Karina Mangu-Ward is the Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts, which offers transformative programs for break through change in the arts and cultural nonprofit field. She curates the website ArtsFwd, a resource for innovative practices for arts leaders, which produced the NextGen Quick Poll, a survey of emerging nonprofit arts professionals, in early in 2012. I interviewed her about the poll results and how organizations and young leaders can embrace innovation.
What were you investigating with the NextGen QuickPoll and what were your major findings?
Our goal was to take a closer look at the role of young arts staffers in organizational innovation. The hypothesis we set out to test was that the degree to which an organization is innovative is positively correlated with how much that organization values the contributions of next generation leaders. By “innovation” we mean seeking ways to adapt to today’s challenging conditions by testing out genuinely new approaches.
We had three major findings from the poll:
- 80% of next generation leaders who self-reported working in highly innovative organizations see their organization as “one they’d want to move up in,” as compared to only 38% in non- or slightly innovative organizations
- Next generation leaders at highly innovative organizations were four times as likely to report seeing their ideas implemented and twice as likely to report bringing their “whole self” to work as opposed to “just a part”
- Next generation leaders at highly innovative organizations were nearly five times more likely to report that their organization has “meaningful ways for employees to invest in themselves” than non- or slightly innovation organizations
What are your top three big “takeaways” from findings the NextGen QuickPoll about the relationship between organizational innovation and support for emerging leaders?
Young staffers are more likely to want to stay at innovative organizations. Our survey suggests that embracing innovative practices, including distributed leadership structures, may be a key to employee retention.
NextGen leaders have a lot to say. They are thinking deeply about their organizations and have big ideas about what the future holds and how we might prepare for it.
The trends we identified did not appear to be related to organization size. Across all organizations, large and small, leaders should take note of the role of young staffers in innovation.
In your opinion, is there anything emerging leaders can do to help foster innovation within their organizations or their own jobs?
Every organization has its own challenges and culture. At EmcArts our work is based on the theory that innovation at the organizational level requires a team of people with a common vocabulary and values working together over a period of time to identify an organization’s persistent roadblocks and then moving beyond business-as-usual practices to develop and test out genuinely new responses. Buy-in from leadership is crucial, as is enrolling the entire staff throughout the process.
At the core of innovative practice is the process of questioning assumptions. The next time you sit down to do the same thing you’ve always done in the same way you’ve always done it, such as planning a season, marketing your subscriptions, buying advertising, communicating with artists, or engaging audiences, ask yourself some tough questions:
- What assumptions are behind my actions and are those assumptions still valid?
- What evidence do I have that my approach is working?
- How have the conditions around me changed since I developed this approach and what might that mean for my work?
- What can I let go from business as usual because it’s not longer needed?
New ways of thinking are the first and most important step towards innovation and something anyone, regardless of their role and rank, can work towards.
For those emerging leaders at organizations that value innovation, the most important thing you can do is add your voice to the conversation. Your contributions are just as valid as your supervisors or your board members.
What questions should emerging leaders be asking of their organizations and organizations of emerging leaders in order to foster dialogue and understanding?
In the survey, we asked emerging leaders “What do you see from your seat that your supervisor doesn’t see?” I think this is a really important question for organizational leaders to be asking young staffers all the time. Young staffers are holding onto an untapped wealth of knowledge and experience, from new technology, to networking, to cultural participation.
Equally important is for young staffers to be asking their organization’s leaders “What do you see from your seat that I don’t see?” Our survey data suggests that young staffers get restless when there is a breakdown in communication between what is happening at the top and what is happening on the ground. Leaders who are actually pursuing innovative initiatives might be neglecting to communicate that with young staffers.
Another question young staffers can ask is “Can I observe that meeting?” In the survey responses we heard many emerging leaders say “just let me in the room.” More inclusion of young leaders in board meetings and senior staff meetings, even as observers, could make a world of difference.
What are your top 3 resources for learning about innovation in the nonprofit arts?
On ArtsFwd.org we share the process and product of innovative strategies from organizations across the country. Our aim is to bring innovation and adaptive change to the center of the dialogue in the arts sector.
Another online resource I rely on is Nina Simon’s blog, Museum 2.0. Simon runs the Museum of Art in Santa Cruz and blogs about the innovative strategies they’re trying out. Her reflections on work-in-progress initiatives are frank, vulnerable, and well observed. I also follow Createquity, Andrew Taylor’s blog The Artful Manager, Doug Borwick’s Engaging Matters, Barry’s Blog, and Seth Godin.
Eleanor Whitney is a writer, musician and arts administrator and project manager making it happen in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently the Program Officer for External Affairs and Fiscal Sponsorship at the New York Foundation for the Arts and received her Master’s in Public Administration from Baruch College. Read all of Eleanor’s posts for YNPN-NYC.