2017 Book Review

Titles for Arts Administrators

Just about everyone I know is ready to turn the page on 2017. For me though, it was a truly fantastic year, and everyone who has read this blog has been a part of that — thank you. As it happens, I turned a fair amount of actual pages these last twelve months, and I thought I’d share here the titles I consumed and a brief review through the lens of an arts administrator. I think it’s our job in this field to not be insular, to force ourselves to look outside our niche industry and raise our eyes and ears to what’s working for leaders and innovators across all sectors. So I decided a book review roundup might be helpful to others wanting to do the same.

Listed below in chronological order are the business books I read this year, along with a note about why I read each one and/or what I got out of it. And for those wanting a new meat and potatoes post, a brand new essay full of data, trends, research, and tactics that have worked in our changing arts landscape is going to be published shortly after the new year. Here’s to 2017, and to continuing to push ourselves as leaders to learn and grow in the new year.

The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream
Amy Webb
I heard Amy speak at the 2016 League of American Orchestra’s conference and loved her talk; had the release date (December 2016) on my calendar, and finished it in January. Loved her predictions for the future, and loved that Webb teaches us that trendy is different than a trend.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Richard H. Thaler
In recent years I have become fascinated with behavioral science (makes sense if you’ve seen/read how I think about how patrons behave), and I ALWAYS thought in my college economics classes that people don’t actually behave how the textbooks said they do (i.e. rationally). So when I learned that Thaler was the father of behavioral economics — a whole new field confirming that people are complex and indeed do not behave rationally — I jumped on the book. Bonus that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this work later in the year!

Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace
Jessica Bennett
I dreaded reading this book and avoided it for several months after it came out because I thought it was some sort of women’s cheesy rah-rah empowerment thing. Then I read enough rave reviews to give it a try, and I quickly learned that this book is 1) hilarious, and 2) not at all about cheesy empowerment, but rather incredibly informative about subtle sexism in our culture, which is an issue that affects all of us.

Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma
Charles A. O’Reilly & Michael L. Tushman
While I appreciate the idea that companies who don’t innovate die, that this applies to all businesses (including orchestras), and the stories the authors used to remind me of that (Kodak, Blackberry, Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack), I simultaneously feel this is the least actionable book on the list for me. Now I think I need to go back through my book highlights and make sure I’m not failing to innovate by not revisiting this!

The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty
Matthew Dixon
Contrary to the book above, this one is filled with actionable advice that applies to orchestras as well as any B2C business. The thing that drives loyalty and satisfaction is NOT exceeding expectations, surprise and delight, or how fast the customer was serviced. It is simply about delivering on expectations and making an easy and effortless experience the first time, which is something most businesses don’t focus on enough.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick Lencioni
This oldie-but-goodie book is entertaining in that it’s written as a story. Then the second part breaks down the principals displayed in the story. I could see some of the characters as people I’ve worked with in my career, and I gained insight into how I as a leader need to prioritize things like trust among team members higher than other team dynamics.

Strategic Planning That Actually Works: A Step By Step Guide
Sarai Johnson
This year I am co-leading the strategic planning process for the Association of California Symphony Orchestras where I serve on the board, and determined not to be a part of one more strategic plan that sits on shelf after its completion, I found this book. It’s a short, easy read, and I did find it helpful in terms of process and ideas to plan the planning.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful
Marshall Goldsmith
Another classic I had never read before, and the time seemed right this year. I tried to be honest with myself as I read, and sure enough I spotted some of the author’s most commonly sited flaws in my own leadership style. Goldsmith is equally helpful in offering ways to overcome such flaws (some are as easy as “stop doing that”), and I’ve refined some of my own behavior to be a more effective leader as a result.

Own It: The Power of Women at Work
Sallie Krawcheck
Similar to “Feminist Fight Club,” I was nervous at the title, but I have to say that Krawcheck has a lot of good insights from being one of a tiny handful of successful women on male-dominated Wall Street. It was a little salesy for her newfound company, and yet it still changed and enhanced some of my views on investing.

Negotiating the Impossible: How to Break Deadlocks and Resolve Ugly Conflicts (Without Money or Muscle)
Deepak Malhotra
Hands down, the most directly applicable book of the year for me in addition to the most positive approach to negotiating I’ve ever read. Orchestras almost never have “money or muscle” in our negotiations with the musician and stage crew unions, and this book is one I will be coming back to again and again for all negotiations going forward.

I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze
Deepak Malhotra
I loved Malhotra’s negotiation book so much that when my Kindle recommended this to me next, it was an easy one click yes. A very different read and written in response to an old and tired book of a similar title, this quick story was cute and clever, but didn’t rock my world the way “Negotiating the Impossible” did.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
Chip and Dan Heath
Reading this now and loving it, as the idea that memorable and impactful experiences can be manufactured is captivating me. There are so many takeaways I will begin implementing at my organization to help knock it out of the park for our patrons every time, which in turn will keep them coming back again and again.

. . .

Thus concludes my business book reading of 2017, and I’ve got a growing queue to tackle in the new year. One more title I have to mention: Kim Scott’s Radical Candor. I didn’t read the book because I listened to every podcast episode, and I loved it as it offered straightforward advice not just for leading direct reports, but for managing up, down, and peer-to-peer. May 2018 be the year we continue to apply all this great research, writing, and learning and continue to change the narrative for orchestras.

About the Author

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-averse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.

“The Steve Jobs of classical music.” (Observer) Working to change the narrative for this business.

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