WolfBrown: On Our Minds

I first met Bill Keens at an international arts conference in Scotland years ago when I was starting out in the consulting field. When I asked him what he was doing there, he said he was facilitating some small group meetings. I had never heard the word “facilitation” before and I confess to being a little surprised that facilitation – simply leading a discussion – required special expertise. Over the next three decades, I learned the hard way that facilitation is both a skill and an art. Like most professionals, I endured countless painful meetings where nothing seemed to get done (sadly, before seeking Bill’s counsel, I may have led a few myself). On the other hand, I always looked forward to Bill’s deft touch and seemingly effortless success in making meetings productive. For years, as Bill’s colleague and later as his business partner, I begged him to write a book about facilitation. He has finally done so, and “Herding Cats and Cougars” is a corker. I know you’ll enjoy it.


I’m thrilled to announce that Bill Keens’ new book, “Herding Cats and Cougars – How to Survive the Meeting You Are Running While Mastering the Art of Facilitation,” is now available. At our request, Bill has prepared a special preview version especially for WolfBrown clients and friends, which you can download free at www.wolfbrown.com. For information about the book and how to order copies, visitwww.herdingcatsandcougars.org.  Bill is revered especially for his facilitation work, and continues to work for a select group of WolfBrown clients.  His short and to-the-point book is a wonderful achievement, and full of wisdom for all of us who run meetings.


Show me a system in decline and I’ll show you another ready to celebrate its demise, however gamely the former hangs in there.  I’m not speaking of mining or offshore drilling or other gentle pastimes, but of the rough-and-tumble world of literary publishing.  Consider what the system looks like for poetry:

  • Poems submitted to a magazine must not have been published previously, no matter how different the audience may be.
  • Poems can usually be submitted to one magazine at a time only.
  • Submissions likely must arrive when the academic year is in session, in order to take advantage of faculty counsel and student assistance.
  • The author may wait as long as four months for a reply, tying up a set of poems for a good chunk of the year.
  • All transactions are likely on paper.  When it comes to submissions in particular, it’s as though the digital age never arrived.

Competitions are not the same as literary publications, and awards are not why poets write poetry.  But a few features of the Poetry Ark, a new online quest for 100 memorable poems, cross over.  Among the possibilities that apply equally to competitive events and literary magazines:

  • Use technology more fully to streamline and expedite transactions
  • Allow submissions to be in a digital format
  • Accept work that is under consideration elsewhere
  • Consider previously published work that had a small run or audience
  • Come hell or high water, respond within a month, at least two
  • Accept self-published work that meets the same high standards
  • Go where the next generation of readers will be (e.g., the Kindle)

Perhaps the biggest step we’re taking at the Poetry Ark is to give site visitors the editorial authority to advance individual poems or hold them back, depending on how visitors vote.  At the end of the day, those involved will be able to say that they immersed themselves in the community of English-language poets, made additional resources available to them, helped select and showcase the 100 best poems identified by site visitors, compiled a new anthology, introduced the poets to new markets, and, if we succeed, celebrated work that will be remembered.


Creative Cultures

January 14th, 2010

Fred Starr is one of those rare Renaissance men who is a profound thinker on many topics, an active musician, and a man of the world.  Formerly President of Oberlin College and of the Aspen Institute, he gave one of the great speeches to a gathering of the League of American Orchestras some years ago diagnosing the problems of the field. He also chaired the Advisory Committee for the Knight Foundation’s ten-year initiative to assist symphony orchestras.  Currently, he is chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International. Whenever he writes something, I know it will be interesting. One of his latest pieces discusses Central Asia from the 9th to 12th centuries – a period of time in which the region was the focal point of science, art and philosophy. For those who worry about whether the United States of the 21st century can retain its dominance as a center of creativity and innovation, this article is a great read.  No society can expect to hold a dominant position forever, he argues, but, based on the experience of Central Asia, there are many forces that can influence the rise and fall of a creative culture.  In this time of simplistic formulations and prescriptions for fostering a creative workforce, it is refreshing to have the long view.


A few months ago on a speaking trip to Australia, I had the pleasure of meeting with Nick Herd, Director, Research and Strategic Analysis for the Australia Council for the Arts, and several of his colleagues in Sydney.  Among the many topics consuming Nick and his colleagues was the question “What is artistic vibrancy?” A new set of reports by Jackie Bailey, a member of the Australia Council’s research team, address the topic in a refreshingly clear and objective way.  Most arts grantmakers attach a lot of weight to ‘artistic excellence,’ but I’ve often wondered if anyone really knows what that means.  What does it mean, really, to be artistically vibrant?  Is artistic vitality different than artistic excellence?  What are the underlying processes that support artistic health in a theatre?  In a museum?  Should programming a season be like choosing a new Pope – deliberating behind closed doors, then a puff of white smoke up the chimney?  Given the distressed state of affairs, one might think this to be a subject of considerable interest in our country, but I never hear anyone talking about it.  Are there too many sensitivities around artistic autonomy to lay it out on the table for a good examination?  The Australia Council has dared to look inside the black box that sits at the center of our sector.  Let’s see what’s inside.


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