“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~Alexander den Heijer
In a classroom, if a student’s not thriving, our education system too often assumes that there’s something wrong with the child. Imagine what we could achieve in just one generation if we could instead see all children the way a gardener sees flowers: as something we cherish, nurture, and encourage. What a world, right? Let’s change the system so all children can thrive.
Working on my presentation about writing for the 7 Charlottesville-area schools I’ll be presenting to as an author for Virginia Festival of the Book in less than 2 weeks. I’ll be talking about the writing, revision, and editing process, the power of the imagination in world building, and curiosity as the best tool to generate and craft ideas. Drawing wisdom from these sages whose work has inspired mine over the years.
About two years ago, I went to the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit. It was a gathering of about 150 arts professionals, hosted by Yo-Yo Ma, and focused on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. I was one of the only people there who had worked in an industry other than the arts, and one of exactly two people who had an MBA. Several people asked me why I ever thought about pairing my artistic interest with business training. I told them that art and business are equal partners, not adversaries. In an artistic organization, you need business skills just as much as you need artistic talent. And in all organizations, business people have a lot to learn from artists.
This was puzzling to a lot of people, and that’s when a lightbulb went off for me. How could I bring the arts and business, and more specifically people who work in both disciplines, together to learn from one another? At the end of the Summit, everyone had to create a card to describe their career goal for the year. Here I am with my card:
“I commit to helping artists find the business people within them, and to helping business people find the artists within them.”
My life and my career have never been a binary choice between the arts and business. They’ve always been a package deal for me. And I wanted to find a way to work that mission into my career. I started my career twenty years ago in company management of Broadway shows and national theater tours. It has been a long and winding road since then. In all of these experiences, I say without hesitation that my work in theater has been the best business training I’ve ever had.
I so fervently believe this that when people ask me “how can I enhance my business skills?”, I tell them to go produce a live performance.
Here are the business skills we wield to produce a live show:
Meeting a preset, non-negotiable deadline (that curtain is going up on time no matter what—the show always goes on)
Staying below a strict budget, and likely a very small or non-existent budget to start with
Intense collaboration with a motley crew of colorful characters who all have different needs wants, and goals—hello competing priorities!
Publicity, marketing, media planning, and content creation
Financial management and accounting
Operations and logistics
In-person customer service
Bargaining and negotiation, as well as legal contracting
Impeccable time, people, and stress management
Recruitment and staffing
Oh, and then there’s that little matter of the show actually being high-quality
And, lest we forget, if any one of those balls drops, you bear all of the responsibility because you don’t have any backup
Are you kidding me? What other industry requires that much of a single person? No other industry. The production of a live show is the epitome of deft business skills in action.
I was beyond fortunate to have this kind of experience in the arts in my early twenties. It has informed and shaped my career and life as an adult, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These skills are transferable to so many other industries, and a variety of roles within organizations and companies. The arts, and our active engagement with them, have many more gifts to give us than we realize.
My great hope and purpose in coming to work at PatronManager is to help arts managers create an environment of financial sustainability that allow your art and artists to shine, and to make your work accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The arts have never been more important than they are today, and our responsibility to produce them has never been greater. If you have ideas for us, please don’t be shy. I want to hear them so that we can help each other bring them to life.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist and go on digs to find dinosaurs. For my first expedition, I took my mother’s pie plates and dug a giant hole in my backyard. I was about 7 or 8. I was convinced that our hump-shaped rock outcropping that popped about 4 feet or so out of the ground was the headstone for a dinosaur. On my expedition, I proudly found the skeleton of a mouse, but sadly there was no dinosaur. (The pie plates didn’t survive either.) Nevertheless, I was determined to become a scientist, and entered the University of Pennsylvania’s engineering school after wining prizes such as the Rensselaer Medal when I was in high school. My idea was to invent tools and technology that would make my expeditions more efficient.
Sadly, my perfect scenario of becoming a paleontologist and dinosaur hunter didn’t come to pass. (Or at least it hasn’t yet.) I didn’t do well at Penn my first semester. I went to see my physics professor to get some extra help. After a grand total of 2 minutes, he told me I had no mind for science and math generally, and especially not for physics or calculus. Sadly, I believed him. I left his office hours dejected and in tears. I walked back to my dorm with all of my dreams lying in a wake behind me, shattered to pieces. No one had ever told me I couldn’t learn something, and this ugly exchange was a devastating cut to me when I already felt extraordinarily out-of-place at Penn for many other reasons. I changed my school within the University and my major the next day.
(This story does have a happy ending: I took both calculus and physics at a local college years later just to prove to myself that the professor was wrong about me. I got a perfect score on every test. Even though he may be a genius physicist, he was entirely wrong about my mental capacity for physics and calculus.)
Though I now have a wonderful career as a writer, author, and business leader for a technology company, I have never lost my first love for science. I still regularly read scientific journals, publications, and books. One that I have I been looking forward to for months, Why Dinosaurs Matter by Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, has finally been released and it’s even more spectacular than I had hoped it would be. Laced with dry, laugh-out-loud humor and poetic prose that weaves together our history with that of the dinosaurs, this book was the indulgent dive into the world of dinosaurs that I wanted and needed. It took me back to that day in the backyard with the pie plates and the dirt and my determination to discover something magical and mysterious. It ignited in me my child-like wonder about dinosaurs and science. I’ll admit that I hugged the book when it was done. It’s a delicious tale of survival, triumph, adaptation, struggle, and eventual loss that draws me into expertly crafted novels. Except this is real. This is science, however fantastical it may seem.
The book was so good that it prompted me to Google Dr. Lacovara and see what he’s up to these days. I know him mostly from his landmark discovery of Dreadnoughtus in the early 2000s. He’s now the Dean of Rowan University’s School of Earth & Environment and Director of the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. Believe it or not, New Jersey is the place to be in the U.S. when it comes to finding dinosaur remains. I’ve been so close to the dinosaurs my entire life. They’ve been right here beneath my feet.
The older I get, the more I realize just how full-circle life is. Rowan University’s Fossil Park will become a one-of-a-kind center for STEM education, and it will include a museum, laboratories, and learning spaces thanks to Dr. Lacovara and his dedicated team. They have a volunteer program as well as community dig days. Perhaps I’ll be able to realize a piece of that dream of digging around in the dirt after all, this time armed with tools a bit more sturdy than pie plates.
I’m so excited to share that I’m joining Cornell Tech as a Critique Advisor for their Fall Product Studio Course. During the course, students answer “How Might We Challenges” posed by leading startups, companies, and organizations. Students use their learnings from the course to develop their ideas and products, demo a compelling product narrative, and validate their product with users.
To aid in this process, students participate in weekly critique sessions with external practitioners to drive momentum and receive validation, feedback, and critique. These practitioners are active, product owners, technical managers, and entrepreneurs in New York City who come to campus to provide practical feedback and instruction, encourage progress, and help address any blockers or risks the students are facing.
Yesterday’s event at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island filled me with inspiration and possibility. It was quite a testament to what can be achieved through private – public partnerships with tech CEOs from IBM, Qualcomm, Verizon, and startups, investors, journalists, Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg, and the President of Cornell all in attendance.
The spaces, indoors and out, are incredibly thoughtful and stunning. Best of all, it’s been built as an inviting setting for the public. Bring your laptop, book, or sketch pad, grab a coffee at the cafe, and take it all in with plenty of wi-fi and collaborative space. This is a place of community, and the hope is that companies and projects started by students and incubator sponsors (yes, your company can get space here!) will diversify and grow the NYC economy. Already, Cornell Tech has spun out 38 companies, 94% of which are based in NYC.
Graduate and doctoral studies as well as Executive Education courses comprise the student body here and it will also be a stage for events at the cross-section of tech, business, art, and social impact.
Grab the F train, bus, ferry, or tram, and go check it out!
Press release: 826NYC is proud to announce its first-ever cohort of Teaching Artists! These dynamic and experienced writers and educators will be running our in-schools and partnership residencies across New York City. Each residency ranges from 4-8 sessions in length and culminates in an anthology of student work, which is professionally designed and printed for distribution.
The cohort includes writers and artists from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Watermill Center, the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop, and more.
Learn more about Christa Avampato, Maryann Aita, Cameron Crawford, Joss Lake, Jason Leahey, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Krystal Reddick, and Helena Smith. Learn more about them here!
I’ve been doing a lot of research on career planning as I craft the materials for ACanofCoke.com, my program to provide college- and career-readiness guidance to high school and college students who need additional support. I came across Mike Rowe’s video entitled “Don’t follow your passion. Do this instead.” I don’t agree with his entire outlook though I think his point has value. I think passion is an important part of building a life and career that brings us happiness and fulfillment. But passion isn’t enough; it’s only one part of a more complex equation:
Passion + ability + opportunity = a career (and life) worth having
Identify what you love to do. Evaluate whether or not that’s where your talent lies, or where it could lie with practice and a strong work ethic. Determine the size of the opportunity that could utilize your passion and talent, or develop a plan that creates that opportunity if it doesn’t exist.
Building each piece of the left side of that equation isn’t easy, though it’s the only way to turn that right side from a dream into a reality.
Exactly two months ago, I decided to try to make ACanofCoke.com, my online college- and career-readiness service, a reality. This week I scheduled meetings with 3 NYC public high school principals to talk about doing a pilot with their students this summer and fall. It took emailing 398 principals to get this response. Hey if it’s a numbers game, then I’m ready to play.
The mission of this idea matters so much to me that I’m not bothered by the rejection. I could look at this as ~1% of the schools I emailed are interested or I could see it as ~99% aren’t. I’m going with the former.
Rejection is a part of business, art, and life. We will be rejected far more often than we are accepted – at least that’s been my experience and the experience of just about everyone I know. It’s not the amount of failure we endure, but the persistence and passion that matter most. As Babe Ruth once said, “It’s tough to beat someone who never gives up.” Keep going.
One of the main tenants of business and new product development is to develop the least expensive, least time intensive version of your product to test with exactly the people you hope to become your customers. You want to put in just enough money and effort so that the idea of what you’re trying to do is clear and the experience is positive. And you want to keep from putting in too much money and effort on an idea that just doesn’t work. It’s all about using resources wisely and conserving as much as you can while also still giving the idea a fighting chance to show its value. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it has to be done.
With A Can of Coke, my online platform to provide college- and career-readiness counseling for high school students, I can use an easy, light-weight combination of Google Calendar and Google Hangout with a small handful of students to help them in the evening and weekend hours for a couple of months. This way I can see if the idea works and what needs to be improved without incurring a lot of cost.
Fast, simple, small. It’s how all great ideas start.