Do Me A Favor And Get The Word Out?

Seth Godin recently made a post where he noted that while at one time asking someone for a favor involved a personal, one-to-one appeal, email lists and databases have made it easy to make a more impersonal appeal to a broader range of people.

While you may be thinking that posts about the evils of spam is so early oughts, there is a distinction in that a lot of spam is delivered to people with whom the sender has little, if any type of relationship. Godin is noting that technology has made it easier to degrade more established relationships.

If you ask 100 people for a favor to “get the word out,” then of course you don’t care so much if 80 or 90 people decline. The problem is that you’ve just hurt the relationship you had with these people (as thin as it was) as well as made it more difficult for the next person, the one who actually put some effort and care into making a connection.

The honest first line of the programmatic ask is, “I’m using you to get what I want right now, because I didn’t plan ahead, care enough or show up with enough generosity to do it the old way.”

[…]

Just because you are in a hurry, know how to use mailmerge and have figured out how to hustle people doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

At the risk of sounding stupid for stating the obvious that the post-Covid world has new expectations, there are signs that a lot of people didn’t get that message and are returning to their offices, dusting off their desks, starting their computers and picking up where they left off.

Do me a favor and get the word out?

How Much More Tolerance Left For Crushing Summer Internship As Career Starter

When I was an undergraduate, and even after I graduated college, I applied to work at the Williamstown Theater Festival, one of the most prestigious summer theaters in the country. Recent reporting makes me think I may have dodged a bullet when I wasn’t accepted.

You may have seen that back in July, the sound crew all walked off the job to protest long hours and unsafe working conditions at the festival. This week additional reporting by the L.A. Times revealed a greater extent to which these conditions existed, impacting the well-being of interns and apprentices.

Seffinger spent the summer rigging and focusing lights by hand for up to 16 hours a day. While crawling in the restricted space above a Williamstown stage to hang a power cable, he hit the back of his head on a horizontal metal support pole and suffered what doctors later diagnosed as a concussion.

He said he had been explicitly instructed during orientation to remove any hard hats when climbing in this area, or any stage space at height; according to Bagwell, Seffinger’s supervisor, the festival’s hard hats did not have chin straps and could potentially drop into the house and hurt someone. Seffinger used his own health insurance coverage for the hospital visit, otherwise, he would have had to pay out of pocket with no assistance from the festival. And he was ineligible for workers’ compensation, as interns were categorized as unpaid festival volunteers.

Those interviewed for the story cited fear of career impacting reprisals and concern about the strength of claims kept them from filing claims with OSHA and the state of Massachusetts. As well that:

Without money, major credits or other benefits to fall back on, young theater artists were not in a position to speak up against safety issues, overwork or lack of opportunity without risking retribution. Those who did make in-person complaints to supervisors and schedulers were either ignored or instructed to grin and bear it,…

One woman interviewed for the story said her parents took out a loan to cover the $4000 apprentice program fee which was supposed to provide her education and experience toward an acting career, but required so much work from her that there were no opportunities to learn or perform.

It was made clear that “festival needs” — a shorthand for the litany of tasks required by the star-studded marquee productions — came before any educational or creative opportunity. Many times, Ayala found herself ditching her acting classes to save her energy for her next shift or recover from her last one.

“It was hard when the projects that were supposed to be my opportunities felt like the bottom of an endless list of tasks,” said Zeftel. “No one has time to be a collaborative artist because they’re being utilized as cogs in the machine to make the festival’s biggest priorities happen.”

Apprentices’ chances to act were scattered across smaller, one-night-only projects that rehearsed and played at odd overnight hours, but they could do so only if they weren’t assigned to other, more menial tasks. Three sources told The Times that it was not uncommon for an apprentice to go an entire summer without acting in anything.

I definitely worked long hours for little pay at summer theaters, (as well as year round theaters, for that matter), and while the culture has long demanded that the individual subsume their lives to the needs of the production, I was never in a situation as bad as described in these articles.

I was certainly miserable at times. When the conversation about kids today needing to pay their dues, I don’t wish the same experience on others. Learning the ropes of any job will always be difficult and frustrating. Just as we need to let our physical body rest to recover from endurance and strength building exercise, so too do we need emotional and mental rest so we can develop and employ our additional capacity.

As business journals try to analyze the motivations behind the current Great Resignation, it would behoove the theater world to note that people have left jobs that were far less onerous than the internship/apprenticeship conditions that exist. If any sector needs to change their business model quickly to respond to the times, it is arts and culture.   These practices were never the most constructive element in the career pathway in the best of times, it would be surprising if they remain viable at all going forward.

Running An Intellectual Property Rights Grabbing Contest Isn’t A Good PR Move

Laura Zabel, Executive Director of the awesome Springboard for the Arts posted a important Twitter thread on being mindful about the way you solicit creative work from the community.

Read the whole thread, it is short but she makes the important point that you may be asking creatives to do a lot of free labor on spec and if there is only a couple winners, most won’t see any sort of reimbursement for their time. She suggests that a request for proposals (RFP) might be more appropriate. She likewise reminds readers to make sure the planned remuneration, whether it is contest prize or fee for services, is appropriate for the level of effort people will need to invest in your project.

Perhaps most importantly, she urges people not to use any language which claims all the intellectual property rights for anything that is submitted. She notes that many templates have this language in it so even if it isn’t your intention, you could be making a “rights grab.

Manspreading Of Buzzwords

Apropos to Monday’s post on Jargon vs. Lingo, a link came across my social media feed yesterday featuring an interview with Anand Giridharadas by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College of London on the topic of philanthropy .

There is a moment right around the 23:00 mark where Giridharadas refers to a situation where the “…manspreading of certain languages which render native speakers in various institutions illiterate.”

Basically what he says happens is that advisors or consultants come in and start challenging practices, wielding terms like “leveraging synergies” and “boiling the ocean” to make it seem like the shorthand language you use internally to accomplish things is not sufficient to achieve success.  Giridharadas says this allows people to come in from outside and make people feel inadequate in their familiar home environment. It shifts the power dynamic by establishing their expertise while positioning natives as no longer credible.

He points out that people who have achieved relatively high levels of success in industries like education, arts and aviation don’t tend to decide this expertise can be applied to other industries, but people in the commercial business world will feel they are qualified to direct the efforts in other realms. Giridharadas specifically mentions charities, non-profits and the arts as industries often feel their commercial skillsets will transfer to.

Now none of this is to say that non-profits and the arts don’t have issues like insularity and diversity, equity and inclusion, among others that need to be fixed. But with some exceptions, the solution to these problems can be achieved with plain speech and the native jargon of the organization without the necessity of introducing buzzwords.

Mazzucato also made an interesting point about the commercial world employing a paradigm adopted from a now outdated physics worldview. She says economics finds it convenient to employ Newtonian view of equilibrium to justify a laissez-faire policy–the idea governments shouldn’t interfere because the system will self-correct. However, she notes that physics has moved on to the quantum physics model where there are higher degrees of uncertainty and randomness. These are factors probably a more appropriate paradigm for economics since individuals, social structures and behaviors do not easily conform to the predictability of an equal and opposite reaction.

To be clear, she is not saying economics should look to the quantum model to figure everything out. She just makes the point that scientific models have shifted as observations about the world have been tested and economics seemed to glom on to a convenient metaphor/model that conformed to a desired outcome.

 

 

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