My own background is in the cultural sector and later I also studied at business school, so I’m comfortable with business jargon but at the same time I understand the sensitivities within the arts about business vocabulary. Recently, in preparing a training workshop for arts organisations I was asked not to use the term ‘customers’ but use ‘audience’ instead. It’s a matter of choosing vocabulary appropriate to the context. In my book I feature the Windows Project, a cultural enterprise which devised a ‘Development Plan’ rather than a ‘Business Plan’ because that term fitted better with their ethos. Despite its name, it’s as robust as any business plan from the commercial sector.
The cultural sector can and should learn from other sectors, but it’s a matter of sensitively adapting techniques to fit into a different context - and maybe changing the terminology too. Equally, the commercial sector can learn from the cultural sector, but need to see what’s actually happening rather than being put off by the lack of business jargon. For example, I’ve been engaged by international corporations for revealing to them management techniques which are commonplace in the arts world, but I’ve expressed them in business-speak to make them more acceptable to pin-striped clients.
So it’s the terminology that’s the issue, not the reality. Lack of business jargon doesn’t indicate an absence of smart ‘business thinking’. It’s a point worth making, for two reasons. Firstly to dispel the myth outside the arts sector that cultural organisations are somehow ‘amateur’, simply because they use different language. Secondly to challenge the belief held by some in the cultural sector itself that using business terminology to describe what they do inevitably means somehow ‘selling out’.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not we choose to use the jargon of business. What really matters is being clear about our definitions of ‘success’ and then achieving it. Then we can all become even more successful by using appropriate management methods and techniques which fit the objectives and ethos of our organisations - in the cultural sector or elsewhere - whatever vocabulary we choose to use.