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Arts Organisations Are Like Startups.

Paul Fadden
25 January 2017
Arts Organisations Are Like Startups.

Both start ups and arts organisations typically, know how to do work with limited budgets and resources, are creative problem solvers and fiercely passionate about what they do.

Why Start Ups Are Interesting?

Over the last number of years there has been a definite love affair over all things start up. Maybe it's the mid-day meditation breaks or the in house masseuse, but I think it goes beyond that. I think it is desire for organisations to tap into innovation and become more agile - two things that start ups tend to be really good at. And while I don't think any of us are expecting a foosball table in our canteen anytime soon, there are plenty of take aways from start up culture that can really help arts organisations.

Promote Passion, Creativity and Innovation by Focusing on People

One thing that start ups are really good at, is focusing on their people. Happy, motivated teams are passionate, energetic and have an "anything is possible" mentality. Add to this, the idea of authenticity drives start ups, and so in turn they allow their people to be authentic to themselves. This means that people feel the organisation they are with is honest, and allows them to be their honest selves. This all makes teams interested in their work, and that is where the magic happens. Arts organisations tend to attract passionate and energetic people from the outset, but it is worth considering incentives and ideas that help foster this type of community even more. Keep in mind this incentive does not have to be money or awards, but even just giving your teams more autotomy and flexibility where possible.

Focus on Your Vision and Growth

A shared purpose or shared vision is of course vital for any organisation arts or otherwise. Many arts organisations are very clear on their vision, and shared purpose. I would argue that alongside that shared arts or cultural objective, should be a vision for growth. Growth does not have to focus entirely on ticket sales (but clearly we are not doing our jobs if increasing sales is not part of that growth), but could be a focus on growth of a particular audience type or membership growth or customer segmentation or even community involvement. The idea here is that growth (perhaps in a specific area), gives your team a true north - a clear focus.

Being Agile Lets You Be Innovative - And Fail Fast

Agile organisations is an often used, but perhaps little understood concept. What does agility really mean? An organisation that is agile can react quickly to changes. For the arts this might be changes in technology, audience or customer changes, or even funding shifts. Agile organisations tend to be flatter and respond well to change. While this may not entirely describe your organisation, it is worth thinking of ways to help your teams become more agile - even if only in small ways. Agility (plus the factors we have noted above) can help drive innovation. This is incredibility important to arts organisations, who like start ups, have a fantastic (if not pressured) ability to do more with less.

Innovation is a real hallmark and result of agility. But while innovation allows you to try new things, it also has a risk of failure. After all, not all innovate ideas work. Being agile allows you to innovate - and fail - but fail fast. Failing fast lets you turnaround and try something new. This may sound a little nuts (and frenetic), but my guess is that you probably do a version of this already. One aspect that helps the idea of failing fast work really well is being data driven.

Tools like Ticketsolve can help you gather data and change your direction if you need to, and really innovate. All the data is a your fingertips so that you can make intelligent and insightful decisions.

Okay What About Some Concrete Ideas?

So the above is really exploring cultural and mindset goals for your arts organisation, and may feel very familiar to what you are already doing. What are other concrete things that startups do that can be applied to arts organisations?

  1. Social Media - start ups are often social media mavens. They use every aspect of it to their maximum advantage. While you may already use Facebook and Twitter it is worth looking at other social media channels such as Instagram and others that work with your goals.
  2. Audio and Visual - not only to start ups use social media effectively, they use a tremendous amount of audio and visual content to connect to their audiences. The arts is rife with great audio and visual content, be sure to use it!
  3. Affiliate Marketing - think about where your audiences go online. Is there anything complimentary that could work there? Start ups are relentless about affiliates.
  4. Crowdfunding - we have talked about this before - this is a great option when looking for additional funding sources, especially for specific projects.
  5. Test, Data, Analyse - do this for all your activities and rinse and repeat. Be ruthless about tweaking ideas (or getting rid of them all together). Let the data do the talking.

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