A Dynamic Balance
[The following chapter is taken from the booklet ARTS PLANNING: A Dynamic Balance.]
Stasis, equilibrium -- these are
-- Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
Planning deliberately and strategically creates change which moves the work and the organization towards their next evolution. Sometimes this change is subtle and sequential, other times dramatic, even chaotic. In either case, the key is moving forward in a stable and confident way by maintaining dynamic balance. Stability through dynamic balance allows an organization to create opportunities it needs and wants, take advantage of opportunities presented, and effectively address the artistic and operating challenges that endlessly crop up.
In today's environment, what does it mean to be a stable organization? Unfortunately, stability has come to be an absolute concept in an increasingly relative and highly volatile environment. Over the years, programs of stabilization and capacity-building have promoted a unified theory of stability through force of proclamation and programming; when that failed, through guilt and blame. We now have a generation or two of arts organizations that have been advanced, challenged, stabilized, and capacity-built into abstraction--or even out of business. In the real world, each arts entity must define what stability means to it alone. No outside person, program or agency can possibly know enough about any single arts organization to define stability for it.
We don't attempt to quantify stability. We believe that stability is qualitatively connected to dynamic balance. In this regard, balance is not the same as equilibrium. By definition, equilibrium is a condition in which all acting influences are canceled by each other, resulting in a stationary system. Today, a static, stationary condition for any arts entity is deadly. A more suitable metaphor for dynamic balance is a tightrope artist. On the tightrope, the artist is intensely aware of her/his elements of balance--center of gravity, focus, weight and counter-weight, and controlled movement--and uses these elements to move and perform. As long as the artist is moving and balanced, stability and confidence is maintained.
Tightrope walkers perform and maintain stability through dynamic balance; so must arts organizations. Likewise, a number of elements--leadership, vision, the equation, and process--frame and define dynamic balance for each arts entity.
Leadership. For each arts organization, professional leadership must clearly and unquestionably be in place and leading. The first responsibility of professional leadership is to define and describe reality. The leadership is uniquely positioned to see and understand the entire reality of the organization. Others on staff and board may have pieces of the picture, but they don't have a complete view. Describing reality through a fragment of the whole can be misleading, often distorting. Today, arts organizations must view their environment and their conditions in cold, hard, truthful terms--there is no place for self-deception or romanticized notions of the organization's reality.
Inevitably, an arts organization will direct its resources toward the reality described or implied. In the past, when resources were more plentiful, perhaps reality could be denied or deferred. Today, resources are too scarce, and reality must be dealt with head-on. No organization can afford to expend good human, financial, and spiritual resources on an activity that does not contribute 100% to the health and progress of the work and the organization.
Vision. The second and most important job of leadership is to provide a vision for how this reality is going to be changed, altered or addressed. Is there a clearly articulated, communicated, understood and agreed-upon mission, vision, and direction of the work and the organization? Is the work and the organization's direction being shaped by clearly articulated values and beliefs? Positive change for an arts organization follows vision and values; if not, the change can be reactionary or purely reactive, detached and even delusional.
The Equation. For each arts entity there is an equation that defines the balance between (1) what the organization needs, hopes or wants to do artistically and programmatically, and (2) the available human and financial resources. In years past, when the balance was found, an organization could expect to sustain the equation for a while, sometimes several years. Today the equation has to be defined and balanced over and over again--certainly for each operational year, possibly every six months or even less.
Correcting Balance. The effectiveness of a short-term planning process is the best test for long-term application.Like the federal government, an arts organization cannot do anything creative or significant if it is seriously overextended, in debt, or in crisis. It's axiomatic--if left alone, out-of-balance organizations tend to grow increasingly dysfunctional. An out-of-balance situation must be acted upon and corrected immediately to stop the hemorrhaging. It's imperative not only to prevent long-term damage, but to help the organization regain a sense of health and energy.
To reclaim balance, the professional leadership must take an honest look at reality. Clearly outlined, immediate intervention or short-term actions may be needed to "stanch the bleeding" and bring the organization into balance.
Long-range planning can't solve short-term needs and problems (too often, long-range planning is a way to avoid current realities and divert attention from day-to-day problems). But, in the short term, the planning process can and must be employed to reestablish dynamic balance.
Reconceptualizing the Equation. No planning process can reconcile an organization to an incorrect equation. When the equation is wrong it must be changed. For many, the organizational equation cannot be balanced by traditional means (selling more tickets or raising more money). In such instances the leadership must create a new organizational equation with variables that respond to reality. We are not talking about downsizing, or attempting to do the same amount of activity with fewer resources. Reconceptualizing means fundamental change, a total redesign and restructuring from the inside out. For example, a dance company attempting to operate on a $1 million budget finds that it may end the year with a $200,000 deficit. Rather than asking "how do we do $1 million of activity with $800,000?," reconceptualizing asks "what kind of dance and dance company can we create for $800,000?"
The planning process must provide an understanding of the kind of equation possible; what the new equation will mean to the overall vision and mission of the organization; who are the key people involved and who else needs to be involved; how will opportunities and resources be secured or leveraged to maintain a healthy, productive organizational equation.
Reconceptualizing does not mean that growth will not be possible later. But an important part of the planning process is to redefine growth. Are there qualitative aspects of growth that need to receive greater attention and focus, such as deepening the relationship with existing audiences? In some cases, by reconceptualizing, the planning process may reveal some areas of quantitative growth not possible before.
Process. The organization must have a process--a means to achieve and maintain
stability and dynamic balance on an ongoing basis. Is there a way to take calculated steps and
actions to alter conditions, solve problems, or achieve needed and desired results? If so, no
matter what internal or external challenge confronts the organization, the process can guide
leadership toward making the best responses. However the world or conditions change, the
organization can use the process to chart another course.
The planning process, like the creative process, must be an effective confluence of conceptual, collaborative, problem-solving, decision-making, and performance elements. If the frame of reference for planning is the creative process, how is a vision for a work or program conceptualized and articulated? How are conditions, opportunities, and problems framed and identified? Who are the collaborators who shape the vision, work or program? How do decisions get made, who makes them, and how are they implemented? The planning process must be constantly informed by the creative process for focus, guidance, perspective, and method. Whenever we encounter a problem in a planning process or in an organization's life, we ask the professional leadership how they would deal with the problem if it were in rehearsal. Or, if it is a really big problem, we ask how they would make a work about it.
By mirroring the artistic process, planning becomes as organic, logical, and effective as the most effective thing they do (making art), and therefore repeatable and replenishable. Today, those who plan and reconceptualize their organizations effectively must realize that they will have to repeat the process as conditions and challenges change.
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