Tag Archives: Janet Carding

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.  

Making a museum from scratch: Part Two – inspirational readings

The comments on Part Two have been really fascinating to read and take in.  Addressing your feedback has been very important to me, so Part Three is still cooking. And a core part of that practice is finding other information in the world to help make a point, provide examples, or provoke assumptions. Seemingly everything coming onto my screen this week has had relevance to this exercise, so I thought I’d pass along some of the background reading I’d been doing while writing the next post.

New models
1) Nina Simon’s latest book club subject on her Museum 2.0 blog  is “Blueprint” the fascinating chronicle of the abortive attempt to create a Dutch Museum of National History.  It’s a great read, and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

2) In the same vein, Science Gallery, Dublin has posted an open call for “GAME” their new exhibition on the future of play. I haven’t been (yet) but I’m intrigued by Science Gallery’s  vision, to be “a dynamic new model for public engagement at the interface between science and the arts.” Among the differences, they tout five factors:

  1. Our flexibility – five dynamic, changing programmes per year, with no permanent exhibition;
  2. Our focus on 15 – 25 year olds as our core target audience bridging high school, university and early stage career;
  3. Our open call process – Science Gallery crowd-sources its installations and events on broad themes linking science, technology and the arts;
  4. Our fresh approach to connecting the university and the city –  bringing university research groups, staff and students into dialogue with the arts and creative community and the public; and
  5. Our Leonardo Group – 50 inspirational individuals drawn from the local creative community of scientists, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs who feed ideas into the development of Science Gallery exhibitions and events.

No permanent exhibition? The whole place becomes whatever the current exhibition is? Very interesting…

New ways of being
3) Rich Cherry tweeted a great nugget from Seth Godin called, . “The quickest way to get things done and make change”  that also bears on our discussions

“Not the easiest, but the quickest:
Don’t demand authority.
Eagerly take responsibility.
Relentlessly give credit.”

Easy to write. Much harder to live, but if they could baked into the DNA of a new organization, how might those sentiments express themselves?

4) Following on the call to eschew demanding authority, Maria Popova posted a short review of a book on on storytelling and the search for meaning. “The Spirituality of Imperfection” The title alone was enough to interest me, but what caught my eye and made me add it to this list was Popova’s assertion that the book “is really about cultivating our capacity for uncertainty, for mystery, for having the right questions rather than the right answers.”

Living and working in an institution that is very concerned with both “being right” and getting visitors to ask the right questions, this book seems like it’ll be getting added to my list at the bookstore soon. So many modern museuological concerns, like the authority crisis, the (mis)appropriation of curation, participatory culture, and more, all relate to this need to both know, and be “right.”

5) This notion of being in the storytelling business amplifies something Seb Chan has posted on Fresh and New(er). We’ve been talking for some time about the lack of magic in museum exhibitions, particularly science museums. Go read “On Sleep No More, magic and immersive storytelling” and read it all the way through, because Seb’s saves his best questions for the very end.

6) Turning data into information is one way museums tell their stories. Mia Ridge tweeted this little gem that goes right to the heart of so much of what being an institution with a collection is like nowadays.

We can propagate huge data sets, but can we contextualize them so that anybody else who’s not already an expert might find value in them?

7) Both Janet Carding and Mia Ridge forwarded along this provocation by Hadrian Ellory van Dekker, Head of Collections at the Science Museum, called ‘What are Science Museums for’  where he takes apart a dominant paradigm in my part of the field about how “problematic” collections are. What is interesting is that he doesn’t bemoan interactive exhibits as usurpers. Instead, he problematizes the whole perceived dichotomy and ends up saying, “Science centre or science museum? Why should we have to choose? Any science museum, fortunate enough to possess a collection of significant and historic objects, quite simply has to be both.” Collections-based or interactive doesn’t need to be an either-or proposition.

Truth.

7) Lastly, I can’t point to it yet, but talking with Koven Smith about his upcoming MuseumNext talk on “the Kinetic Museum” has been enormously helpful to me.  Hopefully it will appear in some form online so I can link to it.

Part Three is coming soon!

Vision, Desire, Attitude, and Focus

I’m stuck in them midst of rewrites to my thesis and too preoccupied to write much. But in spite of this I’ve had two competing ideas banging round in my head for the past week, and it seems they might be related.  How does transformation occur? What are the prerequisites necessary for a person or an institution to embrace new ways? I have four suggestions; Vision, Desire, Attitude, and Focus.

As part of the Museum Computer Network’s Program Committee, I’ve been part of some fascinating discussions about what the theme of this year’s conference should be. A constant theme has been the idea of “change” and museums’ response to it. This sense that museums should be doing something they’re not is persistent and I think a bit off the mark.

Change ain’t necessarily a good thing

Minot Light, Blizzard of 1978, from Flickr user cliff1066™

My beef with “change” as the term to define our discourse about the future is that change is value-neutral. The people who embrace it think of it as a positive thing, but to the rest of the world, that connotation is not obvious. Doing our job better or in some new medium obviously is a change. But death is a change, as is going bankrupt, getting fired, or becoming irrelevant. So, what is it that change agents mean when they say “change”? Is it evolution, moving from one adaptation to an environment to a newer, hopefully better adaptation to a new environment? I tend to think it is a desire to embrace the possibilities offered by new modalities, with the related desire to express our enduring values in new ways as well as in the traditional ones.

Seeing new ways forward
One way that change could express itself is in rethinknig our notion of temporality.  There’s a great article Allison Arieff wrote for the New York Times blog called “It’s Time to Rethink ‘Temporary’” that focuses on “temporary” architecture, but is easily applicable to museums with very little alteration. Liz Neely pointed out that if you change “buildings” to “museums” in the following quote, you get a pretty powerful statement about another way museums might act in this century.

“Kronenburg made a compelling argument that the experimentation inherent in such structures challenges preconceived notions about what buildings can and should be. The strategy of temporality, he explained, ‘adapts to unpredictable demands, provides more for less, and encourages innovation.’”

Embracing impermanence is one way we might approach our work differently.  There are obviously many more examples. But in order for any of them to be more than just “change” – doing something different – they need to be deliberate. In order to know how to adapt, you need to first understand what’s going on, and second, what you value – what are those things that you will carry forward with you. Then you can embrace whatever new methods you choose and do it deliberately.

Bushwhacking your desire path

Desire path, by Flickr user Kake Pugh

The future is unknown territory so how do you see a way forward, institutionally or personally, knowing it’ll follow an unpredictable path? In my post on the New Media Consortium retreat I mentioned Susan Metros’ Six minute talk on leadership and career paths. Check it out here.  All of the videos are worth watching.

What I found valuable about her talk was her advice us to think about leadership not in abstract terms but in very concrete ones. She encouraged us to ask two questions, “What do you value?” and “What influences you?” and find answers to those questions. Knowing these things gives you the ability to look at the lay of the land with its constructed paths, and see where you want to go and how you might plot a straighter course to it and blaze a trail or bushwhack your way to it. The question becomes how to learn to see not only what’s there, but what’s not there that might be desirable, and then to embrace that.

As I was thinking about those two questions, it became clear that one thing that absolutely influences me is my professional network. While I was turning this question of change over in my head, two people I am often influenced by posted about eerily similar topics.  Both of them expressed, in their own ways, many of the traits and attitudes I value.

The attitudes of innovators
Jasper Visser just put out an interesting post on the attitudes of innovative people and organizations, and it’s worth reading and seeing how you and your institution stack up. He ends with the following;

“Even if you don’t want to be at the forefront of your industry (all the time), your organisation and its people need to have the right attitude towards changes in the environment, such as a new social network suddenly popping up.”

And what are some of those attitudes? His beginning list includes:

  • Readiness to experiment. Even though not always actively innovating an entire industry, they are at least regularly trying new things and testing ideas.
  • Sharing. Almost all keep blogs or write regular guest posts about their work, and talk about it at conferences, opening up their work to constructive criticism.
  • Changing partnerships. Working together with completely different partners on different projects ensures a constant stream of fresh ideas.
  • Great people. Quite often the great stuff happens when a number of great people get together, “great” meaning people who are open to ideas of others, passionate and full of creativity and energy.
  • Focus on the customer. Every single great museum focused at least as much on the experience of the visitor, reaching and engaging them, as on their collection or stories.”

What does it take to be that person?
Lynda Kelly was apparently having a stimulating time at the “21st Century Learning in Natural History Settings” conference in D.C. because she wrote about her concept of a “guerilla-in-residence” – a more appealing vision of what we used to hear referred to as “change agents”. She posited a list of qualities, which include;

a guerilla-in-residence should:

  • Ask “Where’s the data?”
  • Have evidence-based discussions
  • Ask lots of questions
  • Look at absurdities
  • Hang on like a dog with a bone, be tenacious
  • Look for opportunities to mentor.
  • Be able to both follow and lead
  • Surround oneself with young people or positive people!
  • Show respect – be a thanker, get back to others

The full list is worth the read. It’s short.

The Internet is an incurable condition

Plugs, by Flickr user Brad.K

So how does this relate to digital media? Janet Carding pointed me at a piece Alexandra Samuel wrote for The Atlantic recently called “’Plug In Better': A Manifesto” that states that “The trick isn’t to unplug from our devices — it’s to unplug from the distractions, information overload, and trash that make us unhappy.”

I wrote earlier about dealing with cognitive loads, and her article is dead on. Particualrly where it comes to new media and how museums respond to it, we seem to still be very fear-based. Most of the people I encounter react to technological change, and grudgingly. What I like about Samuel’s article is that she proposes four attitudes to adopt to counter this and approach the digital not from a place of fear. Her main advice is to unplug from four things;

  • Fear of Missing Out,
  • Disconnection,
  • Information overload,
  • The shallows.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to see her reasoning, but it’s worth it.  Her statement at the end is pretty brilliant.

“The Internet is an incurable condition — but we can’t recognize that as good news until we find a way to treat the various aches and pains of life online.

“We plug back in because this new online world offers extraordinary opportunities for creation, discovery, and connection. We plug back in because we don’t actually want to escape the online world: We want to help create it.”

Which brought back around to a quote used to keep taped to my monitor from Mihaly Csikszentmihályi, “Creating culture is always more rewarding than consuming it.”  And how do we create that new world? Vision, Desire, Attitude, and Focus.