WolfBrown: On Our Minds

A New Generation of Leaders

August 6th, 2010

Maybe it’s just where I’m sitting but I am struck by the unambiguous reality of the “leadership transition” that has been talked about and fretted over for years: it’s finally happening!  The number of energetic, thoughtful, articulate leaders who are (or appear to be) under 40 at the Americans for the Arts’ 50th anniversary convention in Baltimore in June was truly impressive.  This should not be surprising given how much effort AFTA has put into cultivating this new generation of leaders. Note, for example, AFTA’s Emerging Leaders Network, which provides intensive networking opportunities and scholarships for professional development, among other programs.

What is more interesting than the simple emergence of these leaders is their focus and perspective.  You could hear it at many of the panel sessions: attention to and comfort with innovation, openness to new ways of conducting business, an awareness of the need to not only do more with less but to “do less better.”  I was particularly impressed with the new publication of the National Alliance for Media Art and Culture called “Leading Creatively: A Closer Look 2010,” which is available for a short time as a PDF download (~24MB) before publication. Also, the concept of “omni-directional mentorship” described by Edward Clapp, whose “20under40″ will be published this month, is well worth a look.  These are fabulous antidotes to the rut we can get into about the hard times our sector faces – yes, no doubt these are hard times, but the talent that’s out there is encouraging. Help is on the way.



When a popular national magazine like Newsweek declares that there is a new ‘crisis,’ I do what many readers do.  I turn right to the article, and then automatically become skeptical.  When the article proclaims a ‘creativity crisis,’ my antennae become even more fine-tuned.  What is a ‘creativity crisis?’ And how do they know there is one?

Regardless of my skepticism, the article, based on a half century of research by E. Paul Torrance and others, raises concerns about the creative competency and competitiveness of our workforce.  Historically, Torrance’s creativity index has been a good predictor of young people’s creative accomplishments as adults, and after many years of seeing the creativity index rise in the U.S., it is now on the decline.  This is bad news for business, as a highly creative workforce helps us to be competitive in world markets. According to Newsweek, this decline may have reached crisis proportions.

The article makes me wonder about the basis for such conventional creativity tests designed 50 years ago.  These tests most likely do not measure digital forms of creativity (e.g., re-mixing and sampling music, electronic “curating” of photo albums) that are currently such a large part of the creative life of young people.  Could it be that their innate creativity is simply utilizing new tools and being expressed in unconventional forms?  I have always tested high on traditional creativity tests but my seven-year-old grandson is far more creative when it comes to digital activities.

The overall message of this article is one we can all agree on: there is a need for a different kind of educational approach in this country that is not solely controlled by standardized tests and strict curricula, but rather is based on identifying and solving problems with a hands-on approach, and is available for everyone.


Summer Reading List

August 6th, 2010

For those who have finished all three Stieg Larsson novels, I have three suggestions for your summer reading list:

1.  The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution, by David La Piana, explains why traditional strategic planning, which generates agreement on lists of long-term goals and activities is not very useful for today’s challenges.  He urges organizations to resist letting the need for internal alignment inhibit them from making tough, but unpopular decisions.  They should develop consensus, if not unanimity, around the right organizational, programmatic and operational strategies.  They should also be nimble, developing dynamic strategies, which can be modified in response to changing circumstances.

2. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, uses counter-intuitive research in psychology and sociology to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change.  The primary obstacle to change, say the Heath brothers, is competition for control between the rational and emotional parts of our brains.  “The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie.  The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine.  This tension can doom a change effort-but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.”  Switch uses entertaining anecdotes to outline a process for breaking down the barriers to change.

3. The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter, contains valuable practical and contextual information about how non-profit organizations can use social media strategies to further their missions.  The book emphasizes that the effective use of these new technologies is predicated on having transparent and empowered relationships with an organization’s supporters.

These books may not have the titillating suspense of Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” novels, but reading them will give you a strategic head start preparing for the Fall arts season (and won’t require remembering obscure Swedish names and places).


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