When people ask me where I draw inspiration, my answer is consistently from outside the arts. It’s our job in this field to not be insular, to force ourselves to look outside our industry and raise our eyes and ears to what’s working for leaders and innovators across all sectors. There’s a lot to learn about ourselves personally, as well as about how to better lead and serve our institutions. This is the third year I’ve shared my business book reading list of the past twelve months gone by, and you can see the 2018 and 2017 reviews for more of my favorite business reads.
While every year I can see the way each book has helped me grow, this year I can see my personal journey reflected in the titles I chose more than ever. Maybe that’s because 2019 was a year of some big transitions, maybe it’s because some of this year’s books were more tactical than others, or maybe it’s because I continue to become more mindful and self-aware of the journey itself. Wherever you are in your own career/life/path, I hope these titles are helpful to you in the way they have been to me, listed here in the order I read them. May we all keep learning and growing in the year ahead.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
Daniel H. Pink
Years ago (2011 I think), I read Dan Pink’s book Drive and enjoyed the way he amalgamated so many different bodies of research, so When had been on my reading list since it came out in 2018. From finding the right time to do the most difficult tasks during the day, to knowing when it’s better to go first or when it’s better to go last, to designing a vacation for optimal enjoyment, the science of when to do things is about more than productivity hacks; it’s about how to maximize life enjoyment.
Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team
Simon Sinek with David Mead and Peter Docker
I never read Sinek’s classic book Start with Why and instead jumped right into how to find it. It was not surprising to me that we as humans have an inner purpose that’s driving us. What was surprising is that that purpose is pretty much formed by the time we complete high school. Sinek’s exercises to find this inner driving force are helpful and even fun because they require reflecting on times when we felt at our best — and then finding common themes that eventually become a guiding why statement. Also helpful were the subsequent exercises of finding my how (the actions we take when we are at our natural best) and my what (the actual work we do when the why and how are aligned). When we have our why figured out, the other two become the barometer by which we accept or pursue opportunities or projects that come our way. As I was navigating career options, this book brought into focus for me why taking another orchestra ED role wasn’t the fulfilling option I thought I needed to take, and why making an impact beyond one organization was the path I would be pursuing as I worked on a plan to move on from the California Symphony.
Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins
This is my favorite book of 2019. Here’s the deal: consumer behavior is changing, and Mark Schaefer contends it’s an outright rebellion that’s been in process for years. At arts organizations we intuitively know his points, such as loyalty is more elusive than ever, our marketing teams work to follow the rules that have been handed down to us, and technology is a big driver of this shifting consumer culture. So how do we combat, or better, embrace the rebellion? That’s the second half of the title. Human companies know that up to 2/3 of a brand’s marketing is not done by the brand, but rather by other people through social media, word-of-mouth, reviews, testimonials, and the like. Human companies know that people want to fit in, belong, find meaning and purpose (see previous book), and feel respected — and the companies that figure out how to achieve those customer-centric goals are the ones who rise above the marketing saturated noise. This book made so much sense to me and had such good examples of companies doing this well and not well that I raved on Twitter and LinkedIn that I only want to work with people who understand these principles. I can see where striving to be more human in both customer-facing work and internal-facing work produces results, and this is one rebellion I am here for.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
I love me some Brené Brown…which is kind of crazy given how generally terrible I am at anything touchy feely (I mean the title says “Whole Hearts,” y’all). And yet that is probably precisely the reason Brown’s research on courage and vulnerability turned out to be the single biggest revelation this year for not only my own leadership development, but in the kind of leadership that I now see we are so desperately lacking in the arts. This is an industry with a lot of shame (ask anyone with a performance degree who is not playing their instrument full time), a complete dearth of risk-taking (ask anyone who’s had to write a grant report framing the project as “successful” no matter how it actually played out), and rife with us wearing our protective armor and pretense so that real conversations are rarely had (ask anyone who has been to an arts industry conference). Brown tackles each of those issues with the through line of courage and vulnerability — one requires the other — and how only when we have leaders who will boldly go forward while admitting that it won’t be perfect (I won’t be perfect), it will be messy (I will mess up), and it might even suck when we work through some stuff (I and others I work with…staffs, boards, unions, you name it…are going to have to “rumble with vulnerability” as she says) in order to come out as more…well, whole. So if all that woo woo is what I usually hate, what I love even more is that Brown approaches it all with data combined with her own rough-and-tough proclivities, and just like that I couldn’t put the book down.
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
No joke, on the heels of Dare to Lead, I read Patrick Lencioni’s words, “The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” “I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry” [emphasis mine]. Insert exploding mind emoji after all the parallels. By this point in the year, I was seriously plotting how to end well at the California Symphony and working on a final staff retreat. It was the most intentionally vulnerable I had ever been with my team, and the lesson I learned is that I can’t wait to be vulnerable anymore, because when I try to model that as best I know how, god does it open things up. The entire book is about how to align company culture, operations, and management, and how it’s not just about being the smartest and the best, but in the end about how the health of the company — how whole and complete (there’s that word “whole” again) we are — builds a competitive advantage.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
I don’t know if this book qualifies as a “business book” per se, but I kept it in this roundup because it did open my eyes to the macro state of the world and women’s place in it when I usually tend to be more micro focused on gender inequality here in the states and in my own industry. In short, Melinda Gates shares her own stories of seeing extreme poverty, injustice, and abuse, all traced through data and research of the Gates Foundation to reveal that these issues could be eradicated if women were treated better, offered rights to education, and most significant, granted access to birth control. I had never given much thought about how some of our world’s greatest challenges and heartbreaking circumstances prevalent today come back to patriarchal societies, and how by lifting women up as equals, we all rise, in all countries and all human conditions.
Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence — and How You Can, Too
Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion
These two books were written about 10 years apart. As I was launching my consulting business this summer, I first read Crushing It! (the more recent version) and found so many references to the original, Crush It!, that I eventually just bought and read that too. Don’t do that and save yourself some time. The premise of both is the same: a personal brand is essential for entrepreneurial success. It’s that the channels to do that in 2009 (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) have expanded quite a bit over the last decade (and now include Instagram, Spotify, Snapchat, and other platforms). Anyone who follows my work knows that I’m a huge fan of content marketing, and it was interesting to see how Vaynerchuk applied those principles to solopreneurship (not unlike Mark Schaefer’s Known, which I wrote about in last year’s book review).
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
If you’ve ever seen or heard of the viral TED Talk about power poses (i.e. stand like Wonder Woman in the bathroom for two minutes before an interview and you’ll feel more confident), Presence is the jam-packed expansion of Cuddy’s research on the topics of how to display self-assurance, why passionate enthusiasm is a better predictor of a successful pitch over the content of the presentation itself, and when being present is beyond a power pose and more about being able to fully express our true thoughts comfortably. This Harvard professor bridges physiology and psychology to explain that confidence and enthusiasm in our life matters, that being judged as trustworthy matters, that feeling powerful matters in order to bring our entire and best selves to our work, and that this is not an exercise in mind over matter, but rather in matter over mind in many cases as presence starts with our external posture. And lest anyone thinks that projecting confidence may be out of reach or reserved for “senior leadership,” Cuddy is quick to remind us of the most often quoted line from her TED talk reigns true: Don’t fake it till you make it; fake it until you become it.
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter
I picked up this last book of the year as I joined the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to launch the Center for Innovative Leadership, and I wanted to make sure I had a plan to ramp up well. And now I want to shout Watkins’ premise from the rooftops to everyone looking toward a job transition: new employees begin with negative value to the company. We need handholding, a steady stream of background information, and context or training on everything, and as he says, we are nothing more than “consumers of value.” Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our new colleagues is to 1) realize this, and 2) take calculated steps to make our value trend line cross the break-even point as quickly as possible. How we do this varies by situation (turnaround, realignment, startup, growth, or sustaining success), and the rest of the book dives into the differences between what’s needed in each type of those organizations, how to build key relationships early on, and how to balance quick victories with not making some changes too quickly so you don’t become that person who comes in like an alienating bulldozer. All this is to say, the faster we can become employees creating value rather than consuming it, the better, and this new hire now feels organized and strategic about the first 90 days and beyond.
Thus concludes my business book reading of 2019, and I have a growing queue for the new year in store. I hope this roundup is helpful to my fellow arts administrators in the field, and if you do find yourself reading any of these titles to inform your own work, I’d love to hear about it. May 2020 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 defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when many arts organizations are finding it more and more difficult to meet rising ticket, subscription, and fundraising goals, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Hailed by San Francisco Chronicle as a “dynamic and innovative administrator,” her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club to the largest group for young patrons in the nation, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to double the size of its audience and nearly quadruple the donor base.
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 marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of trends and technology, and through proving and sharing what works in the rapidly changing landscape of funding, philanthropy, and consumer behavior.
Bergauer has shared her ideas in speaking engagements across North America at conferences for Adobe’s Magento, Capacity Interactive, Opera America, Orchestras Canada, and the League of American Orchestras. 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” (San Jose Mercury News), Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization, instilling and achieving common goals and vision across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, is creating a transformational change in the audience, in the office, on the stage, in the community, and is changing the narrative for the classical music industry. aubreybergauer.com