Thursday, January 31, 2013

Builders and Managers

I am at it again. After an inspiring podcast courtesy of Dean Dwyer, I became acquainted with Michael Hyatt, a gentleman who is one of the most popular bloggers in the world! Michael had something very interesting to say that led me right back into thinking about Fringe and artistic work in general.

Like many entrepreneurs, Mr. Hyatt has been a busy man over the years: finding his own publishing company, experiencing a bankruptcy, rising the corporate ranks to become a CEO, and most recently going back to the purely entrepreneurial realm of writing, speaking, and inspiring for a living.

What struck me was when Michael explained how he made the decision to leave his (admittedly, admirable) role as head of a major publishing company. As CEO he ended up doing more management than he really felt a passion for, and as he put it in the show, "I am a Builder, not a Manager."

Two thoughts immediately came to mind:

  1. I am like that: a Builder, not a Manager
  2. Everyone in Chicago Fringe is, to one degree or another, a Builder like that
Let me explain.

What was really exciting to me, when we began thinking about Fringe as a reality, was that we were creating something from nothing. Brand new opportunities for performers, brand new opportunities for patrons to see new works--and we had set a date when 50 acts were going to descend on Pilsen to perform, whether we were ready or not. (Don't worry, we were ready!) All the preparation and scouting and dealing it took to get buy-in and create that thing from scratch was incredibly motivating. And very much aligned with my "Builder" skill set. What we didn't know, we made up along the way, and that was ok.

On the other hand, my more egregious mistakes with Fringe have usually been in the "Manager" category. Need me to run a meeting? Watch me blow up communication and get frustrated. Want to see me full of anxiety? Ask me to think about keeping everyone's jobs and tasks on track. Looking at me to keep the paperwork in one place and the spreadsheets balanced--what are you smokin'?!

Point 1: I am a Builder.

Point 2: Some of our most valuable movers and shakers within CFF operate on this "Builder" mentality. It's everywhere in our organization. I also try to make this exceedingly clear with anyone who expresses interest in working with us. 95% of the time, there is no management--you dream the dream, do the work, and find the necessary resources to make it happen. In fact, that is how many people have come to work with CFF. They see a hole in the organization or take on a project thinking, "Yes, I am interested in this and can make it happen successfully. I can own it, I can build it." Maybe all small organizations are like this--too small and cash-strapped to operate otherwise.

All in all, that "Builder" mentality makes the Chicago Fringe Festival a unique working environment. Instead of top-down management, we operate more like a think tank*: A group of people with a like-minded goal who are still quite independent and disperate. We get together from time to time, but so much of our collective accomplishments are done in a "what-am-I-working-on-now" sort of framework. It's worth mentioning that this has led to some disparity inside Fringe, because some parts of our organization have outpaced others--we have not necessarily worked in logical "order." But that is ok, too, and we are young.

All of this is not to say that Fringe jobs are devoid of management either. We all have things to manage, my job as Executive Director included. Maybe even more so. I am also not saying good Managers are not important--they are SO IMPORTANT. But at Fringe, we are first and foremost builders. 

There is much more to unpack in this Builder and Manager breakdown, but that's more than enough to chew on for now.

Peace and Fringe,
Executive Director
Chicago Fringe Festival

*To give credit, my friend Scott Barsotti put this "think tank" idea into my head after he was doing some research around the aptitudes of actors. Turns out that actors working together in a play often operate in a similar mode. And then Fringe came to mind for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment