He learned that lesson the hard way more than two decades ago at the system’s Seattle location. The Art Institute had just acquired the city’s Burnley School for Professional Art, and Pry was charged with leading the transition. However, instead of establishing a favorable reputation by touting student work and accomplishments, the president championed a full-out marketing blitz that lacked substance and subsequently hurt initial enrollment.
He didn’t make the same mistake in Pittsburgh. Pry has nearly doubled the student body in two years at the 1,300-employee Pittsburgh location by showcasing his students’ passion through public art openings, workshops and an award-winning Web site for the institute, whose 2007-2008 budget is $182 million.
Smart Business spoke with Pry about failure, creativity and how to make a great first impression on the Web.
Don’t be afraid to let people fail.
Make them learn from their mistakes so that they can learn to succeed.
In order for people to be able to fail, they have to first be able to trust you.
If there’s not trust, then people are going to say, ‘Hey, if I fail, I’m going to be canned tomorrow.’
I don’t care what vision or what plan you have. Unless you’re perfect, there are going to be pitfalls on the way. You’re not going to have all the answers. In order for somebody to get answers, some of them are going to have to fail to find what those right answers are.
It’s a matter of building trust and being patient with people. People see that quickly, [they see] whether you’re patient or not.
I don’t think any good leader doesn’t have a fair amount of impatience about getting results. At the end of the day, the only way you can get results is you have to have enough patience to let people do their thing.
The benefit is, you get way more out of people that have trust and understand your vision than you can get out of quickly rushing to judgment. What that does is shut down creativity, and it shuts down the ability to succeed.
The real benefit of allowing people to fail is saying, ‘There are all kinds of different ways to make this happen. Take the risk, and take the commitment to make it happen.’
Teach creativity. There are many people who have the misperception that either you have creativity or you don’t. Just like any talent, creativity can be learned.
It’s the ability to get solutions from a variety of different inputs. You have to teach it. We bring people in, and we start from the basics, and then we teach them to look for different types of solutions.
Sometimes, you need a model. Sometimes, you need to be put in with people who do [think creatively]. People learn from each other.
There are many times I’ve taken a particular employee who’s either obstinate or sort of has a mind block on various ways to accomplish something. Team them up, get them responsible for the solution so that the team doesn’t fail, and you make sure that there are a (few people) on the team who may think a little bit too much out of the box.
Develop your Web presence. If you’re going to be successful, you better have a solid Web presence.
You can reach thousands and thousands of people, and you can either leave a good impression or not leave a good impression.
It’s just like when you meet someone in person that first impression really sticks. You’d better lead with your best foot forward.
The first thing is, you’ve got to know what you want out of the Web site. You’ve better have a plan of what you want to gain from it. What are you trying to accomplish with the Web site?
The second issue would be, how creative do you want it to be? How interactive do you want it to be?
It’s not like the Yellow Pages, where you open it up and just try to find where this college is at. You want them to sort of get engrossed in it.
The third, obviously, is setting up a course of action to accomplish all of the various details of it.
We look at the Web results on a month-to-month basis, so we’re always keenly aware of what number of hits we have and which of those hits lead to action.
That’s really the effort and the mainstream behind a good Web page. It’s how you get people to take the next step. It’s a matter of sitting down and trying to put that in a visual presentation that leads people from step A to step B and, hopefully, to step D ultimately, wherever we need it to go.
We knew we wanted it to be interactive, to lead people to other questions and have those questions be available to them either by jumping on a different link or by working it in right there on the Web page itself or picking up the phone and making that call to say, ‘I saw this, but what about X, Y and Z?’
It’s sort of just methodically walking someone through that process and not getting them lost in the process.
HOW TO REACH: The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, www.artinstitutes.edu/pittsburgh or (800) 275-2470