Are You Persistent or Consistent In Your Pursuit of Excellence?

Seth Godin made a post earlier this week comparing Persistence with Consistent wherein he starts with the statement “Persistence is sort of annoying.”

He goes on to talk about the way in which consistent is the desirable opposite side of the coin,

Consistent with your statements, consistent in the content you create, consistent in the way you chip away at the problem you’re seeking to solve.

Persistence can be selfish, but consistency is generous.

And the best thing is that you only have to make the choice to be consistent once. After that, it’s simply a matter of keeping your promise.

In this context,  persistence seems to be about performance of a specific action whereas consistent is policy. In this sense persistence is approaching a challenge in the same way until it is worn down to the point you can pass. Whereas consistent is more about dedication to finding a way past that obstruction.

While both approaches never falter in achieving a singular goal, the latter entertains options regarding the methods by which this can be accomplished. In fact, consistent may be better equipped to recognize that surmounting the barrier isn’t the goal but rather getting to the place beyond the barrier and therefore there may be no reason to engage with this particular barrier at all.

What actually drew my attention to Godin’s post was that last line about keeping a promise. Working in the non-profit arts sector is often such a struggle that we feel like we can only survive with dogged persistence. Perhaps what is really needed is a focus on consistency.

If our promise to the community we serve is to provide a certain experience, a persistent approach may keep you locked into executing an approach and methods which have decreasing relevance. A determination to offer a consistently valuable experience can lead you to place more importance on needs of those you intend to serve rather place importance on the methods by which you accomplish it.

Think about it this way. If you want to keep a promise to provide excellent customer service do you do the same thing today as you did five years ago? Do you use the same approach for small groups as large? Kids as for elderly? Film audiences as for Broadway musical audiences? 2500 seat theater as for 150 seat theater?

Sure you will still make bad choices, but a consistent approach to great customer service is likely better able to take the differences of time, place, environment and expectations into account than a persistent approach.

If you are like me, Emerson’s line, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” might have come to mind when you first saw the term. In that context consistency has a negative connotation. After reading and pondering Godin’s post I wondered if it might have been better said as “a foolish persistence.” Though I learn toward consistency is a better word choice.

It should also be noted, Emerson never mentions what the characteristics of wise or non-foolish consistency are. Consistency is not necessarily negative in and of itself. Persistence isn’t either, but it does have implications of a single-mindedness that can quickly become problematic.

You may have noticed I didn’t make definitive claims about persistent being one thing and consistent being another. Ultimately, of course it isn’t about what word you use as much as what practice you embody.

Some Last Thoughts On Conferences For Awhile (Probably)

I know I have been harping a lot on conferences of late, but you know, ’tis the season!

Because I had been in the process of moving to a new job, I just caught up with my blog feed this weekend and read Barry Hessenius’ piece on effectively exploiting the conference experience for people at different stages in their careers. Which he wrote a few weeks before my first post on the topic, proving once again that he is at the forefront of arts management theory.

Don’t misread my previous posts about how to improve the conference attendance experience as disgruntled criticisms of any conferences I have attended or contributed to. I was approaching the topic in the same spirit as I approach arts attendance experiences: questioning what it is that conferences, like the arts orgs they serve, need to do in order to provide participants with a valuable experience.

Hessenius’ post is especially useful for first time attendees because their conference experience is going to be all about networking. He identifies common features of arts conferences and provides advice about how to exploit these dynamics to best effect.

For example, regarding the plenary luncheons:

I never sit at just any table, nor am I the first one to seat myself. I wait until the tables begin to fill, quickly identify a table occupied by people I might want to talk to and those I might want to get to know. Even if your seat mates are serendipitously determined, that’s ok, because often times you end up meeting someone who will make an excellent contact. Note too that keynote speakers are often inspiring and motivating, but few keynotes will offer you much practical advice that you can use, and thus the before, and during conversations with those at your table may be more valuable to you in the long run.

The one bit of advice I felt was valuable for people of any level of conference attendance experience was in regard to preparation:

One final piece of advice:  there is a lot of talking that goes on at conferences.  Learn to listen and listen well.  And please, if there are recommended reading materials and / or research available before the conference for a session you might want to attend, don’t put that off until you are on the plane.  Do your homework, if there is any, beforehand.  If you give yourself more time to think about the subject, you’ll get more out of the presentation, and you’ll be able to formulate good questions to raise.  Relax on the plane.

If there is one phrase I have heard at conferences over the last decade or so it is along those lines. People say they meant to review a text in advance or they downloaded the book planning to read it on the plane or listen to the audio content as they drove but didn’t get to it.

I understand that. For a whole lot of people attending a conference means cramming all the work you aren’t going to be around to do into the last few days before the conference. There is even less time than usual available to preview conference content.

But as Hessenius implies, you are carving out time to attend a conference to help yourself be better at your job. If you only have a precious few days in which to do that, it is worthwhile to prepare the soil in which this valuable content can thrive and grow.

New Perspectives From A Different Part of The Country

I mentioned last week that I was in the process of moving. Today I started a new job at the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

I am really excited by this opportunity. The Grand is a storied theater having undergone many evolutions, and renovations  over its, depending on how you count, 134 or 104 year history.

One of the other things that really excites me is that Macon is a Knight Foundation community.  Over the years I have written about the interesting programs they have initiated and supported in their chosen communities. I am looking forward to experiencing some of this first hand.  (As you might imagine, I now need to insert a disclaimer that The Grand Opera House benefits from their support.)

I will apologize in advance that my posting schedule might be a little irregular as I tackle the challenges of my new job. Not to mention, my furniture has yet to catch up with me and blogging while sitting on my living room floor presents some challenges.

Still, I anticipate having new perspectives and insights to offer readers in the coming months.

Have You Hugged Your Grant Panelist?

Short post today because I just returned home after serving on a grant review panel for the state arts council.

The deputy director of the council was reminiscing about the days in the not so distant past when the review process for the main grant program took three days. Even though the panelists reviewed the applications in advance, they would spend time reviewing VHS tapes, etc as a group and discussing final thoughts on the grants across those three days.

Now it is possible to review and pre-score the grants online and likewise review videos, recordings, webpages, etc online and in advance as well. The stacks of applications for each grant program are distributed between different groups so that no group of reviewers has to spend more than a day at the arts council offices deciding on final scoring.

However….

It is still a big job to serve on the panels and potential reviewers are busy.

A month ago a colleague told me she had been asked to serve on a panel for another program, but felt some trepidation about having enough time amidst all her other commitments to review the 45 proposals that had been assigned to her group.

There was a member of my panel today whose background and expertise I felt was much needed because it aligned with the non-arts field components found in five of the grant proposals. She also expressed reservations about serving again due to the time commitment required to preview the 45 proposals.

I should note the actual time we spent reviewing the grants today was about 6 hours. That is about an appropriate number of proposals to assign a group to review for a day. But it was also only possible thanks to 25-30 hours of preparation.

The moral of my little story here is to encourage everyone to volunteer to serve on your state arts council (or NEA) grant panels when asked.

Failing that, give your panel participants a hug in thanks.

Heck, definitely give your arts council staff a hug. They vet many multiples of proposals for basic qualifications and prepare them for the grant panels. Not to mention organizing and providing orientations to the panelists in the first place.

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