Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Art of Focus

I had a conversation recently with a long-time friend who runs a software company.  As we often do, we talked about challenges and exciting things going on at work, and one of the keywords that came out of our conversation was "focus."

As we talked about all different scenarios, we realized how much this word can apply to every aspect of your day, or career, or organization.  When you have time and energy to focus on a task, it tends to get done quickly and thoughtfully.  When you have a clear direction in your career, you will likely achieve your definition of success.

Today, I want to highlight more of the benefits of organizational focus.  We all know the company that tries to be everything to everyone.  AOL is a good example.  They started off with a very narrow focus - internet access.  As the "walled garden model" that AOL used to provide access became less relevant, they made a crucial mistake.  They didn't ask themselves - "how can we keep our focused mission of providing internet access?"  Instead they said, "how else can we make money?" They got into film media, mapping, music, news.  15 years ago, if you asked me to describe AOL's brand, I could easily do it.  Today - I honestly can't.

That's a problem.  When people don't know your brand, they will be less inclined to engage with you.  The same thing goes for arts orgs.  If you try to be all things to all people, it can be hard tell your audience exactly who you are.

This is especially true of small-mid arts orgs.  As more money is becoming available, and more back alley arts orgs are popping up all over the country, competition for audience is getting even harder than it was before. Now you have to reach the demographic of left-handed, jazz loving (New Orleans, not Swing!), 28-37.5 year-olds, living within 6 square blocks of the outdoor music hall, who identify as non-traditionalists, but not hipsters. It gets tricky to brand yourself in the right way while discovering an audience big enough to keep you in the black.

The big arts orgs are lucky, in that they have the resources, space and trust of the community to appeal to almost any audience.  Look at Lincoln Center in NYC: today there are several films going on, a presentation on Flamenco, a Broadway show, an opera, a jazz orchestra, and the Ballet Spring Gala. about a diverse audience!  But they can do it - they're big enough and they have established themselves as the arts center of NYC.  

We don't all have that luxury.  So until you do...stay focused.  Figure out your mission, be open to new ways to achieve that mission, and stick to it. 

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