“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” – Julia Cameron

“If you give people tools, and they use their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.” – Bill Gates

“It is great to be a blonde. With low expectations, it’s very easy to surprise people.” – Pamela Anderson

I am a direct descendant of some of the hardy folks who trekked across the country to find a new life out west. My grandmother, whose parents were homesteaders in Colorado, was a formidable woman, tougher and stronger than just about anyone else I’ve known. Much of our family lore (and recipes, including her delicious ebelskivers) come to us from her, as well as numerous sayings that have defined my life. “There’s no use worrying because the thing you worry about is rarely what happens” is one of her most famous lines. She always maintained that you can worry all you want, but it will be the thing from left field that knocks your feet out from under you.

My life is incredibly easy when I compare it to the lives of my own mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. My mom had five – FIVE – kids, my grandmother four, and my great-grandmother six. I feel overwhelmed with the imminent arrival of my second kid. My mom was a child during the Great Depression and in her thirties when there was still a white line on public busses in the south. My grandmother was born before most women had the right to vote. My greatest struggle is paying for child care and figuring out how to be a good mom, executive, and wife, all at the same time.

But I digress. It’s the second quote above that I’m thinking about today. And it’s not just about worry. I believe this concept can be applied to almost anything, including positive experiences: anticipation, excitement, focus.  Things rarely go as we believe they will, whether we are worried or excited about the outcome, but we can be thrilled by something we didn’t expect. As in, I can be looking forward to a specific result, but it’s the surprise that will knock me off my feet. I can spend a month in 1988 hoping that R.E.M. plays “Can’t Get Here from There” when I see them in concert, but it’s their performance of “Perfect Circle” that stays with me until this day. Or I can think that a certain process or result will be the most compelling, but something else will emerge that really inspires me.

At the beginning of our strategic planning process, I was determined that this plan would have an outward focus. That we would concentrate on who we want to be in the world, how our partners and friends view us, how relevant we are to the arts landscape in Santa Cruz. And our draft plan – which is crazy exciting to me – does indeed have that terrific focus. But the thing that is really lighting my fire at the moment? It’s the work we’ve done on our internal culture and operations. Yawwwwwwn, right? Bear with me here. Because our culture and operations will directly impact how effective we are, and how we are experienced externally. Plus, I’m an unapologetic geek about this stuff.

All I’ve ever wanted, professionally, is to spend time with people who share a similar passion and work ethic. I crave being part of a strong team where empowerment, respect, and inspiration rule the day. And also where positively challenging one another is de rigueur, as is acknowledging that successes are due to the work of the whole, not just the property of an individual. I believe the Cultural Council is becoming such an organization. And our draft strategic plan supports that assertion.

Soon enough, the full plan will be public, but let me share some tidbits. Here are two of our new “core values”, along with how we define them:

Effective, professionally run: The CC seeks and hires the most talented, collaborative, and thoughtful leaders possible for all levels of operational and program support. Through regular program evaluations, financial reviews, and a strong system of checks and balances, the organization maintains a high level of integrity, transparency, and programmatic strength.

Service Oriented: The CC delivers programs with warmth and compassion to create the highest quality constituent experience. Staff members who excel at this kind of service are celebrated both internally and externally. A focus on constituent experience reminds everyone on the CC team that it is an honor to work at the Council and that we come to work each day to serve our creative community.

I don’t know that there is anything in our former strategic plan that actually discusses how it should look and feel for board and staff. This is confusing to me. If we don’t focus on who we want to be as a team, how can we influence what this organization means to the community?

We build on this in our “Key Operational Goals and Outcomes”.  In our key goals, we discuss having a highly-collaborative team, making investments in our board and staff members, improving customer service, and empowering our staff to ensure a proud, collaborative culture. Two of our desired outcomes are:

–          Board and staff team who are highly sought after thought leaders and community leaders

–          A highly impactful, respected, and efficient organization

To be clear, some of what is in our plan is our current reality, and some of it is aspirational. Indeed, if you polled people on the street, assuming they’d heard of us, some would say we’re already there and some would say we have a long way to go.

What’s thrilling to me is that this plan will be our roadmap. It will make crystal clear to everyone from funders to grantees to artists to elected officials what our intentions are, and not just around programming and services. We are defining our internal expectations of excellence which will directly affect everyone with whom we work. And, unexpectedly, this internal work as been as, or more, engaging for me as all of the fantastic focus groups and community dialogue. All of it together makes me incredibly excited for the years ahead.

Our fantastic board president, upon taking over the gavel at her first meeting, said, “You are either in, or you are out.” She said it with grace and strength, and what she meant was, we are here to participate, to do great work, to respect and challenge each other, to make a clear, tangible difference in bettering peoples’ lives. Be here, do the work, put your passion behind this, or find something else that inspires you to take action.

I’m in.

At your organization, in your work, are you?

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