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Competing for the Future

It wasn’t as much of an escape as some of the legal thrillers I read on the beach this summer, but Competing for the Future, by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, is a post-Labor Day “must-read” for anyone on the board or staff of an arts and culture organization today. Although published shortly after the major recession at the beginning of the 90s, it contains a lot of currently relevant advice about which strategic decisions to make – and which to avoid – in any period of economic upheaval. It expresses the standard view that cost reduction, on its own, will not insure survival and that organizational restructuring must be coupled with robust revenue growth. The biggest “takeaway” for me, however, was the case the book makes for abandoning organizational strategies of the past, and even the present, to develop a clear vision of an organization’s future success and disciplined strategies to realize that vision. For arts groups, this means not just trying to sell more tickets or raise more money from the same people for the same activities. It means imagining five to ten years in the future:

• who your audiences will be;
• with what programs and through what distribution channels you will serve those audiences;
• who your competitors will be and what your unique competitive advantage will be; and
• what organizational and financial resources will be needed to realize your mission and vision.

Of course, summarizing a seminal 300+ page book in 300 words does not do it justice. So, I will just pass on the advice of a friend who urged me to read it and suggest that the $12.21 cost of the paperback ($9.56 if you have a Kindle) is money well spent.


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