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ReThinking Management - ReManage Thinking

On the 16th and 17th October, the Karlshochschule International University held the conference ReThinking Management. For the organizers, modern management means building a bridge between economic theories and approaches from other academic fields.  The aim of the conference was to critically reflect on the Western capitalist view of good management with regard to new contexts and challenges- a noble endeavor that promises to offer a lot for cultural management.

Cultural Sciences and the Identity of Management

The expectations on the part of donors and visitors of cultural institutions to the output and, in turn, the management of culture, are increasingly being focused on a handful of characteristics: being international, intercultural, digital, transparent and sustainable. Behind this are the multidimensional changes that equally affect society, everyday life, work, culture, and politics.  Nevertheless, many basic parameters of classical management have remained unchanged, although its focus on efficiency, functionality and profit stems from the historical-cultural context of the Western world and is not universally valid.  To make management sustainable, one has to be aware of these points and draw relevant conclusions.

This requires the humanities and social sciences. Their findings are only a small part of management research and an even smaller part is linked together with practical applications. The Karlshochschule, which specializes in management, focuses on this in both its educational program (description in German) as well as in its annual conference. Cultural management is relatively contiguous to the origins of the humanities and yet the cultural sector still often seeks to comply with the standards of classical management. It thereby loses its indigenous edge of conveying the tacit knowledge of its content for its explicit achievements.

Here, a basic failing of classical management is revealed: one uses a prefabricated toolbox in order to meet a set of measurable functions: efficiency, attendance figures, and funding. Such functions are abstract; they reduce complexity to the point of mystification. "The (western) myth of management stays alive even if it messes the whole thing up," summarized Ulrich Gehmann in his lecture in ReThinking Management. Management thus creates an artificial set of ideas of behavior and control that is geared at achieving optional functionality. With it, the chance is missed to use the knowledge of each organization individually.

As Johan Kolsteeg of the Utrecht University of the Arts showed in his presentation, this also applies to the management of cultural organizations and creative industries. Its goal - the balance between artistic and economic interests – could be better achieved if it would be open to the individual context, the actors and their needs. Instead, they are reduced to a structural analytical web. A new corporate culture with a basic contextual knowledge of management based on target groups, society, the economy, and politics is required. 

Due to the trend towards individualization and a fulfilling occupation, as well as interculturality and plurality, such management fields are not only important for external relations among employees, but above all for the internal corporate culture. Here too, new communication and interaction forms gain importance. For management this means that the purpose and identity of an organization can also be established in the hearts of the employee, their tasks and methods.

The Application of Cultural Studies - in Cultural Management?

This idea is not so idealistic as it sounds, as it is based on the actual changes and new values mentioned. With the study of the so-called ‘cultural turns’ the humanities have laid down many foundations for this in the last few years. They are the foundations of equality in communication and in common understanding. How this can be applied was shown in the speech by Doris Bachmann-Medick for ReThinking Management. Her theses, which already appeared as a book, are very successful and have strongly influenced the academic understanding of management. They make clear that management embraces all areas that are affected by cultural and communicative characteristics so that the consideration of these features, through the help of cultural turns, positively influences the output of an organization. These are taken more into account than a situationally applicable toolbox and can hardly be seen as separable or applied individually:

•    The translational turn deals with the characteristics and possibilities of language and rhetoric. Basic knowledge in this area is important for dealing with partners and employees with diverse backgrounds, in other words for the entire organizational structure.
•    Also the study of socially ritualized and individual behavior, the performative turn, can improve the functioning of the interplay within and outside an organization. Closely bound to this is the embodiment or in other words the body language.  In cultural management, this, as Dagmar Abfalter presented in her speech, is often portrayed using the example of the conductor.  This area goes far beyond rationality.
•    The interpretive and the pictorial turn extend this to the area of the communication via symbolization, meaning and understanding. Silke Schmidt showed, using the example of storytelling, how metaphors and stories can contribute positively to setting the value and goals of a company for both employees and customers. Storytelling as well as logographic languages are historical heritage and are much better suited for bringing thoughts the point and shedding light on ideas than rational language.
•    Finally, the spatial turn takes up the theme of space and explores how jobs and work environments affect the work itself, be it in terms of noise level, communication and creativity. Accordingly, Tobias Klingenmayer presented conceptions of space as an object of knowledge, as a metaphor and as a tool for organizational change.

The cultural turns are, therefore, not simply new research topics in the humanities. They utilize social trends to achieve better communication, an altered self-image as an employer, employee and organization, as well as pick up the new values of the society, attempting to understand them through the appropriate questions and responding to them accordingly.

ReManage Thinking


So that science doesn’t simply investigate current topics, but that these findings are also transferred back into society and the economy, these points themselves also bear responsibility. However, there is a problem here that conferences such as ReThinking Management identify: from intense exchange and the development of new approaches, the practitioners - also from the cultural management sector - are missing.

Their task should be in fact to acquire new models in order to reduce the much-lamented sense of helplessness.  Corresponding however to the cultural turns and its fundamental principle, namely, putting the people at the forefront, are the contents and learning aspects of culture: the questioning of facts, figures, and generally accepted knowledge, understanding contexts,  and learning appreciation and tolerance. The application of the findings of the humanities and cultural sciences for management thus provides the cultural sector the chance to improve the feedback between cultural and managerial research and implementation, as well as embody these values.

Currently there is still one shortcoming - ReThinking Management also made this clear - that modes of action are hard to grasp when they are not backed up by figures.  Potential supporters are poorly convinced by improvements that are merely perceived. It is therefore an exciting task for cultural management, on the basis of a design-thinking–lab character, to theoretically develop the appropriate tools and to try them out in a test phase. Here too, the documentation of failures is important in the research and application of cultural management so that the excessive production of in-house "bullshit", as Andre Spicer phrased it in Karlsruhe, is avoided. 

What he makes note of in regard to companies is also valid for culture to the same extent: the larger the organization, the more it is based on their image, both externally and within. It conveys to its employees and customers values and an appearance of perfection, which in turn come across as being fake. Neither does this bring the desired attention nor does it create a bond for employees or visitors.  And yet, this institutionalized gloss is firmly anchored in the minds of marketing executives.  Management and the self-awareness to rethink is thereby the first theoretical step. For Spicer however, Redoing, a form of "bullshit replacement management" for all parts of an organization- is the crucial runner up, overcoming the gap dividing theory and practice.

Management Topic: Policy & Research
Cultural Area: Public+Academic Sector
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Nov 04, 2014