Peter Drucker Meets Arts Education

By Justin Locke

Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management philosophy, once said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”  

What he meant by this is, the purpose of a business is to create a product that people have never seen before, but once they know what it is, they instantly decide they have to have it. That’s what it means to “create a customer.”

We all know of the constant struggle to acquire government funding for arts and arts education, so maybe it’s time to do a fundamental re-assessment. It may be time to think less like a government lobbying group and more like Peter Drucker, and ponder “How can we ‘create a customer’?” Wouldn’t it be nice to be more concerned with how to meet growing demand than how to create it?

Without hyperbole, I think it is quite possible for artists to create enormous numbers of new customers. However, doing this requires that we get our cultural hands dirty. We have to step outside of the ivory tower, give up the safety of dealing only with like-minded people, and start to see the world from the point of people who are ignorant of our culture and what it has to offer.

If someone doesn’t have any interest in classical music, perhaps, instead of labeling them as an ignorant cretin, we should say that maybe it’s our fault that we have not yet turned them into a customer. If we have not created a customer, we have failed as business people. It’s not that we have a lousy product . . . it is more likely that we have not presented the product in a way that the customer can recognize the value it offers to him/her.

To clarify the process, Peter Drucker asks another question: “Who is your customer, and what do they find to be of value?” What do they need, what do they want, what drives them, what is their highest priority in life? Business people ask these questions every day, they demand hard data in response, and it’s time for us in the arts to do the same thing.

To make this go, let’s start by saying there is a big difference between craft education and art education. Craft education is mostly physical, just figuring out where the notes are. While some scientific studies have linked craft acquisition to improved academic performance, the real opportunity lies in the “art education” element.

When broken down past its forms and idioms to its purest fundamentals, “art” consists of just two elements.These are:




The abilities to perceive and connect are universally valuable assets. If someone gives a great speech at a political rally, that’s an artistic performance; they are perceiving their audience and connecting with them. If someone gives a great sales pitch selling a used car, they are perceiving their audience, and they are making a connection with that audience. If someone stands up in a courtroom and makes a compelling case for their clients, that’s an artistic performance.

Thus, if you are selling the ability to perceive and connect, customers are easy to create. Artists tend to hang out with other artists, so we lose perspective and don’t realize that something that is commonplace in our culture is totally absent in many industrial business cultures. They would buy it . . . if they knew it existed.  

I have met dozens of Vice presidents of major corporations that suffer from simple stage fright. You and I learned to deal with this at high school music camp, but people who missed that training opportunity are eager to learn it now. They would benefit mightily from, and would eagerly buy, this kind of arts education.  

Another famous observation by Peter Drucker: “Products rarely succeed in the market for which they were originally designed.”  One such example: who would have thought that medical schools would become patrons of the arts for very pragmatic training purposes?

People in various industries tend to fall into cultural “silos,” and artists are no different. But instead of just continuing to market to the same people in the same way, there may be a demand for your services in markets you never anticipated. Instead of pitching to the same customers over and over, why not think like Peter Drucker, and create new ones?

Justin Locke is an author, playwright, speaker, and management consultant.  He spent 18 seasons playing bass in the Boston Pops, and is the author of “Real Men Don’t Rehearse” and “Peter VS. the Wolf.”  Visit his website at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s