Recently, Business Insider published Jeff Bezos’ latest letter to Amazon shareholders. As I read it, I kept thinking how applicable his words are to arts organizations.
As arts administrators, we often exist in our own nonprofit arts organization bubble and compare ourselves only to what others in our industry are doing. Of course, it is important to know what our peers are doing, but this is a dangerous practice because there is so much to be learned from broadening our view. More importantly, we must always remember that our patrons are not comparing us just to other arts organizations, but to every other brand they interact with through the course of their lives.
I urge you to read the letter in full, but here are some key points:
- “Obsessive customer focus” is the best approach.
- “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better…”
- “Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing…The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”
- Death is around the corner if “you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”
- “You have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions.”
- “You need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”
Look, I know that it sometimes takes time for us to implement real change at our organizations. However, we need to start taking steps, however small, to ensure that we aren’t faced with, in Bezos’ words, “irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline.”