Innovating Through Artistry

Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Staying Healthy in the (Financial) Storm

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 31, 2009 at 12:32 am

weathering the storm

I’ve been doing some research lately on measures of the fiscal health of not-for-profit arts organizations, especially theatres. This got me thinking about the factors that support the fiscal health of individual artists and arts entrepreneurs. In a 2001 article, Mark Hager examines four measures of fiscal stability – of the ability of an organization to withstand the kinds of economic shocks we’ve experience over the last twelve months. (He adapted these from some earlier work by Tuckman and Chang.)

The four measures are: equity balance, revenue concentration, administrative cost, and operating margin.
How can we translate these four organizational measures into something useful for individual artists and arts entrepreneurs? Here is some of my preliminary thinking:

1. Equity balance. It’s always nice to have some money in the bank. From a practical standpoint, having a cushion in the bank can help support the artist in lean times. Building up that cushion during lean times is difficult but should be a priority during the fat times. I even think there’s a story about that somewhere regarding Joseph and a pharaoh’s dreams.

2. Revenue concentration. It’s much easier for an arts entrepreneur to withstand the sudden withdrawal of one client if they have more than one. So, if you’re counting on that one big commission, you may want to backstop that with several smaller commissions as well. Multiple revenue sources guard against permanent damage when any one of those streams dries up.

3. Administrative costs. Believe it or not, studies (Hager’s and others) indicate that it’s worth investing in the people and equipment necessary to run your arts-based business. Doing so has two positive effects on financial stability: 1) solid administrative capacity and 2) there’s somewhere to cut if the times get really really lean.

4. Operating margin. Pretty simple – don’t spend more than you earn. If you do, you’ll need to dip into that equity balance from item one, further diversify your revenue, or sell off the new copier/scanner you purchased to support your office operations.
It all sounds like common sense to me and I’ve been glad to find out that that common sense is actually backed up by empirical research!

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You Fail! But Are You Doing it Right?

In Author: David Cutler, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Outside Your Comfort Zone on September 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

Most artists I know are terrified of failure. They beat themselves up for each mistake, and suffer bouts of depression with each rejection. Failure is viewed as the enemy, and one to be avoided at all costs. So they play it safe.  Really safe.

But everyone fails. This is a simple fact of life, and there’s no way to avoid it. The important question—what kind of failure are you experiencing? 

  • Type A Failure stems from action. You try something, give it your all, but it doesn’t work out. 
  • Type B Failure stems from inaction. You do little or nothing, even though it’s important to you.  Often this is because you’re paralyzed by the prospect of (ironically) failure. 

Disenfranchised artists have typically experienced few Type A failures. Expecting a near 100% success rate, they view each bump in the road as an omen. When something doesn’t work out, it causes them to retreat and become a little less ambitious. These individuals start blaming society, the educational system, government, a lack of personal talent, or even the art itself for their disappointments. As a result, a Type B failure of the largest order is suffered. Their career doesn’t work. Their income doesn’t grow. Their dreams aren’t realized.

Successful artists have typically experienced an enormous number of Type A failures. Expecting a 1-5% success rate (one triumph out of approximately 20 to 100 attempts), they are shocked and delighted when the results are anything better. Each bump in the road is interpreted as an opportunity or necessary step in the process. When something doesn’t work out, it fills them with determination and ambition. In fact, some successful artists actually proudly maintain rejection letters as badges of honor.  After all, they’re out there working to make things happen!  And by lighting that many fires, some will surely catch. As a result, their career, income, and dreams build momentum. 

Everyone hates Type B failures.  They may not have the immediate sting of a Type A, but they’re much more damning in the long run. The resultant sense of helplessness and deep dissatisfaction takes a devastating toll over time.  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Nobody likes Type A failures either.  It’s always nicer when things work out the first time. But success can be really hard to achieve when you place all your eggs in one basket (or no basket at all!), especially in a field as competitive and challenging as the arts.

On the other hand, the more failures you allow to accrue, the more successes will likely be picked up along the way. And success begets success. So allow yourself to fail. Hundreds and hundreds of times. Maybe more. With those kinds of numbers, I bet you’ll be impressed with the results.

If you really want to succeed, be willing to fail. 

 —–

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You’ll Never Work In This Town Again

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Outside Your Comfort Zone, Risk on May 30, 2009 at 9:29 am

I was thinking about failure not too long ago. This is something that I do with a fair amount of regularity considering that I am an independent filmmaker during a recession. It occurred to me that failure should probably be on that list along with death and taxes as one of life’s inevitabilities. But if failure is inevitable, then why have I not embraced it? Why do I not fail with the same gung-ho commitment that I embrace success with?

Don’t answer that.

There are times when I wonder if I’ve failed enough to be a success. Edison invented how many lightbulbs before getting one that worked? “Harry Potter” was rejected from how many publishers? The Beatles had how many doors slammed in their faces? No one has ever told me “You’ll never work in this town again!” and sometimes deep down I wonder whether its because I’m not trying hard enough. Because no one makes a threat like that against mediocrity. Mediocrity inspires form letters and apathy.  Then I remember that in order to fail with such you have to have courage, commitment, and a belief that you are doing the right thing. It sounds easy, but it’s not. The only way to get these things is to sacrifice something else for them.

For Example: Last year I was collaborating with a guy I’ll call Jeremy that I met through Craigslist. I’ve met a lot of good people through Craigslist and I thought Jeremy was one of them. We got along great except that Jeremy always had to be in control. When we tried to mount a joint project he insisted that I do everything His way. In a rare moment of creative integrity (this is that “Courage” I was talking about) I took a stand. Things went downhill from there.

Jeremy felt, I think, affronted that I didn’t agree with him about how the film should be presented and that I had made my disagreement generally known rather than just saying something to him directly. I took a few anxious, sleepless days to consider whether I had been wrong. I didn’t think that I was. (Belief that what you’re doing is right). It began as a creative dispute but by the end it was all about power. The longer I stood my ground (Commitment) the more Jeremy tried to exert his dominance. The project fell apart, obviously and regrettably. We parted ways and I found a new collaborator and a new project and Jeremy moved west and by all accounts, is doing well.

In retrospect I feel bad that it ended the way it did. There’s always a price to pay. Our project was sacrificed over our respective beliefs; my belief that my opinions were just as valid as his and his belief that he knew best. The price of the courage to stand my ground came at the expense of our comeraderie. Because I committed to my position I lost Jeremy’s good opinion of me. It is very difficult for me to know that someone has a poor opinion of me. For one thing, it is a very small world, and frankly we all need as much help as we can get. But on the other hand there comes a point where you can have someone else think poorly of you or you can think poorly of yourself. You can fail, or you can be a failure.

To fail is a very personal and selfish thing. Inevitably it occurs when you look inward and are forced to choose between what you believe in absolutely and what you want out of life. One of them always gets sacrificed and it always hurts. But you know you’ve failed successfully when you know that if you were given the chance to do it over again that you would do the same thing.

On Apologies

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Risk on May 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm

The second most important thing that I have learned in life is how to apologize, and it’s the kind of thing that is so important that I wish they taught it in schools. Life is a risky business, and with all risk there is as much potential for mistakes as there is for success and sometimes more. The greater the possible success, the correspondingly huge the potential failure. So for this blog I am offering a quick “how to” on apologizing.

The first part to apologizing is recognizing when one is needed and being clear about what you are apologizing for. Sometimes this is easy, especially when I realize that I have done something wrong, and sometimes it is difficult, as when I can see that someone feels they have been wronged, but I am unable to take the steps to make that wrong right. To my mind, it is always appropriate to apologize to someone who feels they have been wronged, whether or not you agree with them. Now I’ve been told that a simple “how-to” isn’t effective unless I can show a personal example of how it actually applies, so by way of example: I once was working with a woman on a project when we had a misunderstanding about a contract and when payment was due. It turns out that she expected payment at the time we were working together instead of as a deferred payment which was written in the contract. She felt wronged because she wasn’t able to get money in hand and I felt badly, but couldn’t legally offer her payment sooner than was written in the contract. It was one of those times when an apology needed to be made even though I couldn’t make right what had gone wrong.

The second part to apologizing is to recognize the wronged party’s feelings without getting your own feelings involved. An apology is not the time to lash out or to point fingers. It is not the time to make excuses. It is not the time to make accusations. An apology is not about you it is all about them. An apology is a way of saying that even though things did not go well that you still respect and care about the other person and their feelings and that you are sacrificing a portion of your own pride to say so. So back to the story of my coworker and I and the contract misunderstanding; she felt she had been wronged because her expectations were broken. I could have written “Well, if you’d read the contract thoroughly then you’d know the payment was deferred”, but that would have been counter productive. The last thing I wanted to do was to add insult to injury. She’d made a mistake by not reading carefully and I’d made a mistake by not emphasizing that payment was deferred and while we were both upset, neither of us needed to hear that we were to blame.

The third part to apologizing is doing it. This is the hardest part because invariably it needs to happen during or after a moment of conflict, when the only thing that you want to do is to run away from the problem and to hope it will go away on its own. For myself, I find it is best to apologize as quickly and early and sincerely as possible. In the co-worker incident I sat down and wrote an email to her that very night. Conflict makes me agitated and anxious and the only thing that reliably calms me down is taking action even if that action is just typing an email to say what needs to be said.

The last part to apologizing is up to the recipient: whether or not to accept the apology and whether or not to forgive the person who is doing the apologizing. Some people accept apologies with supreme grace and move on quickly. Some people refuse to accept the apology until they feel they are “even” with the other person. Some people never accept the apology at all. This is up to the wronged party in the situation. When you are receiving an apology it is important to remember that someday you will be the one apologizing to someone else and it is important to respond in the way that you would want your own apology responded to. It turns out the episode with my coworker ended up with her leaving and us letting her go. It wasn’t an ideal situation but we both preferred to part company rather try to work with that kind of tension between us.

Once you’ve apologized, all you can do is wait, but you can wait knowing that you’ve done everything possible. The proverbial ball is now in their court and they will either accept the apology or they won’t. Apologizing is a humbling experience, but it is so for a reason: to remind both yourself and the person to whom you are apologizing that with risks comes mistakes and that no one is perfect. It is a way to recognize that other people are human beings even though you differ from them. And it is a way to work through differences in order to build a stronger whole.