Your Personal Board of Directors

The Drucker Exchange has an animated interpretation of a speech Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last) delivered in 2009. The speech is titled “Ten To-Dos For Young People” but I am pretty sure it is good advice for people of any age.

The first thing Collins suggests is getting a personal board of directors where the members are chosen not for their accomplishments but for their character. These people don’t necessarily need to know they are on your board of directors.

This struck me as an oft overlooked aspect of personal development. We are often told to find mentors and network to advance our careers, seldom does the character of these mentors and the necessity of moral and value guidance get mentioned.

People in the arts often need this type of guidance because establishing a career is so difficult and subject to so many conflicting pressures. It is not only a matter of whether you appear nude in an “art film” to pay the rent but also the question of whether you are a sell out if you faced with an opportunity for commercial success. Are you a bad person for choosing either of these paths? Professional mentors may not provide the same advice as personal mentors.

He also proposed examining yourself as objectively and dispassionately as a scientist would a bug. Just as a scientist doesn’t make judgments about how the bug would be better bug if it only worked harder or learned more, you should just look at yourself as you are at this moment and simply catalog the features you and others observe.

I thought this was especially apt advice for people in the arts since so much self evaluation is derived from qualitative, often emotionally based criteria. Detachment can be difficult to achieve, but the results can be both valuable and comforting.

Although I have often heard the advice to perform objective self-evaluation and had it compared to a scientific approach, I found it helpful to be reminded that a scientist doesn’t generally wish the insects they are observing were as fast as cheetahs and intelligent as dolphins. They hunker down and try to discover what the bug can teach us about the world.

I also liked Collins advice to look at your statement to question ratio and see how you can double it. He says he was once told that he was spending a lot of time trying to be interesting and that perhaps he should shift his effort toward being interested.

Now I will say that while there is that stereotype of the self-impressed artistic type who makes statements about the “true meaning” of something, I think this is part of the learning process. Often these statements are just an attempt to test one’s view of the world.

I think everyone is allowed to be an unsufferable egoist for while to work themselves out. The problem arises if you don’t realize this is a method of learning and not the default mode of social interaction.

Collins advice is apt both personally and professionally as a method of teaching yourself how to learn from everyone you meet. I think this dovetails well with my post last week about the importance of asking audiences and the community about their experience with the arts rather than telling people what their experience will or should be.

Finally, (and if you have been counting, you know I have covered fewer than 10 points–watch the video it is only 4:30 minutes long and a cartoon for goodness sakes), Collins advice is to find something that you have so much passion for you are willing to endure the pain.

If you are involved with the arts, you have probably already made this decision. Even if Collins wasn’t thinking specifically about the arts when he said this, the animation team was and depicted this point with a ballerina dancing and then massaging her feet.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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