IBM’s Centenary: The Test of Time

By    Jun 20, 2011

This article (IBM’s centenary: The test of time | The Economist) is a great reminder (or introduction) to the way in which organizations can limit their opportunities by thinking about their purpose too narrowly.

“IBM’s secret is that it is built around an idea that transcends any particular product or technology… Building a company around an idea, rather than a specific technology, makes it easier to adapt when industry ‘platform shifts’ occur.”

In the arts the “mission” is the broader “idea” to which arts organizations are committed, and this should put arts organizations on the path to survive the test of time. However, these missions are often locked into  a specific “technology.” The organizational mission is not about “musical experience” but rather about “orchestral music;” the mission is not about a “transformative storytelling experience” but rather about “live performance” specifically.

It is challenging to consider what it means to foster and sustain an art separate from its traditional form. Perhaps those two ideas cannot be separated without changing the core purpose of an organization. In either case, the article points to a useful question for cultural leaders: does your artistic mission need to be so intimately tied to a specific “technology,” and if it does, what additional challenges should you therefore expect to face as a leader?