The Imperative of Technology Literacy

At the recent PatronManager Community Meeting in New York, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Maureen Andersen, President and CEO of INTIX, in a freewheeling conversation hosted by Robert Friend titled “Thriving in the Digital Age: A Candid Conversation on the Future of Technology.”

Robert asked a probing question: “With the rapid technology advancements the industry has experienced in recent years, how has this shifted the requirements in staff expertise to achieve the success non-profit arts operations require organizationally?”

Maureen started by asking for a show of hands, which showed that about half to two-thirds of attendees in the room were under the age of 35. She then pointed out that it is this generation of arts managers — “digital natives” — that will necessarily change the way organizations are run with regard to technology. I would add that those over 35 who are technology-adept will be those change agents as well. Thankfully, there are lots of those people in our industry.  

That said, it’s incorrect to assume that those who are adept are also actively pursuing an understanding of new technology. They may be more likely or willing to adopt new technology than others, but there’s more to success than that.

I believe that for our industry to thrive, everyone at your organization must be technology literate, across the board. And by “literate” I don’t mean that they know how to log in or check their email on their phone. Rather, technology must become a regular topic of discussion at leadership meetings. Your staff and your board should always be up to date on the newest trends and techniques.

I find that all too often there’s an attitudinal divide within organizations. Some are technology inquisitive, and others are phobic. And in too many cases, executive directors are wholly uninterested in diving into and understanding the details of how technology is changing, what new systems and approaches are coming, and how they can use technology to make their organizations run better, more efficiently, and with more success.  

Sadly, when that lack of interest exists at the top, it breeds a generalized resistance to change or poor decision-making based on incomplete information. For those managers, familiarity breeds complacency, and too many organizations continue to use tools and technologies that are years if not decades old.

All of this stands in contrast to the majority of managers I’ve met in the commercial world, who are often incentivized to identify and implement new systems that improve their bottom lines or efficiency. I can’t understand why there isn’t as much energy or enthusiasm in the arts for this kind of thinking at the leadership level. You could easily argue that it’s a question of resources: Those in the arts simply can’t take the financial risk of something new. Fair enough. In that case, let companies with more resources do the early vetting. But always be watching and learning (and calling them!) to take advantage of their experience.

Whether you’re eager to learn or you’re a technology novice, how can you become more technology literate? It’s actually pretty easy. Just become familiar with the emerging trends in technology, and then keep an eye on those trends. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Alphabet of the Future: AI, VR, IOT, AR,” which still can serve as a primer for what to pay attention to. 

From there, an online search of any of those topics will yield lots of blogs, podcasts, and news articles. The New York Times, Wired, and Fast Company (each of which has a daily email newsletter) are particularly good.

As you start your seasons, I hope I’ve inspired you to apply as much future-oriented thinking to your organization’s operations and processes as you can. We live in a world in which entrepreneurs are building products and services that make running a business faster, easier, and quicker. New technologies abound that can make communication among your staff more fluid, and make it easier and easier to reach your customers in a relevant manner.  

So, arts managers: Be more innovative! Be more forward-thinking! Be more entrepreneurial! And most of all be more tech-literate.

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