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Don’t Go To Abilene Unless YOU Really Want To

One of the more famous illustrations of the perils of group behavior is the Abilene Paradox. I wrote about the issue some years back but in short, its a story management expert Jerry Harvey told about how he and his in-laws all took a trip to Abilene that none of them wanted to take because none of them wanted to speak their mind.

As I wrote:

There is an article by Harvey that illustrates how the paradox can manifest itself in various situations and also contains suggestions on how to avoid taking a trip to Abilene. In what might appear to be the most extreme case, he suggests that the instigator of the misguided trip may need to step forward and declare their misgivings about their own project in order to break the fear which keeps the cycle of reinforcement intact.

“… we frequently fail to take action in an organizational setting because we fear that the actions we take may result in our separation from others, or, in the language of Mr. Porter, we are afraid of being tabbed as “disloyal” or are afraid of being ostracized as “non-team players.”

This is why I felt arts organizations might be especially vulnerable to trips to Abilene. Members aren’t simply employees/volunteers/board members but assumed to be true believers in the cause. There could be a fear, real or imagined that disagreement with the group equates to lack of commitment to the greater ideals rather than merely disloyalty to the company.

If you see yourself or your organization as particularly susceptible to making metaphoric trips to Abliene, you may want to resolve to resist doing so in the new year.

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Coach or Mentor?

Looking back through my archives, I rediscovered a piece I wrote on the concept that most mentoring programs are really coaching programs.  The piece by Rebecca Ryan I link to is no longer available, even on her updated site but the longer article on the difference between mentoring and coaching still is active.

From that post:

Coaching essentially consists of helping someone fulfill their function for the company whereas mentoring is more of a customize relationship aimed at growing the person.

In Ryan’s view, most mentoring programs are essentially buddy programs. Whereas:

“True Mentoring occurs when an elder’s intention is to entrust another with the welfare of her or his estate (or something similarly significant.) In business, this means that one generation of leaders takes the next generation under its wing and over time, teaches them everything they know….So you see, Mentoring is intended to occur alongside a transfer of responsibility. Most Mentoring programs have no such intention.”

The problem she feels lies in the fact that companies try to use mentoring to fill in gaps but don’t commit to designing and implementing the program resulting in low retention and burn out.

So as we move into the new year, if you are mentoring someone or are considering doing so, think about what results are are intending to achieve.

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Anthropologist Eye For The New To Dance Guy (or Gal)

About 8 years ago I received a copy of Presenting Dance by Mindy N. Levine, a book that provided some great insight about dance gleaned from conversations at National Dance Presenters Leadership Forum at Jacob’s Pillow between 2002 and 2006. I the post I wrote in an attempt to summarize the ideas therein, I repeatedly bemoaned the fact the text wasn’t available online. It still appears the text is only available as a physical document.

What I really appreciated were the suggestions for demystifying dance that the book contained. There was very little in there that couldn’t be adapted directly or minimal effort to music, theater or visual art.

One of the main suggestions was to have people approach a dance piece with one of a variety of lenses. As I wrote:

The chapter suggests presenting different ways for audiences to approach a dance piece, with a Journalist’s Eye, Anthropologist’s Eye, Linguist/Grammarian Eye and Colleagues and Conversation. Now I think using these terms with audience members probably will add to their anxiety but the suggestions in each area are geared toward getting people past “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it,” or “I didn’t understand it” and on to discovering why.
[…]
For Anthropologist Eye, the audience approaches dance as if it were an unknown culture being discovered. An attitude which may actually fall closest to the mark. Questions suggested in this area might be whether men move differently from women, if movement is in isolation or groups, are their forces that bring people together or separate them, are there rules applied to the movement and if so, are they flexible or rigid?

In the post I summarize all the listed lenses, but as I suggest, the Anthropologist Eye is probably the one with which a new attendee might most closely identify.

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Donor Baggage Revisited

I am going to be away for about a week for the holidays. As always, I have prepared some posts to fill in for my absence.

Since we are coming to the end of the year and non-profits are making last minute pushes for donations, I thought a piece I wrote in June 2008 about the baggage donors bring to giving requests might be particularly appropriate.

Particularly the following:

In any case the advice generally focuses on a somewhat formulaic planned approach. Just as dating tips rarely acknowledge that other people have the baggage of past dating experiences which will impact the relationship you are trying to cultivate, I rarely hear/read a similar acknowledgment in connection with fund raising.

One of the anecdotes mentioned in the story was about a wealthy developer who never gave more than $1,000 at a time to Temple. When Fredricks asked why, she discovered that even though he could afford to give more, he harbored fears about running out of money that went back to his childhood.

She recognizes that the people who ask for money like presidents and trustees also have varying degrees of comfort with the subject. “They should be treated the same way donors are—as individuals with different emotions about money—and given simple requests, she said. Instead of giving a reticent board member a list of prospective donors, Fredricks suggested starting out with the names and biographical information of two current donors and then asking the trustee to call them to say thank you.”

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