THE BLOG

The Planner vs. the Entrepreneur

08/23/2010 08:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Everyone who knows me well knows that I am, at heart, a planner. I plan everything I do, often very far in advance.

I have spent much of the last two years trying to convince arts organizations to plan their art four or five years in advance. I believe that this time frame gives the organization the time it needs to find resources, create excellent art and attract an audience.

Virtually every project we mount at the Kennedy Center was planned five years before it is on one of our stages.

While I can argue for the virtues of this approach, there are many who question whether I am giving up on spontaneity, the great opportunity that emerges, or works that didn't even exist five years ago. In other words, am I sacrificing my ability to be an arts entrepreneur if I plan so far in advance?

It is a good question with a simple answer: I do not believe there is a natural tension between being a planner and an entrepreneur.

The best planners know that their plans must be adaptable to change. If something changes in the environment, the strategy must change as well. It is only those who use planning as a crutch to provide order to their lives who hang on for dear life to a plan that no longer makes sense.

I always say I write my plans in pencil. While I have every intention of seeing my plans come to fruition when I develop them, I also know there is a likelihood that not every plan will be implemented, that some better opportunity will arise or some external factor may not allow for the quality of implementation I would have wanted and expected.

In fact, from my experience, the great entrepreneurs were all planners. They had a very clear idea where they were heading. But they were happy to grab opportunities that arose to make the end point achievable.

While it may be each of these opportunities is how the casual public judges the entrepreneur, the more careful analysts see a trend to the projects that were selected, and to those that were rejected.

What planning does is provide the highest odds that a project will happen, and happen well; what entrepreneurialism does is to ensure that the best projects are selected for that moment in time.

The combination is potent. Some big, complicated projects get planned far in advance. They are pursued with a consistent fervor that is required to make them happen. And more immediate opportunities are seized upon to complement these major projects. This past season the Kennedy Center mounted major festivals of gospel music and of arts by artists with disabilities. Each of these projects took many years of planning which paid off handsomely. But we also presented the play "Thurgood" that was offered to us just a few weeks before we announced our season. It was a smash hit. And we mounted three special performances to celebrate the arts in America this July that were planned only weeks before. Our season would have been the poorer without any of these projects. The balance between planning and entrepreneurialism certainly benefitted our audience.