MCN 2012 – Directors’ Roundtable

  1. This is going to be a long post on love. If you’re feeling a bit jaded, or just not in the mood, you may want to come back another time when you’re more open. You have been warned…

  2. The thing I love about conferences is the way they surface themes and trends that may lie bubbling in the minds of colleagues all over the world. Put a critical mass of people in an anonymous hotel and suddenly; magic happens! For those of us interested in museums and digital technologies, we are doubly blessed, because of this weird dynamic where we have two intensely dynamic, fruitful international conferences that happen six months apart; Museums and the Web (MW) in the Spring, and the Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference in the Fall. Ideas that arise in one venue often get expressed in the other in a kind of virtuous circle of innovation that I’m not sure would work if there were only one conference or the other and there was a year-long gestation cycle.

  3. Months ago, a group of us had a long talk about strategy and leadership over Twitter and then a shared Google doc which bore some wonderful fruit. The two main strands of that discussion involved broadening the voices in our discussions of how digital technologies can advance our practice, and figuring out ways to provide professional development around digital technologies, so more people are able to participate. At the Museums and the Web conference, which I only sort kinda went to, a lot of these ideas reappeared and got processed. This was timely beyond belief, because the MCN Board of Directors was starting to consider major new initiatives like MCNPro, as well as more low-hanging fruit, like “should we suck up the not-inconsiderable expense of videotaping all the sessions, and livestreaming select ones to maximize their impact?” I love that feeling of flow, when everything seems to build on everything else and new understandings rise up. I also love the way MCN commits to translating that into action, and follows through.

  4. The professional development part seemed to be well in hand, so I decided to focus on bringing new voices to the table. If you’ve ever been to one of these conferences, you quickly find out that there are two major tribes of people who don’t attend: curators and senior managers. And common conversational tropes are, “I’d love to try ____, but our curator would never go for it.”, and “if only my director would ____, we could ____”  What would a group of directors have to say about our pet issues? What kinds of questions would an audience at MCN want to ask? So I started sending out emails.

  5. And you know what? Nobody said “Get lost! I’m busy.” Janet Carding had never been to MCN and thought it would be good to see what it was about, and agreed to come with only the vaguest assurance from me that there’d be some useful role she could play. Eric had been once and thought the idea was important enough that he invited Dan Spock, who said yes immediately, and *then* asked for details. Brian Ferriso agreed, even though he had just about enough free time to drive up from Portland, attend the session and drive back. Even the people who declined, declined for solid reasons, Stephanie Stebich, who was flying to New York for a dinner event, even offered to Skype in if we needed her. Thus was the Directors Roundtable put together. It was my first inkling that the tribe of unconcerned, aloof “Directors” might be more of a mental construct we create to disenfranchise ourselves than a reality. By the time our session ended, that idea had been pretty well destroyed.

  6. I don’t know about you, but I am *not* one of those people who can participate in an event and live-tweet it, or even take decent notes. As the moderator, I was focused so much on the time, the mood of the speakers and the room, whether anybody sneaking out due to boredom, etc… that I didn’t have a chance to really process everything that came up. I can’t wait for the video to get posted so I can relive it. I’ll post a transcript too, because I think there are are cite-able pieces of wisdom in there. For now, though, here are some of the moments that stuck out for me.

  7. Everybody reports to somebody

    I’ve known this intellectually for years, but hearing museum directors talk about how they have to manage up just like the rest of us was instructive.

  8. It’s not just somebody else’s job to understand your museum’s finances

    Money and the lack thereof is such a sore spot. The panel was pretty clear, though, that nobody has unrestricted income sitting around any more. The notion that directors hoard piles of money that they don’t bestow on new initiatives was roundly dismissed. The money that does exist is usually restricted in some way, so everything boils down to making the case for why something has strategic value to the museum. If you can’t make that case, chances are good that it’ll never happen. And who’s job is that? Anybody who wants to get something done. Coalition-building, horizontal management, and just getting together to discuss how to do things better came up repeatedly. And none of these things require a huge budget and much, if any, managerial buy-in.

  9. PDXCollections
    “Technology is part of what we do; it’s not an add-on.” RE: Science/Tech museums . . . how to make this true of ALL museums? #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:27
  10. PDXCollections
    Great question, @shineslike re: strategic thinking vs. good ideas and how to teach not-yet-senior-staff how to translate/learn #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  11. richbs
    Using technology to increase access to collections will help protect tax-exempt status #mcn2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  12. sluggernova
    Yes! Janet Carding: staff reluctant to bring new ideas thinking they wouldn’t happen. Started workshops to change culture. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  13. It’s not just somebody else’s job to understand your museum’s mission

    One of the most unexpected moments of the session was delivered by Eric Siegel, who said that one of his most intractable problems was getting his staff to actually communicate up. People come to him and say, “I’ve got a great idea!” to which he would respond, “Great! Write it up and send it to me!” and that will all too often be the end of the story. Anything less than an unqualified “Let’s do it!” from him would seem to be received as a “No.” And to drive home his point that this is a common problem he offered up his services to anyone in the audience who had a great idea they needed or wanted feedback on how to turn into something actionable. He gave out his email address and promised to respond with comments in short order. And he bet the audience that his inbox would not overflow. And Dan Spock joined the offer. Two museum directors at your beck and call to give you personalized feedback. What an offer! And the silence that followed it was deep and complete. You could almost hear the crickets chirping. It was exactly the kind of dialogue that couldn’t happen inside our community of practice. I love being challenged like that! I’ll have to ask Eric if he’s gotten many responses. And, yes, I’m working on my idea to send him. And, no, I haven’t sent it to him yet. Go figure…

  14. PDXCollections
    Eric Siegel reiterates the importance of integrating/incorporating more people into strategic thinking at high levels. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  15. sluggernova
    Yes! Brian Ferrizo @PDXArtMuseum: Managing up. Try to put yourself in your bosses shoes. #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  16. PDXCollections
    “What are the practical steps that we can do so that the ideas that you think are important can gain traction?” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  17. sluggernova
    Eric: working on coaching people thru steps to success. Need to work on communication & involving others #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  18. PDXCollections
    We have a social contract that constantly needs to be renewed. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:28
  19. sluggernova
    .@shineslike: How can staff learn language of sr. mgmt to communicate more effectively re: new ideas? #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  20. PDXCollections
    “There are things you can make irresistible if you have allies.” Daniel Spock #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  21. PDXCollections
    BEST QUESTION: What is the ratio of people coming to you with problems : people coming to you with great ideas? Which is worse? #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  22. caw_
    Lateral learning, invite staff to teach you (before you complain that you don’t know) Likewise, be open to teach @janetcarding #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  23. PDXCollections
    “Learn how to communicate the core of your idea. [In two pages with pictures.]” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  24. richbs
    Teams are human dynamic chemistry sets #MCN2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  25. Leadership is about creating disruption, management is about avoiding disruption

    Janet talked at length about the joys of working at a large, encyclopedic museum where you can’t even assume that people have ever met, let alone worked together. I was struck by a remark she made about expecting something to be transformative being unrealistic unless it was intentionally transformative. Doing something new and expecting things to change is not how things change. And that’s where leadership comes in. Good leaders disrupt the status quo, and work to create a new normal. Janet’s example involved launching ROM’s latest website and how it is being built to democratize staff access. Everyone will be able to blog or tweet, without moderation or asking someone in IT to post something for them. The product is the same – a new website. But the kind of product ROM is making is much more likely to be a model for the field, because it was designed to be disruptive.

  26. PDXCollections
    “Museums have a built-in public face. Let’s use it correctly.” Janet Carding #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  27. sluggernova
    .@PDXArtMuseum Director Brian Ferriso: “I think NOT having technology is disruptive” #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir #MCNbuzz

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  28. PDXCollections
    “I assumed that any big project would be transformational, but learned that projects have to be intentionally transformational.” #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  29. PDXCollections
    “I don’t care what the technology is. It doesn’t work if you don’t have the right people.” Again, well said, Brian Ferriso. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  30. rondlg
    Giving people the open access and the ability to reuse data/information freely helps to make museums relevant. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:31
  31. And as a delicious little bon bon after that, Janet said she obviously couldn’t expect her staff to blog if she didn’t, so she guessed she was going to have to learn. That’s what leadership looks like. The whole panel demonstrated that same quality at one point or another. To say it was inspiring doesn’t do it justice. I learned a ton just from being in the room.
  32. PDXCollections
    Listening to @JanetCarding talk is like hearing lightbulbs pop all over the place. Totally inspirational. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  33. sluggernova
    Leadership: @janetcarding joined twitter to model behavior for staff & move things fwd. Soon she’ll start a blog #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  34. shineslike
    Cannot wait for @janetcarding to start blogging! Great to hear directors talk about modelling behaviour. #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:35
  35. cb_sexton
    @janetcarding You are inspiring me! Great leadership advice. Thnx #mcn2012dir #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  36. innova2
    @janetcarding you’re an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your fresh ideas #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  37. caw_
    Impt to see directors leading by example : twitter, blogs, etc @janetcarding #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  38. Tribes are useful, to a point

    The “us vs them” mentality is a natural one, and conferences, even ones as diverse as MCN tend to be tribal.  Sometimes, it’s wonderful, like when a newcomer realizes that they’ve found their tribe and that there are others out sharing their passions and concerns. Lots of hugging happens at the beginnings of these conferences, which I’ve never seen at AAM.
    That said, tribalism is a way to downplay one’s own ability to affect change. Which was part of the reason to have this discussion in the first place.

  39. PDXCollections
    “We need to be GREAT listeners. Much better than we are.” #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:27
  40. richbs
    Avoid “them and us” conversations. Different points of view are a strength #mcn2012 #MCN2012dir #MCNbuzz

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  41. sluggernova
    Hear, hear! @janetcarding recommends no more “us and them” – embrace variety of perspectives & see it as a strength. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  42. PDXCollections
    “See the diversity of perspectives that you have in your organizations as a strength and not a weakness.” @JanetCarding’s advice #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  43. caw_
    This session a great solution to that RT @richbs: Avoid “them and us” conversations. Different points of view are a strength #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  44. (As usual) It’s not about the technology

  45. sluggernova
    .@erodley at Director’s Roundtable “I’d like everyone to notice how little we’ve talked about technology.” #MCN2012 #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  46. PDXCollections
    “It’s not so much about technology. It’s about doing good work.” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:36
  47. rondlg
    Technology isn’t a bauble any more it’s a given. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:37
  48. weatherlore
    @danspock: Museums are better at generating curiosity than answering questions. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  49. rondlg
    #mcn2012dir People live their live anecdotally, the world behaves statistically. How do you link them? With stories. #mcn2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:30
  50. PDXCollections
    “There is a difference between a thesis and a story.” Daniel Spock #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:29
  51. PDXCollections
    “We have a desperate need for safe, rich environments that have the potential to make your kids’ lives better.” Eric Siegel #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:33
  52. rondlg
    No idea is too ridiculous: An Experiment in Creative Practice. #mcn2012 #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:34
  53. And of course, the quotable moments…

  54. shineslike
    Love that @danspock just referred to himself as a “meat space guy”. #mcn2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  55. PDXCollections
    Best quote of the directors’ roundtable MIGHT be “Boop beep bop boop.” Thank you, Eric Siegel. #MCN2012dir

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 19:30:32
  56. My personal favorite was when Dan Spock said that he saw his job as “not being a dick.” Priceless.
  57. For more information:
    The conference video (coming soon)
    The transcript is here! 
    Download and take a read.  

12 responses to “MCN 2012 – Directors’ Roundtable

  1. Thanks for sharing…great insight for a person new to museum work!

  2. Ed, thank you for making this session happen! What an honor that these esteemed and certainly busy directors participated in the MCN discussion. I cannot wait for the video and transcript. Love: “Leadership is about creating disruption, management is about avoiding disruption.”

  3. In another life, long ago, I was deeply involved with MCN, now with museum directors and specifically creating peer learning environments (http://www.qm2.org/Roundtable_for_Museum_Directors.pdf) for them. Managing boards and fund raising are the top topics, but technology is always there, too, and every director I know is grateful for the work MCN leaders and attendees to Museum on the Web conference do. Directors, and for that matter, curators, volunteers, security pros, educators, financial people, etc. show up when invited, as Ed did this time. Ask them often and give them work to do and they will gladly come and exchange ideas. Technology has become more important since the 1970s and early MoMA and Strong systems. The questions of for what and whom and how and how much are much the same.

  4. I keep wishing I was in this session, but alas, I was in a different one. Can’t wait for the video to go up. Some of these ideas would be considered challenges around here, and I may be busy in the near future justifying myself.

    • Oh, there were plenty of challenges to go round.

      I’ve got the rough cut of the video and my stellar intern is busy transcribing it. Hopefully the edited videos will be up soon.

  5. Pingback: What to be thankful for? Communication, and communications « Member of New England Museum Association

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  7. Reblogged this on The Kinetic Museum and commented:
    Stay tuned for the video post of this session, which based on Ed’s writeup, is likely to be a firecracker.

  8. Video looks great. My latest marvelous intern, Cira, has done a heroic job of getting it transcribed, and I’ll post it tomorrow once I carve out some time. It’s good stuff. Eminently quotable.

  9. Jackie Ibragimov

    I applaud Cira for that hefty transcript!
    I’m actually pretty surprised by the openness in the directors. I ‘m sad to say that the “them and us” concept has been subconciously rooted in my mind. I never even thought that someone so high up as a museum director would be so openly willing to have people come to them with MORE ideas and MORE work.

  10. Pingback: My Precious: Digital Protectionism within Large Museums | Edgital

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