2018 Book Review

Titles for Arts Administrators

Aubrey Bergauer
Dec 27, 2018 · 16 min read

This time last year, I said that I think 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. One year later, I believe that even more. Several of the challenges of the performing arts aren’t really that different than in other industries: trying to navigate changing consumer preferences and behaviors, creating and delivering relevant services and products, facing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work, and building teams and an organizational culture that allows us to meet the incredible pressures and demands to produce a top quality product, make it accessible, build a market/audience for it, and raise the money to fund it. We must push ourselves to become ever more savvy leaders (no matter our title or role or place in the org chart) if we are to meet these challenges — if we are to change the narrative — in any industry, and especially in the arts.

Below are the business-related titles I consumed this year in chronological order, along with a note about why I read each one and/or what I got out of it through the lens of an arts administrator. Here’s to 2018, and to continuing to learn and grow in the new year.

So You Want to Talk About Race Ijeoma Oluo

If I want to get better about being inclusive, I decided I should get better at — or at least more informed about — the language I use…or try to use…or am scared or nervous to use because I don’t want to say something inadvertently offensive. So I found this book and started my year with it. Oluo both tells it like it is and is helpful in explaining vocabulary like “cultural appropriation” (the adoption of another culture by a more dominant culture), why Asians are the “model minority” (white people tend to like Asians more than other “problem minorities”), and the advantages I have that aren’t 100% due to my efforts (this is called “privilege”). The author’s greatest advice of all though, was just to try: “talk and learn and fuck up and learn some more and act again and do better.” That I can most certainly do.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts Marshall Goldsmith

Anyone who knows me knows I definitely have triggers that send me into a snarky rant (usually muttering something about it being “amateur hour”), so I thought this book might be the match to light an explosion of self-aware, mindful internal dialogue. Instead, I found this book rather unhelpful…it’s hard to be more mindful by telling yourself to remember to be more mindful. It wasn’t a total waste, and maybe consistent self-observation does help one improve at those quick-mental-reflex moments (after all, the author says this is about measuring effort, not results, which is contrary to every ounce of my being). Regardless, I should have been tipped off when its synopsis promised “a magic bullet solution.”

How Women Rise Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

While I was reading and not loving Triggers, I began seeing all the hype for the then about-to-be-launched book Goldsmith wrote in partnership with leadership expert Sally Helgesen. Claiming that what’s holding women back professionally is often different than men, it reeled me in. From reluctance to promote our achievements to not leveraging relationships, the book goes through the 12 behaviors that keep women stuck and talks about how our male counterparts are often taking a different route, trying to do the job well enough while focusing their time on building the connections and visibility that will get them to the next level. In general, adhering to this advice and actions big and small I’ve taken — from as simple as asking an industry colleague for a favor to bigger steps of moving this blog from my organization’s name to my own — have worked out well. However, I do wish the authors would have covered the double-bind that can come when women exert what are typically viewed by others, whether consciously or unconsciously, as more masculine behaviors, because as the year would later show me (keep reading), that’s a real part of navigating a gender-imbalanced workforce too.

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers Gillian Tett

This book zoomed into my universe for a book club with consulting firm TRG Arts and grabbed my attention because I write about breaking down traditional arts org siloes in the Long Haul Model and its operational implementation. While it’s no surprise this anthropologist author affirmed the troubles of artificial division of labor or responsibility and how when employees are rewarded purely on the basis of how their group performs they are unlikely to collaborate, it was a surprise to me that the success stories were so extreme…they really blew my mind. For example, a fresh-out-of-college mathematical economics major helped the New York City Fire Department predict which buildings were more fire prone and in need of preventative attention NOT by looking for patterns in the complaint logs about fires or 311 calls (proven unreliable and inaccurate predictors), but by amalgamating disparate data across multiple city departments on mortgage defaults, violation of building codes, the age of structures, and various indicators of neighborhood poverty — and developing a fire prediction algorithm that saved NYC tons of money and tons of lives. Closer to home, later in the year I learned about how the Art Institute of Chicago used similarly disparate data, from ticket price to tourist traffic to exhibit content to the weather outside in order to create a predictive model that projects museum attendance within 1% accuracy (thanks to Capacity Interactive for sharing that). Again, mind blown. Now, talking ad nauseam about how our Marketing and Development departments “just need to work together better” seems kind of juvenile by comparison. Instead, I can’t wait to hire a young computational and applied mathematics student or mathematical economic analysis major to blow the roof off of this type silo-busting work for an orchestra.

Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead Laszlo Bock

With a husband who works in Silicon Valley, it has always been fascinating to me how his and other tech employers have such different practices for hiring, onboarding, performance review and employee rewards than arts organizations. This is not about money, or how tech has it and nonprofits don’t, as here, the former head of People Operations at Google writes more about the allocation of the money we do have, and mostly about how to prioritize important aspects of people management that cost relatively the same in any sector. He brings to light that most organizations focus more on training good people to hopefully become great rather than taking the time to hire someone great in the first place. He gives actionable advice about how to recruit and hire those elusive rockstar performers, whether via search firm or in-house, and how to make sure our interview processes are designed to suss out such talent rather than the often typical way that uses interviews to confirm our already-determined first impressions of a candidate. He makes the case for why we should pay unfairly (I had to read that section several times to make sure I understood), meaning if the productivity of our teams follows something like the 80–20 rule, with 80% of the impact coming from 20% of the people, then we absolutely should be rewarding like crazy the people who are delivering those results, and not rewarding average performance. And he covers the importance of meaningful onboarding (not just making sure the new hire gets added to the dental plan) and general day-to-day management best practices that have proven successful—with data behind it all because it’s Google and they measure everything. I recommend this people operations bible for any arts leader (don’t brush it off as “HR stuff”) as it will be a resource for years to come.

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin

Here’s what it comes down to: am I going to be the type of person that does ordinary, highly accurate work beyond reproach, or am I going to do something exceptional? Do I want my organization to move along, play the concerts, balance the budget, and run the education programs, or do I want my organization to change the narrative for symphony orchestras? Sometimes we need to quit things that are the former in order to pursue the latter. And how do we make those choices and not majorly screw up in the process? As a newer Seth Godin reader (I feel like there should be some sort of crown of shame that I read business books but haven’t spent much time with his), I liked that this quick read lived up to its name as it explored those questions.

They Told Me Not to Take that Job: Tumult, Betrayal, Heroics, and the Transformation of Lincoln Center Reynold Levy

“Trashy beach reading” is how I described this book on Twitter over the summer when I read it, and to clarify, I didn’t mean the book itself was trashy, but rather I felt trashy reading it, like I was eavesdropping on a million conversations to which I should not be privy. Reynold Levy, who was CEO of Lincoln Center and oversaw its last $780 million renovation, is however, quite fine with the transparency (exposé even), and in his words, “those who enjoy a precious public trust should be called to account for acts of brazen omission or commission that occur on their watch.” (Burn! And also, yes please!) A lot of the tales in this book are happenings we as arts administrators know in broad strokes: City Opera fell apart, the New York Philharmonic has complained about its hall for ages and has had on-again off-again renovation plans, and the Metropolitan Opera’s skyrocketing expenses seem outrageously out of control. What Levy does very well though, is intermixed with taking to task poor leadership and what not to do, describe what helped him and his team complete a massive and massively successful capital campaign project. This includes his own thoughts on relationship building, mentoring others, good governance, and a fundraising pitch given by his board chair that’s so dang compelling I just want to print out a zillion copies of it and have my own chair read it verbatim every time for the rest of my life. Lastly, to be fair, this book came out in 2015 and a lot of the leadership at Lincoln Center and its resident organizations has turned over since then; but now that this fly on the wall has hung on every word, I can only hope that Levy’s successors will write a sequel.

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility Patty McCord

The former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix has fueled my obsession with company culture before as I’ve previously quoted her in my writing several times, and her book is definitely where the obsession continued. Whereas Google’s Laszlo Bock was big on processes and plans in Work Rules!, Patty McCord’s approach in Powerful is about efficiency: doing away with old, cumbersome systems and being lean and still doing extraordinary work, which, in an industry where we always have to be lean no matter our operating budget, should be music to every orchestra’s ears. The two Silicon Valley HR gurus agree on going all out to hire and pay for the best talent and and then thanking yourself later when that amazing talent has brought the results you needed and then some, and what McCord adds to the company culture equation in her manifesto is a laser focus on serving the customer, and how that should drive what we do internally. I love her. In an industry that talks a lot about what it means to be relevant but doesn’t always know how to act on that, I have seen first-hand how applying the principles that Patty writes about at my organization have made a measurable difference to our bottom line. Patty could help all orchestras be less like Blockbuster and more like Netflix.

What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) Seth Godin

Hello, conference swag bag! Instead of shoveling most of the seminar spoils into the round file, I started to thumb through this book, which turned into reading it. And that turned into reading it again in dribs and drabs to this day, which has proven a much better experience because it’s more like a coffee table book than a chapter book. At first read, it felt nebulous and kinda weird. Like the part with a full page photo of a turtle and accompanying narrative comparing Yertle the Turtle to New York penthouse value (it shouldn’t matter if there’s no apartment above you because you can’t tell when you’re inside). But then amidst the absurdity Godin drops in a line of wisdom, which became clearer to me only on the second go-round, that connects the need to live in the penthouse with a need to win at everything, which is ridiculous “because taking your turn requires you to be willing not to win.” In other words, speak up, take your turn, do what you believe in, and be ready to fail sometimes because if you’re playing to always win, that’s a rather rigid and actually unrisky game. So go for it, whatever it is to you, and know you won’t win every time, but that’s more liberating in the end. See, it’s weird that I got all that out of a story about penthouses and turtles. But somehow all the little vignettes in this book come together to work like that. Weird doesn’t mean bad, but maybe just better consumed in small doses to make heads or tails or turtles of it.

The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World Fred Reichheld

“On a scale of 1–10, how likely are you to recommend this product or service to a friend?” That’s the key question — er, the ultimate question — companies use to determine their Net Promoter score, which at the end of the day, is a measure of customer loyalty. Arts administrators: Reichfield’s work at Bain & Company showed that a 5 percent increase in customer retention led to a 25–100% increase in profits. Read that again. Plus, companies with the highest customer loyalty typically grew revenues at more than twice the rate of their competitors. Who doesn’t want that kind of growth? If the arts industry had even a fraction of these gains, it would paint a completely different earned revenue picture for most of us (a changed narrative!). And as we know, loyalty on the earned revenue side is the top indicator for donation proclivity, so those revenue numbers only get better as we keep more customers coming back. Given my incessant focus on patron retention, this book had me salivating from cover to cover, and I am actively developing plans on how to implement this at an arts organization. Thank you to Jill Robinson and TRG Arts for making this the fall book club title.

KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age Mark Schaefer

This book was given to me by a stranger I met at dinner one night. Yep, seriously. Sitting diagonally from me at one of those big, long, communal dining tables was Jack from Salt Lake City, and midway through dinner we started talking about customer engagement in each of our niche fields — in his line of work as an MBA adjunct professor and the founder of a firm doing social media marketing for dentists (I learned a lot about dentistry that night…did you know there are seven different kinds of dentists?!), and in my work in the orchestra business. He gave me his card; I emailed him one of my blog posts I had promised to send the next day. And then he told me he had Googled me, saw my articles, some press coverage and speaking engagements, and wanted to send me a book. And then he actually did it. Known, he told me, was written by his friend and fellow business school teacher Mark Schaefer, and while “the book is more about creating a personal online brand,” he said, “I think it has great application to you….What if you became the world’s foremost thought leader on growing symphony audiences?” <Insert Aubrey heart eyed emoji here.> By way of summary, the book’s title says a lot, and the two big takeaways are 1) don’t stop producing content, and 2) never give up whatever it is you are pursuing. Jack and I touched base about a month later, and I told him his timing was rather fortuitous. The exact same day he said he was going to mail me the book to help me dial it up, someone in the field had told me I should “tone it down,” (remember the double-bind mentioned above?) and I had been contemplating some version of quitting until I read these themes of resilience and perseverance. So here I am writing about it, heart on my sleeve, nervous about that, and simultaneously redetermined that the orchestra industry can change its narrative, and that I can be a part of that. Thanks Jack.

P.S. If anyone reading this happens to be a dentist (or an orthodontist, periodontist, oral surgeon, endodontist, pedodontist, or prosthodontist), consider giving Jack Hadley a call.

Principles Ray Dalio

The year concludes not with a book, but with a 541-page tome in which Dalio packs in all his life lessons, his Principles. Divided into two parts, his principles for Life and for Work, he methodically goes through all his guide rails and procedures for successful business, people management, conflict resolution, hiring, firing, team building, decision making, goal setting, problem solving, distribution of power, you-name-it. As the person who built Bridgewater, the firm that manages ~$150 Billion in global investments for the world’s largest clients, he’s someone to learn from, and my process-driven brain really liked his enumerated, matter-of-fact approach.


Thus concludes my business-related reading of 2018, and I’ve got 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 2019 be the year we continue to apply all this great research and learning and continue to change the narrative for orchestras — happy reading!

About the Author

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony 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. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to nearly double the size of its audience and 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. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of execution and impact at institutions of all sizes. 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” (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.

Aubrey Bergauer

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Working to change the narrative for orchestras. Executive Director of the California Symphony.