Unexamined Initiatives Are Not Worth Implementing

It is no news flash to even casual readers of the blog that I am involved with Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection program to build public will for arts and culture. Last week, they ran a webinar just to present the basic research and program. In recent months they have been featuring two case studies where people talk about how their organizations are putting the research and messaging into practice. This session was aimed at giving people more complete information about the program.

As much as I have been a fan boy cheer leading the program, what I really appreciated about the webinar last week was the number and type of questions people were asking of the presenters.

It was an indication of just how serious people were thinking about implementing the research that webinar attendees were questioning the research methodology. I think people in arts and culture field are wise to scrutinize whether a new approach to doing business is a popular fad soon to fade or has some rigorous thought behind it. They have little enough time and resources as it is and don’t want to waste it on initiatives lacking substance.

What I really appreciated was when one person, identified as Zi Li, asked about case studies on failed programs because they were interested to learn why those program failed.  My friend Carter Gillies often mentions the problem of survivorship bias  where you only study the successful cases rather than gaining insight from those that failed.

The music on the Awesome 80s radio station is always going to be better than the music today because you are comparing the cream that rose to the top and endured the last 30 years to all the music being performed today, both good and bad.

If you are new to the concept of Creating Connection or just want a refresher, take a look at the video from the webinar which includes all the questions and comments made that day.

Non Profits & Buying Locally – Good For The Community vs Bad For Overhead Ratio

Back in September, Non-Profit Quarterly (NPQ) pointed to a new research study which has found overheard ratio is not a valid measure of organizational effectiveness. In fact, it there is a slight negative correlation between overheard ratio and commonly used measures of efficiency.

“…but our work is the first to approach it using efficiency theory—and we were able to demonstrate the problem using real-world data.”

….“In short,” Coupet says, “this demonstrates that not only is the overhead ratio bad at assessing efficiency, but also that using it to assess efficiency may actively mislead donors. We argue that nonprofit scholars, managers, and donors should move away from concepts and measures of efficiency based on financial ratios, and toward ones that embrace maximizing what nonprofits are able to make and do.”

NPQ says according to the study, overhead ratio is a poor measure of effectiveness because it doesn’t reflect what organizations are doing with their resources or what they “are accomplishing with their non-overhead spending.”

In other words, like I have written so often before, the value of what a non-profit does is not reflected by transactional data, economic impact numbers or test scores.

This being said, another part of the article raises the intriguing idea that if a non-profit is supposed to be working for the benefit of their community, shouldn’t they be focusing on buying locally rather at chain stores or wholesale warehouses? If so, the higher cost of buying locally would raise their costs a bit and impact their overhead ratio. But it may be worthwhile to do so.

Should we stop looking for cost savings that benefit our bottom line but lead to purchasing that harms the greater community? In other words, should nonprofits be considering (and be supported to pursue) their own “buy local” policies?

‘Nonprofits should be shouting about how much of their spending happens at locally owned, minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned or disabled-owned businesses. There is a multiplier effect in spending locally that shows that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 of that is re-spent locally, while national chains only spend $14 of that sale locally.’

This is an intriguing idea that has this author (a nonprofit executive who manages purchasing) feeling the financial pinch of a cogent ethical argument: If buying local supports healthy communities, and the mission and values of my organizations are tied to relevant healthy community outcomes, why am I doing my shopping at big box (including online) retailers?

This broadens the scope of what it means to be a non-profit in service to the community. Touting how much is being spent at locally owned business won’t necessarily smother the use of overhead ratio as a standard, but it has the potential to blunt the ratio’s use in an argument of a non-profit’s worthiness.

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.

Free In Life, But Eternally Enslaved By Movie Studios In Death

If we thought it was a problem that older arts administrators were resisting retirement and making it difficult for newer people in the field to advance and gain valuable skills, actors may end up having it worse. According to an article on MIT Technology Review, actors are digitally preserving themselves which would allow them to perform even after they die.

“It’s sort of a safe bet for the people with the money. It’s a familiar face,” says Ingvild Deila, who was scanned by Industrial Light and Magic for her role as Princess Leia in Rogue One. “We like to repeat what’s worked in the past, so it’s part financial, part nostalgia.”

Earlier this year Last Jedi visual-effects supervisor Ben Morris told Inverse that the Star Wars franchise is now scanning all its leads. Just in case. “We will always digitally scan all the lead actors in the film,” says Morris. “We don’t know if we’re going to need them.”

The article talks about some of the technical difficulties that have been encountered during efforts to retroactively create images of people from old video footage supplemented by motion capture from body doubles. The fact that actors are proactively working to collect a plethora of information about their gestural nuances and inevitable improvements in technology mean that an actor’s career can be extended for a long time.

There are all sort of thorny questions that this raises. On the positive side the technology may be an equalizer for women who have often found their careers truncated as they age or start being offered parts as mothers of male actors only a few years their junior  (or in the infamous case of Angelina Jolie and Collin Farrell in Alexander, one year her junior). Of course, that opens a whole can of worms akin to the controversies about retouching magazine photos if the digital recordings of women are used to “de-age” them more than their male counterparts.

Regardless of gender there is the question of authenticity and believability that can arise.

Not to mention, the matter of whether humans are needed at all if an AI can create a digital simulacrum that can deliver a believable, evocative performance.

I am not sure fans’ desire to interact with a live personae would necessarily prevent a digital creation from achieving peak stardom since the online and recorded presence already constitutes a significant portion of so many people’s relationship with those they admire.

If fans need a real life person upon which to shower praise, perhaps it will end up being the directors of design teams that will be the prime recipients of adulation for their masterful manipulation of wholly digital constructs.

The more I think about this issue, the more problems I can think of. My brain is already writing the plot of a movie where a studio kills off an actor so that they can’t contract their likeness to a rival studio, thereby making their recording at the peak of the actor’s powers the most valuable.

I anticipate court cases where heirs lose a lawsuit over the use of their great-grandparent’s likeness because the law governing such matters was underdeveloped in 2020.

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