Monthly Archives: March 2012

Next Drinking About Museums: Boston – April 26th!

Flickr image by Mr Kael

Greetings all,

Courtesy of Ms Jenna Fleming & Co., we’ll be visiting the Museum of Fine Arts for the April edition of Drinking About Museums: Boston. Given their commitments and the Museums and the Web 2012 conference, we won’t be convening until later in the month. But, good things come to those who wait. I’ll post a start time, what the potential program might be, and where we will adjourn to after. Keep an eye open for #drinkingaboutmuseums posts, and hopefully we’ll see you on the 26th!



Anatomy of a Twitter conversation

Anatomy of Twitter conversation

I often find myself having conversation with younger colleagues who don’t “get” Twitter.  So I post a selection of my Twitter feed from the past 24 hours as an example of the kind of interesting work that can be done via Twitter that I’ve never seen done in any other communication medium.  Especially not one where I was in my pajamas having breakfast throughout most of it.

I have done some violence to the chronology in order to keep threads separate, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few posts. This is the bulk of the conversation, though.

Somebody posts a provocative question.

Hey #musetech folk… Are we terrible at talking about what we do, and why it’s important? That’s the conclusion here:

Comments follow:

@shineslike after reading that I suspect many people don’t realise they’re dealing w technologists because we aren’t the dweebs they imagine

@shineslike but it doesn’t help that museums in the UK are probably losing tech-speaking staff to the cuts

@shineslike OTOH there are so many misconceptions alongside the interesting points I wouldn’t know where to start…

@mia_out That’s true, though even more reason to advocate for their value.

@shineslike breaking conversations out of the bubble has been a theme for years, shame progress is so slow!

A need is identified:

@mia_out The timing might be right for it to happen now? I think it’s becoming a personal mission…

@shineslike IIRC, non-MA members can’t comment on their posts, but as the MA doesn’t do digital, we don’t join and our voices are missing…

@shineslike all that said, museums I’ve worked with appreciate what tech can do for them, even if mostly as marketing…

@shineslike hard to say, people might be turning back to old certainties in response to pressure now? Will keep trying but it’s getting old

@shineslike @mia_out There is a def. need for ppl who can nurture these conversations outside of the bubble. Not a bad personal mission…

@erodley can we embed tech-savvy people in generic museum conferences? Though surely that happens already, digital is everywhere?

@mia_out inside instigators? Yes, it’s a q. of getting the right ppl together for the right sessions. Gotta get at conf. organizers.

@erodley as in, we don’t need to do PR for our tech work; we need museums to understand how digital changes the world they work in

@erodley though realised that’s aiming at wrong level; tech is used throughout museums, but getting it embeded in strategy is what counts

@mia_out @erodley This is what’s important. It’s not “look at this shiny project”, it’s “the world’s changed. This is what it means for you”

@mia_out Agreed. PR isn’t needed, access and examples are for the ppl who decide what their museums do.

Somebody has a concrete idea:

@erodley @mia_out isn’t that an AAM session in the making? 2013?

@sebchan @mia_out that was my thought.

@sebchan @erodley if only US museum conferences weren’t so difficult at the moment! But I could suggest good people from UK for it

@mia_out @sebchan @shineslike I s actually thinking MuseumNext as a venue, too. Needs a format…

@erodley @mia_out @sebchan @shineslike Sounds like it has possibilities, let us know if you need help…

@erodley @shineslike @mia_out Reminds me of a convo at the SIG lunch: once an idea’s mainstream at MCN, it’s time to take it to AAM, etc.

@erodley @mia_out @shineslike i think we’re actually after a more generalist event aren’t we? or maybe a Getty Leadership related thing?

@erodley @sebchan @mia_out These are also my plans (but obvs in Oz).

@sebchan @mia_out @shineslike what’s a generalist event in Europe? Here, it’d be AAM. Getty’s possible, and has leadership focus…

@mia_out @sebchan @shineslike I s actually thinking MuseumNext as a venue, too. Needs a format…

@erodley @mia_out @shineslike there’s always ICOM . . .

@sebchan @mia_out @shineslike I was waiting for someone to say the dreaded acronym…

@erodley @sebchan @shineslike MA conference in the UK (have put in a proposal on strategy for it), maybe wider Arts ones?

@erodley @sebchan @mia_out Museums Assoc UK has #museums2020 as their focus this year. Tech issues *should* be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, another simultaneous thread is going on about issues:

@erodley @mia_out @sebchan having tried to nurture museum science outside the bubble, getting traction for new topics at confs is hard. 1/2

@elyw @sebchan @erodley maybe it could be about showcasing impact of good digital design in projects presented? But again means valuing it

@erodley @mia_out @sebchan and you can run the risk of looking like a sideshow. But agree that it’s worth trying. 2/2

@elyw @erodley @mia_out @sebchan Nothing worth doing is easy anyways, I say!

@mia_out @sebchan @erodley @RyanD How to introduce concept of technology as something more than adjunct to exhibitions?

@mia_out @sebchan @erodley @RyanD: question posed by@NickPoole1 how to change the physical situated idiom of museum?:

@mia_out @elyw @erodley don’t think project showcases work. Needs to be examples of bigger transformative work. But probably chicken/egg.

The limits of Twitter start to irk:

@sebchan @erodley @elyw I was thinking more of pointing out impact of digital in other projects – hard to explain in 100 ch

@mia_out @sebchan @elyw @shineslike How about we move this somewhere amenable to long form writing? I can cut-n-paste it into a blogpost…

@erodley @mia_out @elyw @shineslike sure. just not a wiki.

@erodley @mia_out @elyw @shineslike shared googledoc?

And so the Twitter portion ends, for now. 

Out of nowhere, a group of people on three continents converges on a point of shared interest, self-organize, and find a place to work on that interest.

I like Twitter.

How leaders lead

I’m finally going to get off this current kick about leadership and vision… right after this post.  The past month has been so fruitful that I’ve generated piles of references that all bear on our work and I want to get some of the most germane out to you so I can move on.  Some of the most interesting reading I’ve done in the past couple weeks has all revolved around the qualities of good (and bad) leadership.

It’s not about you
Janet Carding from the ROM (@janetcarding) posted this tasty little tidbit from Scott Eblin (@Scotteblin) about one of my favorite attributes of a good leader; the ability to let go. Going from being the brutally competent doer of deeds to being the leader of a tribe of doers is a tricky adjustment that I’ve seen talented people mess up. Eblin, an executive coach, says,

 “To grow as a leader, you have to let go of being the go-to person and pick up the profile of being the person who builds a team of go-to people.

How do you do that? Here are some ideas.

  •  Allow and encourage your team to become an expert in the things in which you’ve been an expert.
  •  Raise your comfort level for letting go of what you’ve been doing and your team’s for picking up responsibilities by establishing regular check points.
  •  Coach your team to come up with its own way of doing things rather than giving your team the answers.”

This relates back to my earlier posts on leadership, because this ability to let go I think has everything to do with having a vision that’s bigger than yourself. When a leader has vision, it’s too big for any one person to implement, so letting go becomes a necessity if the vision is to be advanced.  This is how vision propagates. It’s big enough that there is room for lots of people to explore it’s corners, find out new things about it, and feed those findings back into the work of the whole tribe. And when I think about the people I consider to be exemplary leaders, one trait they all share is their pride in discussing what their staff are up to, rather than what they’re up to.

All three of these tips apply to pretty much anyone doing experience development work, regardless of your position in the organizational chart. “Relax, let go, and be a fluid communicator.” Is pretty sound advice for anyone doing exhibition development, as I wrote about before. As someone responsible for content development, I am acutely aware of the delicate balance necessary to encourage other team members to explore the content themselves, rather than having me be the only conduit. It’s easy to fall into being too controlling or too lax, but the results are so much better when you can bring the rest of the team along with you.

Talk, talk, talk
The Guardian recently ran a profile of Performances Birmingham, the charity that runs Birmingham’s Town Hall & Symphony Hall, and some of their practices that they’ve developed to keep a large staff feeling informed and empowered to do the work of the institution. They are:

  • Tell everybody the same thing
  • Give your team a voice
  • Never say nothing
  • Encourage creativity
  • Have fun on the job

The whole article is worth a read, so look at the specific examples they cite.  How well does your organization do in these five areas? Aside from “Have fun on the job” , all of these qualities would organically arise in a setting where a leader with vision, like the one described above, is working.  One can only let go by being an efficient and frequent communicator and a responsive listener. A shared vision encourages everybody in the room to be creative.  And the result of that, I’d argue, is workplace that is fun, without the need for mandated, official fun.

Managing well, rather than just managing
Eric Jackson had a very popular post on Fortbes recently that looked why people leave big companies. As an employee of a large institution (and someone who’s watched “Office Space”) I can resonate with most of these.

  1. Big Company Bureaucracy.
  2. Failing to Find a Project for the Talent that Ignites Their Passion.
  3. Poor Annual Performance Reviews.
  4. No Discussion around Career Development. (I’ve written about this before… 
  5. Shifting Whims/Strategic Priorities.
  6. Lack of Accountability and/or telling them how to do their Jobs.
  7. Top Talent likes other Top Talent.
  8. The Missing Vision Thing.
  9. Lack of Open-Mindedness.
  10. Who’s the Boss?

 The explanations of the reasons are well worth looking at, though they might be somewhat dispiriting if you’re working somewhere where these things are happening. You’ve been warned. The reason I include them in an otherwise upbeat post is because Erika Anderson followed up on this list with a further summation that boils that list down to one reason; “Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.”  Her recipe for how to address these failings is interesting. Her two ways to keep talent are;

 “1) Create an organization where those who manage others are hired for their ability to manage well, supported to get even better at managing, and held accountable and rewarded for doing so.

2) Then be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization – not only in terms of financial goals, but in a more three-dimensional way. What’s your purpose; what do you aspire to bring to the world? What kind of a culture do you want to create in order to do that?  What will the organization look, feel and sound like if you’re embodying that mission and culture?  How will you measure success?  And then, once you’ve clarified your hoped-for future, consistently focus on keeping that vision top of mind and working together to achieve it.”

It’s really that simple. Not easy, but simple. Managing well takes work on the part of the institution, and it takes someone to articulate a vision.

The bigger picture
So how does this tie back into all the fascinating discussions taking place around digital technologies, technologists, and new media literacy and professional development? I think Rob Stein’s presentation at the Salzburg Global Seminar and his follow up, “Is Your Community Better Off Because it has a Museum?” are good refreshers on the bigger issues that these current debates reside within.

What is the value proposition of your institution? Can you answer why your community/ies are better off because of you? There are many ways new media and new technologies can help deliver value, but they all require you to A) have a clear idea of that value, and B) be structured in such a way that you can deliver.

Related Links:

Scott Eblin, “Want to grow as a leader? Let go of being the ‘go-to person”

Nick Loveland, The Guardian, “Arts organisations need to engage their own staff as well as their audiences”

Eric Jackson, Forbes, “Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail To Keep Their Best Talent”

Erika Anderson, Forbes, “Why Top Talent Leaves: Top 10 Reasons Boiled Down to 1”

Rob Stein, “The Challenges and Opportunities of Participatory Culture for Museums and Libraries” parts I and II,

Rob Stein, “Is Your Community Better Off Because it has a Museum?”