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Reading List

Below are the latest articles, websites and books that members our team have been reading and that we recommended for other arts and culture professionals.


Charities’ Zero-Sum Filing Game

The minimalist ratings of nonprofit organizations, using overhead and fundraising ratios, are deeply flawed. Are we collectively making the situation worse by shaving the numbers? A recent study found that over 40% of nonprofits report zero fundraising expenses, which suggests nonprofits can’t be trusted to share information in the public interest and the rating agencies are all that more essential. Our collective actions are feeding the current system rather than demonstrating its irrelevance through honest, open and more comprehensive and meaningful data. (Full disclosure: NAS does not raise money from individuals and therefore lists its grant-related expenses under business development rather than fundraising.)

“4 in 10 Charities Claim No Fundraising Costs on Tax Forms” »

“Charities’ Zero-Sum Filing Game” »

Putting the community in control of programming

A startup company, Tugg, has an interesting take on allowing the community to “pull-through” programming for movie theaters. The service is still in beta testing so its reach and types of participants are limited for the moment, but it is interesting to imagine where it could go. What could a similar community-driven approach mean for your organization? How would you translate your organization’s role in a community-led model where you are a facilitator rather than the central decision maker?

Tugg, The Social Movie Theater Startup, Uses Crowdsourcing To Choose Which Movies Play At Local Theater.

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness

How would the world be different if we could get all of our donors to watch this film?  Michael Norton, Associate Professor of Business Administration and Marvin Bower Fellow at Harvard Business School, has been an outstanding faculty member for NAS on Strategic Marketing, and his TED talk is worth watching to find out what really makes you happy.

View Mike’s talk, “How to buy happiness,” at »

Guthrie Theater’s debt to women and diversity

Do nonprofit cultural organizations have a particular responsibility to reach into and represent all parts of the community?  Does the benefit of nonprofit status require us to take more risks than commercial theatre?  A recent article explores the Minneapolis community’s reaction to the lack of diversity in a local theatre’s upcoming season.  While this piece focuses on the choices of one artistic director, other leaders in the field have also argued that not all organizations should feel obligated to be diverse.  On the other hand, leadership from theatre companies such as Ten Thousand Things and Actors’ Theatre of Louisville argue that ensuring inclusivity is not only the responsibility of an arts leader, it also just makes good business sense.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on questions about representation, community, and diversity raised here.

Read “Guthrie Theater’s debt to women and diversity” at »

Is Opera a Sustainable Art Form?

In a recent post on her blog, Jumper, Diane Ragsdale shares an excerpt from her keynote address on the topic, “Is Opera a Sustainable Art Form?” from the Opera Europa conference in February. Referencing Alexey A. Voinov’s Paradoxes of Sustainability, Ragsdale eloquently asks us to consider where our motivations lie and what we are truly trying to save when we preach of a need for sustainability:

“Forest fires naturally occur and burn down portions of ecosystems so that the forest ecosystem as a whole can persist. If we begin to prevent forest fires we damage the forest ecosystem.

And so what, specifically, could this mean for the opera world and the question at hand? Well, if we agree with Voinov and think his ideas could apply to organizational systems and not just natural ones, it means that we should ask ourselves where we may be seeking the “unnatural perpetuation of what might otherwise die”? It means that we need to think very carefully about which level of our ecosystem we are seeking to sustain.”

“Is Opera a Sustainable Art Form? Excerpts form a new keynote…” at Jumper »


3 Ways To Predict What Consumers Want Before They Know It

This brief article from Scott Anthony, of Innosight and the author of The Little Black Book Of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It, looks at consumer needs and innovation opportunities.

Also mentioned in the article is The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael Raynor. Along with The Innovator’s Dilemma by Christensen and Creative People Must Be Stopped by David A. Owens, these are wonderful books to have read and on your innovation reference shelf.

3 Ways To Predict What Consumers Want Before They Know It »

The human factor in service design

“The human factor in service design” discusses the importance of understanding what truly motivates your customers as a way to more efficiently and effectively design and deliver services. By identifying which aspects of service the customer does and does not value, companies can make better decisions about how to use existing resources to deliver in key service areas. The McKinsey team introduces three key questions to consider when designing or changing current services and delivery methods: How human is our service?, How economic is our service? and Can our people scale it up? The questions encourage companies to evaluate not only customer needs but the company’s resources, capabilities and economic goals. The group emphasizes implementing and maintaining organization-wide policies and procedures to ensure consistent delivery of service, and that the evaluation of services, delivery and organizational capacity should be conducted by cross-functional, senior-level teams. Read the rest of this entry »

A conversation on With the advent of amazing online videos, why are we still so compelled to experience live performance?

We’ve all heard about the TED videos, but there’s also a section of the TED site dedicated to conversations about issues. I found this one particularly interesting for arts and culture leaders. The comments touch on what is “online” and what is “live,”  the importance of context and the gulf that sometimes exists between artists and audience. What do you think? Why are audiences compelled to experience live performances? What is a “live” performance?

A conversation on With the advent of amazing online videos, why are we still so compelled to experience live performance (music, sports games, dance)?

Building a New American Theater of the Commons

In “Building a New American Theater of the Commons,” Polly Carl and Vijay Matthew of The American Voices New Play Institute discuss the need to approach theater as a “We” rather than a “Me.” They cite the ideas behind the regional theater movement of the 1960s:

“…that cultural institutions like theaters, museums, and symphonies are a value proposition and compose the life-blood of any city along with libraries, schools, hospitals and public works. It was born out of the same collaborative impulse that is required in making a great playa belief that the shared resource of artistic imagination makes communities better.”

Carl and Matthew write that to make these ideas relevant in the 21st century, we must become “stewards of a collectively shared commons” and discuss ways in which we can take advantage of the internet’s “civilization-defining impact” to encourage collaboration and the coordination of resources, as well as to create artistic opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

Innovation strategy: The Innovator’s Manifesto

Innovation is the hot topic in many arenas: politics, economics, business and not the least, our own cultural field.

Financial Times writer Philip Delves Broughton (former and now part-time journalist, fiction writer and somewhat regretful Harvard MBA) reviews Michael Raynor’s The Innovator’s Manifesto.

The author notes leading thinking on innovation has cleaved (emphasis mine):

On one side are those who embrace the ideas of collaborative consumption and fast failure, who argue that innovators need to experiment with their potential consumers until they find a product or service that succeeds. These are the doers, the tinkerers who see innovation as a kind of performance art, to be done in full public view and modified according to the cheers and jeers of the crowd. On the other side are the strategists, those who still believe in thinking through an innovation before leaping in. Michael Raynor, a management consultant and protégé of Clay Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor, is one of the most articulate and interesting of the strategists.


Raynor writes convincingly that the current enthusiasm for “fast failure” and corporate “cultures of learning” is unrealistic. Corporate pathologies, such as “long memories, the jockeying for position, decision making by consensus”, he writes, lead to “risk aversion and incrementalism”, which make such innovation processes unworkable.

It is much more realistic for companies to strategise their way to innovation by focusing on areas where they might have a disruptive effect and designing processes and teams to exploit them. This requires a high degree of self-awareness and self-criticism.


Books: disruptive influence –