be? And what skills and perspective do you need to get there? It's not about mimicry. It's about clarity, curiosity and courage.
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