How to tend to the care and feeding of your creative talent
Company: Boston University Arts Administration Graduate Progam
As we at Semper learn more about TechCreative and the intersection between creative and technological needs in business, we have been actively reaching out to leaders in various industries to gather their thoughts and experiences in the TechCreative world to share with others.
In looking at the critical challenges facing students and job seekers just coming into this new business environment, we decided to turn to the education community. Who better to discuss new trends in technology and the arts than those responsible for training the next generation of creative talent to enter the business world?
Professor Richard Maloney is the Assistant Director of the Arts Administration Graduate Program at Boston University, a program whose mission statement is “to emphasize excellence, creativity, economic problem solving, internationalism, and a commitment to the technologies of our age.”
I sat down with Professor Maloney earlier this year to discover how TechCreative trends are impacting business and the arts today, what advice he gives to creative students as they transition into the business marketplace, and what has surprised him in his business dealings with creative thinkers.
Meghan Lockwood: Hi Richard, it’s so nice to meet you. Thank you so much for agreeing to sit down with me.
Richard Maloney: I am happy to speak with you.
ML: I know you are busy, and I am glad to get some of your time.
The TechCreative concept defines the intersection of people who are capable of taking creative ideas and aligning them with the technical tools and skills now available.
This union combines to bring economic development and business development to a new level. It offers a new way that companies, talent and educators can impact the job market.
RM: This is interesting stuff and you are right to be thinking about it. You are trying to merge two ways of seeing the world – creative thinking and management thinking – that are traditionally found in different types of people. Doing this effectively is the real challenge moving forward.
ML: This is the question of left brain and right brain dominance, right?
However, I don’t think that many companies are organized to encourage their workers to be more creative. Frankly, I think some companies do not want to encourage creativity.
Creativity has an air of mystery about it. It can be unpredictable. It doesn’t operate on a schedule. It is hard to measure. Companies may say they want their workers to be more creative, but this may require restructuring the company to operate differently and that can be a difficult, and potentially unpopular, undertaking.
In addition, some of the company’s employees may not understand the creative process very well and/or may not consider themselves to be creative.
ML: I can see that some workers would say “I don’t understand creativity. It seems strange to me.” How do you encourage the creative process at work?
RM: This is the tricky part. In other business areas you can say to someone, “If you want to understand business better, go to business school. If you want to understand how the law works, go to law school.”
In contrast, most people who think of themselves as creative have thought that since they were young. They simply believe they are creative. They believe this despite the fact that, while they may have played an instrument or painted as a child, they never studied “creativity” in school.
On the other hand, some people – perhaps those who were told in the past to mouth the words in school choir instead than sing – feel they are not creative. They will say, “I am not creative, I don’t understand art, I don’t like it, I don’t connect with it.”
ML: It seems to be binary – you either have it or you don’t.
RM: Yes, that idea seems to be ingrained in our thinking. This perceived tension between “creative thinking” and “management thinking” is something we deal with all the time in the arts. Opera companies, theater companies, classical music organizations, and dance companies usually have an Artistic Director and an Administrative Director (also called the Executive Director or the Managing Director). Artistic thinking and management thinking is usually represented by two different people.
ML: And never the two shall meet?
RM: In some cases yes, in others no. There are artistic leaders who have a talent for business and many top arts managers have received high level training in the performing or visual arts.
In our program, we look for applicants who have prior training in the arts. We accept students who have a solid understanding of and passion for the arts and provide them with the management skills they need to have a successful career leading cultural institutions. I believe you can possess both sets of skills.
Still, if the artistic and administrative leaders of a cultural organization understand one another and work together well, there is a wonderful synergy and the opportunity to create great art. If they do not, it is more difficult.
What’s fascinating now is that businesses such as American Express have established creative departments and are focusing on building their brands, establishing buzz teams, and increasing the use of videography.
As digital marketing has become the way to drive leads and pull people into your organization, all of a sudden these traditionally serious organizations need to understand and leverage creativity.
RM: Part of these efforts speaks to something that is very foundational in the nonprofit world – the need to build relationships. You build relationships with your audience, with your supporters, with your board members and your volunteers. All fundraising efforts are about cultivating relationships.
Cultural organizations spend a lot of time building and cultivating relationships. The leaders of these organizations want their supporters to feel deeply connected to their institutions in a way that goes far beyond the simple act of buying a ticket.
ML: Coming back to TechCreative, you mentioned you had some thoughts about the keys to the TechCreative thought process?
Yes. I started thinking about the type of qualities creative people possess. To me, creative people are curious, risk taking, lifelong learners. They know how to rework an idea and come back with something better. They take chances. They understand that failure will occur and, in fact, is probably necessary to insure long term success.
In contrast, many business leaders tend to penalize failure. In fact, to them failure is the worst thing that can happen. Since many creative people have been criticized their whole lives for trying to do things “differently,” they understand how to hear and learn from thoughtful criticism. They persevere, they keep going.
ML: There’s an endurance that’s probably surprising to some business people.
Yes, there is an inner strength in many creative people that can be surprising and somewhat confounding. Many artists are captivated by the thrill of discovering and making, but are not necessarily excited by the process of implementation.
Many artists tend to be non-linear thinkers. They think across disciplines. They don’t always put one thing after another in a logical manner. In contrast, a project manager would want to establish a thoughtful plan and then follow it, one step after another.
A creative person might say, “I want to go left, then right, then skip ahead, and then back.” That can be difficult to manage, particularly if you have a group of thirty people who are trying to move in the same direction.
Creative people also tend to be very passionate about their work. You see this quite frequently in people who choose work in the nonprofit world. For these workers, the three most important things they need to thrive are: they know their voice is heard, they have the flexibility to structure their work, and their work makes a difference. They will give up additional money and other perks to have these things.
This is where we see a dichotomy: Skill sets that might be appropriate in the creative world may not always sit well within the more structured business world.
The urban theorist, Richard Florida, touches on this idea when he talks about The Creative Class. One of the things he points out is that society has many creative people, but too often we do not allow them to express their creativity in the workplace.
It is no longer capital, labor, and raw materials – the value isn’t in physical objects. Value is generated by employees who have the best ideas.
Your approach [TechCreative talent] acknowledges that the assets of a knowledge-based company go home at night and everyone hopes they come back in the morning.
If they are recruited by someone and leave, then your company has lost an asset. Therefore, the care and feeding of creative people has become vitally important.
ML: Is there anything that has surprised you as this shift occurs?
The rapid increase in the number of cultural entrepreneurs has been a bit surprising. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
As the established art sector is not expanding, more people are starting their own cultural businesses. A small guitar lesson business or developing a community theater space for teens – whatever the idea, cultural entrepreneurship is growing in popularity.
Many people now recognize that most musicians and managers will not work for a long established symphony orchestra for the rest of their lives.
In fact, that famous orchestra in their town may be out of business in the next five to ten years! Therefore, students need to be more proactive about their career choices – they need to be more entrepreneurial.
ML: Do you talk to them about that – about ways to craft a career given their particular skill sets, and what else their talents will translate into?
We’re starting to do that now. We currently offer a very popular course in cultural entrepreneurship and have plans to develop a four-course certificate in the next year.
We talk to students about identifying their strengths and passions, finding gaps in the marketplace, exploring different business models to develop new cultural goods and/or services, and bringing their ideas to the marketplace.
We are developing entrepreneurial techniques because the marketplace for cultural products has changed. There is a huge supply and a dwindling demand. In fact, there has been a significant decline in cultural event attendance for the past ten to fifteen years. Previously, the arts would attract a significant number of college educated people and a fair number of high school graduates. As the number of college graduates increased dramatically over
the past 30 years, arts leaders thought attendance at cultural events would remain stable.
However, developments in technology have impacted the way many people interact with the arts. With the widespread availability of the internet, DVDs, shows and movies on demand, people do not need to leave their homes to experience the arts.
As a result, their buying habits have changed. The arts sector’s live performance business model is under pressure, in part, because of this development.
ML: And changing how people engage – through multi-device usage, will impact the buying experience.
Even watching television now, or going to a concert, going to a show, you’re often engaging on three or four other platforms at the same time: You’re on your phone, and you have an iPad with you…Not only are you at the symphony, but you’re Facebooking. And, you’re doing these other things at the same time.
There’s also less of an immersion, I imagine, because we’re never “off.”
True. We have seen the emergence of “Tweet Seats.” This is a section of the hall where the audience can sit and tweet during the performance (the idea being that, in their own section, the light of the screen will not bother other patrons). In this way, people are able to directly participate in the artistic experience.
However, for many people, immersing themselves completely in an artistic experience is a very soul-renewing experience. There is no need to tweet to be involved, they are already fully engaged.
The fact is many of us are on multiple platforms for eight, ten, twelve hours a day – they can’t stop! Their boss is emailing them at midnight; it is hard to shut down. Sometimes, younger people really struggle to turn it off. They have been raised to be so frantic that they almost can’t slow down.
Much of the richness in life is revealed through sustained, focused engagement. You can’t read Plato in five minutes while watching YouTube videos. You simply won’t understand it. People need to deeply engage with complex cultural experiences to fully understand what they have to offer.
Malcolm Gladwell has been quoted as saying it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a particular endeavor. While one can debate the number of hours required, you do have to work extremely hard for a very long period of time to master any complex activity.
ML: Well, to truly understand something – it can’t be a surface level experience. You have to actually absorb it.
RM: At the college level, we see this all the time. There are some people who ask: Why don’t you make college three years? Why don’t you make college two years? Why can’t we learn what we need to know in a week?
ML: (Laughs) Right.
RM: Many people need time to process challenging experiences. You read something one year and it only makes sense to you a year later. You can’t rush understanding.
ML: Philosophy for example, where you need to have a baseline for the preceding thought processes in order to understand the more advanced concepts.
RM: Yes, in many subjects learning is cumulative – one thing builds on another.
When I was studying jazz guitar, my teacher always used to say, “You have to learn all the rules, and then forget them.” You can’t do it without knowing the rules first. If you know the rules, and then have the courage to go beyond them – to forget them – you are going to come up with something new. You are going to find your voice.
RM: Artists know these things. Now, how does that translate into a business environment? That’s a little trickier.
ML: This brings us back to what you were saying earlier about creatives being non-linear thinkers. In a business environment, even promotional structures are potentially a challenge. There’s a ladder: You go from being an individual contributor to a manager, and then you become a director, and so on.
RM: Absolutely. In many school systems, who becomes a principal? Traditionally, it is the best teacher. Well, the best teacher may not be the best principal. The jobs require two different skill sets.
I have known many musicians who preferred to focus on their music and leave the management to others. Creative people enjoy jobs that let them be creative. In many cases, being a good manager requires creativity, but if a creative person chooses not to be a manger this should not be seen as a lack of ambition or drive.
ML: Right. Do you think there’s a credibility issue? Do creative people say “If you can’t do my job, then why do you get to tell me what to do?”
RM: That can happen, although there are ways to address this problem.
You can let your reports know you understand their job is difficult and ask them to show you what they do. You need to try to understand the challenges they face. You may not have the same skills they do, but you can respect and value their work.
ML: You talked a little bit about the culture of entrepreneurship. What other advice do you give to students as they enter this new work environment?
Students need to be very self-reflective. They need to think very critically about their skills, to identify their strengths and build on them.
If you have a strength that is found in one of a hundred people, and you improve it so that only one in a thousand people possess it, then you have become incredibly valuable. However, many students don’t think about that at all.
ML: How do they think?
RM: They think about specific job skills (for example, I understand marketing) and not as much about overarching “soft skills” (problem solving, team work, leadership).
In the past few years, we have been more focused on the self-analysis process because the fluid, challenging job environment in the arts requires it.
In addition, we try to leverage our extensive networks as much as possible to benefit the students.
ML: Have you used the networks differently, with LinkedIn or other Social Media? Are you finding that even as you go through a more traditional job search, the tools of that search are different now?
RM: Oh, absolutely. The tools of networking have changed dramatically and our students are usually very plugged in. However, sometimes they need help establishing person to person connections.
Because the art world is somewhat small, it is still important who you know. In the arts, many managers are not comfortable with a structured hiring process.
ML: It’s proscriptive and annoying.
RM: Yes, arts people traditionally do not want to read resumes, they are busy and just want to get back to work. As many arts organizations are quite small, they usually do not have a dedicated HR professional on staff.
Because they don’t know how to interview people, the interview process can sometimes be unstructured and challenging. Students need to be aware of this fact and have to learn to lead the interview if it is not going well.
ML: Anything else that we missed?
There was a huge buzz about that a few years ago. He basically said we need workers with more creative skills working in for-profit businesses today. I assume this idea informs some of the TechCreative concept.
Of course, it is a massive undertaking to earn a three year MFA degree and a two year MBA degree. It takes a lot of time and money.
ML: Do you see more art students getting a business degree?
RM: Well, I teach in an Arts Administration program, so students come to us to get the business side of the arts. Programs like ours have grown considerably over the past three years, most recently at the undergraduate level.
Some students, who have a general interest in helping the world in some way, are earning a MBA, when they might have earned a different degree a few years ago.
There has been an enormous surge in the number of arts management degrees at the undergraduate level recently.
Arts management is similar to a MBA in that it’s a graduate degree management education. This path was for someone who realized that they were not going to play violin in the Boston Symphony, but wanted to remain connected to the arts.
ML: It was the backup plan?
RM: Perhaps in some cases, yes. But we have seen many more students who simply have more than one set of skills – they are talented in the arts, but they also love numbers or they love to manage projects or they love to write.
Business is the biggest major in college now. College used to be a time to explore and to learn more about who you were as a person. However today, due to the extraordinary cost of college tuition, college has become extremely career oriented.
ML: That’s a fascinating tension. In business, you see the need for creativity rising and yet it seems we are reducing the likelihood we will produce more creative thinkers, because they are all focusing on their back-up plans. That seems very problematic.
RM: I agree. This also speaks to the decline of student enrollments in liberal arts degrees.
You are seeing some elected officials state that majoring in the liberal arts is a bad idea for most students as it will not help them land a job. I would argue these programs teach you how to think and that skill will help you land all the jobs you have for the rest of your life, not just the first one.
ML: You could discover the idea that will change the business.
RM: Exactly. Twenty years from now, that person is going to have the tools to do anything.
Today, the question is to train people or educate them. If we only train people to deal with the challenges we currently face, how will we prepare our students to deal with the challenges that have not presented themselves yet?
The problem, as you pointed out, is: What will be the impact on the production of creative individuals?
ML: Very interesting.
RM: More than ever perhaps, we need people who can think deeply about the many challenges that face our society. In the business realm, that ability will enable companies to continue to develop a wide range of products and services.
Having a narrow spectrum of offerings, where companies simply copy products produced by other companies, will not serve the long term needs of the market. As a result, we need companies to support and protect their creative processes. This will enable us to recognize great ideas when they occur and act on them.
For more information and Case Studies on how creative businesses today are transforming that intersection between technology and business, visit www.TechCreative.com.
For more information about The Boston University Arts Administration Graduate Program: http://www.bu.edu/met/academic-community/departments/arts-administration/ , http://www.bu.edu/online/programs/graduate-degree/master-art-education/