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Do you really want to be like Apple?

08.30.11 | 7 Comments


CATEGORIES audiences, conversation starter, Uncategorized

I promise, this is not another premature eulogy for Steve Jobs.

I saw this on Google+ this morning. This is an old video of Steve Jobs responding to a critic at the World Wide Developers Conference in 1997, shortly after Jobs returned to Apple.

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One thing immediately jumped out at me…

In the context of #2amt and my professional life, I see or hear or read artists and arts administrators compare what they do to Apple every day, looking for instructive lessons (so does every other industry, by the way, simply because Apple both makes cool products and is successful).

But what Jobs says early on in this response is that he starts with the customer experience, and works backwards to the technology. If you were to apply that framework to the arts, then you would start with the audience and then work backward to the product and process. And you might very well end up in the commercial district of creative work and the arts.

It is interesting that most of the arts pros that I associate with would like to be like Apple, but would most definitely not like to be creating commercial product.

I’m annoyed with this disconnect. My request to the ersatz Apple-emulating arts pros is to either shit or get off the pot. If you want to be like Apple, be like Apple. Start with what your audience might most need and enjoy (that doesn’t mean they have to know what that is ahead of time–surprise and novelty are pretty big ingredients at Apple), and figure out how to give them that. In the corporate world, that is what is meant by “marketing.”

But if you’d rather start with your artistic process, which I think most artists would prefer, then stop pretending that you’re going to be like Apple. You won’t be. And that’s OK.

Aaron Andersen

I'm the Sr. Budget Analyst at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and serve on the Board of BackStage Theatre Company in Chicago as Chair. I got an MBA at the University of Chicago a couple years ago, and I spend an awful lot of time thinking about and working to enhance finance, marketing, and organizational strategy in the performing arts.

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  • Exactly. Don’t change your “product.” Arts organizations are unique in that they’re product driven rather than market driven.

    But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from Apple’s “It all about the customer experience.” You can install more comfortable seats, as a start. So maybe it’s not about changing the product, but changing how people experience your product.

  • I couldn’t agree more. We artists have little to no idea who our audiences are. We don’t, generally, even like thinking about them much. But we ignore them at our own peril.

    • If you don’t like your audience very much, then why would you create theatre for them?

      (Generic you there, not a specific Gwydion you.)

      • Brett Abelman

        I think the common perception in the arts is that creating for an audience destroys our integrity and sucks out a work’s soul. We’re supposed to create for ourselves and then assume the right audience will find us. So, the audience likes us, we like ourselves.

  • Not incidentally, the market/audience focus is going to typically generate more revenue and demand than the product/art focus. Those who wish to make more money in the arts may wish to consider this. Not that a market focus will solve it alone, given how non-scalable live performance can be.

  • I always consider the audience first and foremost as I write.  Doesn’t mean I’m pandering to an audience; on the contrary, I write stories I’d like to see on the stage, and depending on the subject, I try to write so that the audience can keep up without talking down to them.  But I always have them in mind.

  • Sometimes I wonder about this artist/audience division. Speaking for myself, I write plays like the ones I like to or want to see. So in a weird, roundabout way, I am the audience too. This does gel with my experience with roleplaying games, where the creators of the content are the same as its audience (generally speaking). 

    To what extent is it likely that we often set up a dichotomy between artist and audience that doesn’t have to be there? What would our relationship to our work be like if that distinction was not there (or was at least heavily muted)?


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