Wherein I Hallucinate About Internships

I recently misread the title of a post on Museum 2.0. But in that second of misapprehension, my brain flooded with assumptions about the subject of the post. I misread “A Shared Ethics for Museum Internships” to be something like “Ethics for Shared Museum Internships.” In that moment, I thought shared internships was a great idea and had a vision for how it would work.

Some of these assumptions were made in the context of the growing discussion of problems with unpaid internships, most recently an quoting former Sleep No More interns as saying there wasn’t any educational benefit to the experience.

One thing articles about unpaid internships have focused on is the idea that the experience is supposed to be educational and of no direct benefit for whomever the intern is working. Now the best information I have right now is that these guidelines don’t apply to non-profit and public sectors. But there are rumblings that this may be changed. And there is also the issue of just because you can use an intern in the place of a staff person, doesn’t mean you should.

What I thought the Museum 2.0 post was going to suggest was trading interns between companies, particularly between for- and non-profits. I had this immediate vision of interns at a bank working in a museum and the museum intern working in a bank for a few weeks. The benefit being that the future banker would have an understanding of arts non-profits and the future museum director/curator would gain insight into what motivated banks to support arts organizations (or what motivates individuals to give as part of their bequest if the intern worked in the the trusts department.)

While it may not be entirely appropriate for a non-profit to “act like a business,” this type of experience can contribute to a better understanding of the points of view of board members who are business leaders by future non-profit leaders, and those of non-profits by future business leaders and board members. Miracles probably won’t result from a few weeks spent interning in a different company, but it shouldn’t impede things too badly either.

Moments later, I realized what the real title of the piece was, but my initial impression still seemed like an interesting idea. Even if you didn’t do an internship trade, placing an intern to work for a week at the company that did your brochure printing or the hotel that put your performers up, would give an intern a better understanding of the work done by the close partners of the organization.

A few years down the road, the intern might be in a position to propose an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to both the non-profit and the commercial partner that ends up bringing them closer together. A closer bond would also be the hopeful long term benefit of the intern swap I initially mentioned. Once the interns had reported on their experience and moved on, hopefully the cooperating businesses and non-profit would feel a continuing respect and understanding of each other.

Of course, it can be hard work to arrange all these details. It is hard enough to ensure that the experience at your organization is meaningful and doesn’t relegate the intern to copying and answering the phone, much less to provide the same experience at other work sites. But then, the intern isn’t really supposed to be making a lot of copies during this period anyway.

Any thoughts about this, its viability and how it might be accomplished? I mean, essentially what I am asking is, since I already hallucinated the post into existence, does anyone want to write about Ethics of Shared Internships?

Hard To Pronounce Show? There Is An App For That!

We all know that an online ticket platform can make it more convenient for people to purchase tickets at their leisure, but a recent article on Slate suggests that it may also help sell tickets by avoiding opportunities for anxiety.

…1980s change in Swedish liquor retailing that led to stores being moved from an “ask a clerk to retrieve a bottle” model to a “self-service” format. It turned out that, not only did removing a layer of human interaction spike sales (by 20 percent) but it also led to a shift in those sales toward a large number of difficult-to-pronounce drinks. According to Swedes independently surveyed by the researchers, it is apparently harder to say Stolichnaya than Absolut in Swedish, and there were real challenges with French wine pronunciation as well.* So take away having to say anything out loud and the sales of the tongue-tied bottles increased by 7 percent.

Another example they gave was that online ordering for pizza increased the spending on each order. People didn’t order more pizzas, but they did order more toppings on each pizza. The theory was that people were more comfortable doubling up on meats or making a complicated order (like for a Starbucks coffee) when they could do so online rather than having to express it to a person.

Of course, that may not always be in the best interest of the consumer…

..the website induced more “double bacon” than “double veggies” orders. The picture painted is one of people avoiding the awkwardness of complex—and fattening—orders online and making simpler—and healthier—ones when they had to deal with a real, live person.

I oriented more on the concept that ordering online helped people avoid potential mispronunciations on shows like Antigone and Coriolanus or artists with foreign pronunciations like Stephen Colbert.

I wondered given non-profit arts organizations are in the business of educating, is it better to gently correct or even correctly pronounce the name when reviewing the order, or to just ignore the mistake and avoid embarrassing the customer at all.

I don’t have any research to show that this sort of anxiety factors into the method people choose when they order tickets, but the research showed that people deferred their real desires even when the opportunity for embarrassment seemed low.

Though anxiety over the ticketing ordering process probably ranks lower than most barriers to participation for arts audiences, it does seem like another reason for having the alternative available and easy navigate.

I am not trying to contradict my blogging confrere Drew McManus with the title of this post and encourage people to develop new apps, but many of the commenters on the Slate article mentioned how much they loved being able to place their order when they entered Starbucks or a deli and have it waiting by the time they got to the register.

It may be beneficial to use a ticketing service that offers those sort of apps so people can order in advance or while they wait on line.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive to constantly being up-sold during my Christmas shopping excursions, but the last paragraph of the article especially resonated with me. The author, Joshua Gans, notes that this potential for embarrassment also inhibits employees who are forced to ask for customer names, email addresses, store credit cards and extended warranties, from giving the best and most sincere service to customers. It can undermine confidence and goodwill if customers pick up on this unease or are annoyed at a time when they are spending money.

So in addition to examining whether your processes are making things difficult for your customers, you may need to evaluate their impact on your employees as well.

Economic Impact Ain’t Everything

Drew McManus cautions a little today against putting a lot of stock in studies about the economic impact of the arts.

I had been thinking along the same lines because so many people were crowing last week about studies showing arts and culture had a $500 billion impact on the economy.

The problem is, between 1998-2008 the impact of arts and culture on current dollar GDP was between 3.5% and 3.7% of the economy. According to a piece from Pacific Standard, arts and culture has been hanging around at 3.2% of the economy since 2009. When you are talking 500 billion, each tenth of a percentage there represents tens of billions of dollars so a .3%-.5% difference adds up quite a bit of lost impact. (Though the report was measuring where things stood in 2011 we are talking about a 2 year “hang.”)

From some of the responses I was reading, it seemed like people thought this was the first time the economic impact of arts and culture had been measured. It does appear that the criteria and methods are more refined than in the past, so the number may be more accurate. But as Drew suggests, people have been attempting to measure economic impact of arts and culture for quite some time now.

And remember, often economic measurements aren’t always your friend and acknowledging their validity can be a two edged sword if someone else can claim bring equal or better results.

A recent opinion blog on the NY Times reminded me that when it comes to economic impact and earnings potential for arts and culture positions, it is important to note that the figures are a result of specific decisions being made:

Is the crisis rather one of harsh economic reality? Humanities majors on average start earning $31,000 per year and move to an average of $50,000 in their middle years. (The figures for writers and performing artists are much lower.) By contrast, business majors start with salaries 26 percent higher than humanities majors and move to salaries 51 percent higher.

But this data does not show that business majors earn more because they majored in business. Business majors may well be more interested in earning money and so accept jobs that pay well even if they are not otherwise fulfilling, whereas people interested in the humanities and the arts may be willing to take more fulfilling but lower-paying jobs. College professors, for example, often know that they could have made far more if they had gone to law school or gotten an M.B.A., but are willing to accept significantly lower pay to teach a subject they love.

Economic impact of arts activity could potentially be greater if more people choose to charge more (or it could be lower because it wouldn’t be as widespread.) Arts and Culture salaries could be higher if people held out for more money (but again, there might be fewer people employed in those areas.) Choices have been made in an attempt to provide more widespread access and because people have been motivated by considerations other than money.

(And by the way, salaries start to even out around mid-career. Note that liberal arts is tied with medical technology, theatre with health care administration, history with business administration, and philosophy is WAY above both of them.)

People may tell you that back in the old days, people stuck with a job no matter how awful it was instead of pursuing what interested them. That may be true to a degree, but this weekend my mother told me that when my grandfather was working in the garage at a car dealership about 4-5 miles from their house, he was unhappy and bounced back and forth between parts manager and service manager and would curse up a storm every night.

Then he got a job at West Point Military Academy in shipping/receiving in the early 60s, and even though it was 40 miles away which required him to get up earlier every day, she never heard him curse after that point.

Not only do I know that my grandfather couldn’t be the only one who did this, I have heard interviews recently with people who lived in towns with good manufacturing bases who talked about how easy it was to quit a job in the morning and have a new one by the afternoon.

People may characterize following your bliss and studying a topic that interests you as an irresponsible and effete decision, but it isn’t unrelated to decisions people have made in the past. There may have been a good many people who stayed in a soul crushing job all their lives, but that may have been more of a choice than a necessity.

This by no means ignores that there are other forces conspiring to place college educated people in low paying jobs. There is more involved in finding employment than choosing a field of study and embracing the realities of jobs in that field.

But the choice to accept a job at low pay also contributes to the job being low paying. Sometimes it is because there are few alternatives but to accept those jobs. Sometimes it is because the applicants concede the organization has important uses for that money.

Salaries and economic impact are not the sole measure of value of people and their labor. Good thing too because we probably all have more value as soylent green.

Don’t Be Nervous, It’s Not About You

I do a lot of public speaking and am generally pretty comfortable doing it. The place I get most nervous is up on stage. In a classroom or hall full of 50-100 people, no problem. On stage, in a theatre, and my nervous energy starts to rev up.

It doesn’t approach anywhere near paralysis, but it is there.

At the last theatre I worked at, I got pretty accustomed to the space and the general energy of the people. But now that I am standing up in a new space, I gotta start all over again.

I took a little guidance from a post Seth Godin made about public speaking on Monday to prepare for my appearance before the performance we had Tuesday night.

In his post, “Speaking in public: two errors that lead to fear,” he says:

1. You believe that you are being actively judged

2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you

When you stand up to give a speech, there’s a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you.

This just isn’t true. (Or if it is, it doesn’t benefit you to think that it is).

You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged. The topic of the talk isn’t you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.

[…]

If you dive into your (irrelevant to the listener) personal hurdles, if you try to justify what you’ve done, if you find yourself aswirl in a whirlpool of the resistance, all you’re providing is a little schadenfreude as a form of entertainment.

On the other hand, if you realize that you have a chance to be generous in this moment, to teach and to lead, you can leave the self-doubt behind and speak a truth that the audience needs to hear. When you bring that to people who need it, your fear pales in comparison.

Not the simple advice found in, “imagine everybody in their underwear,” but probably more useful to you in the process of preparing for your moment in the spotlight so you don’t start getting worked up in advance.

Incidentally, this is the same advice usually given about marketing and advertising–It isn’t about you, it is about your audience and what is valuable to them. So you shouldn’t be spending a lot time listing accomplishments trying to justify your organization, but rather make the focus about your audience and how they benefit.