Monday, 12 March 2007

The Introduction

This paper advances a simple argument. We are living through a time of fundamental cultural transformation. Familiar cultural and social norms are in flux. This is not only an age of change but a change of age.

We are struggling to adapt fast enough. In the arts and cultural sector, as in all others, we have tried to meet the new complexities with higher skill levels and extended competencies. We have tried to tame the environment, to reassert control. The first strategy has overloaded our cultural leaders. The second is crushing their spirit. The results can be seen in evidence of burn out, anxiety disorders and stress. We are in over our heads.

In order to thrive in this challenging environment we need to develop a higher tolerance for complexity, uncertainty and not knowing. This is not a skillset. It is an existential condition. It is developed through experience.

The most promising settings to gain such experience are in the arts and cultural sector. Today’s creative adhocracies are loose, flexible, adaptive organisational forms suited to the complex operating environment.[i] They are nurturing the midwives of a new culture. But they are fragile and dangerous: only the fittest survive. We need to figure out how to grow and sustain these sites of social learning.

The paper concludes with six practical propositions to support the arts and cultural sector’s leadership role (see page 19). At a time of fundamental transformation we must be hospice workers for the dying culture and midwives for the new. This, the paper concludes, is the task, the challenge and the opportunity for cultural leadership in today’s turbulent world.
[i] The ‘adhocracy’ is an organisational form popularised by management theorist Henry Mintzberg. As the name implies, it is loose, highly organic, flexible, a ‘tent’ rather than a ‘palace’, and often brings individuals together in a temporary structure in order to progress a specific project.

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