Tag Archives: Janet Carding

Useful Dialectics, Part Five: Culture vs. Values

18778753910_fb1cc44d4a_k

Values. CC-BY 2.0 image by Flickr user Nichole Burrows

Values
Museums love to talk about their values. A quick Google search of “museum values” will turn up a long list of worthy-sounding concepts like Cooperation, Courage, Determination, Generosity, Integrity, Optimism, Positive Approach, Respect, Self-Discipline, Teamwork, Trust, Sacrifice, Volunteerism and many, many more.  Over the past twenty years or so, “values” has crept into the sanctum sanctorum of museum master planning. You can’t be a self-respecting museum without a values statement. It’s even part of the American Alliance of Museums how-to guide for developing mission statements. According to AAM, mission is purpose; vision is future; and values are beliefs.”  If you’ve ever doubted the power of standards, just go Google how many museums in the U.S. use this Mission-Vision-Values formulation.

This is part of the problem I have with values. They’re easy to copy, write and forget.  Jeanne Vergeront wrote an excellent dissection of museum values statements that concludes, “If values are to be authentic and effective, effort, tested [emphasis mine] beliefs, and even sacrifice are required. That doesn’t seem to be too much to expect of the beliefs for a museum that wants to matter or, perhaps, to be indispensable.” And yet…

Every values statement I’ve looked at fails to give staff any guide for how to embody them. Maybe it’s the archaeologist in me, but the clear gap between the lived realities of museum employees and the grand pronouncements of the vision and values statements seems to cry out for the equivalent of a middle-range theory to fill that ideological/philosophical gap. The size of that gap is clearly stated in the photo from Jan Gunnarson’s presentation at Alibis for Interaction 2016. He neatly summed up the trouble with values statements for me. “Values have a tendency to be bullshit. Translating them into a culture, actually acting on those values, is the really challenging part.” Or, as a good friend once said, “You can say the truth, but sometimes you can’t live it.” Like Gunnarson, I believe that culture is the manifestation of values, and that as a field, we need to spend a lot more effort manifesting.

Gunnarson

“Values have a tendency to be bullshit.” – Jan Gunnarson

Culture
The famous Peter Drucker line, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” is a mainstay of business school teaching for a reason. Substitute “mission statement” or “values” and the line still holds true. Many museums have great-sounding visions and missions, but workplace cultures that do little to deliver those values and mostly maintain the traditional way of being a museum. Harking back to the post on design vs tradition, it’s hard to evolve without reflecting on why we do what we do, and evaluate it’s efficacy constantly, and do something differently if we’re not getting closer to our goals.

This reflecting in action and reflecting on action goes back not only to Schön, but all the way back to Dewey and his conception of intelligent action. Dewey called it dogma rather than tradition, but the idea is similar, the unquestioned assumptions that have authority over our actions. For Gillie Bolton, reflective practice requires us practitioners to pay “critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. This leads to developmental insight”. Does how you spend your workdays reflect the values of your organization. If so, how? If not, why?

Building a digital culture

“A digital culture will get you through a time without a digital strategy much more than a digital strategy will get you through a time without a digital culture”

–  Nick Poole

Since my current position is in digital media, I tend to focus on all things digital. Hence the fixation on digital transformation as a desirable outcome for museums. All the digitally-inspired examples I use are not meant to indicate that what I’m talking about only applies to the digital realm. Insert your own specific interests and I think you’ll see that the examples still hold up. Let me know if they don’t.

For me, having goals like “digital transformation” and values like “digitally literate” aren’t sufficient in and of themselves. Figuring out how we concretely act on those values, is the part requiring conscious effort and labor. Janet Carding, in her CODE|WORDS essay on change, wroteI think that we won’t create museums that are appropriate for the digital age without changing our organizational cultures and how we work.” Our culture, the manifestation of those values, is everywhere; in our org charts, how we hold our meetings, the schema behind our repositories, our labels.

All of these are the designable surfaces upon which managers can design new processes and ways of doing business that consciously attempt to reach up towards the values and missions of our institutions.

Conclusion

When I started on this series of posts, I was trying to understand the forces that seemed to tug at me when thinking about new projects and work. These dialectics I’d been collecting for awhile reflect the opposing forces that are always at play. If you’re designing a project to be more network-oriented, it will be less hierarchical and therefore probably create issues within your hierarchy. If you’re using a traditional model, it’ll be a challenge to try to design it differently.

When Ariana French first asked me to join her panel on “Breaking out of the Rut” I had this clear idea that there was a dimension of thinking around scoping new projects that I did half-consciously at best and wanted to be more explicit about. In addition to getting work done efficiently, there were a crop of considerations that could apply to any project to make it more reflective and productive in terms of creating what Nick Poole calls “a culture that is biased towards doing new things rather than towards the past.”

So for project managers looking to incorporate innovation into their teams, I’ve boiled down my ramblings about dialectics is into five questions you might ask yourself at the launch of any new project:

  • Should this project aim to be transformational or bring about more discrete change?
  • To what extent should this project design its own process, or use traditional ones?
  • Does this project derive its value from creating a network of actors, or as a hierarchy?
  • How should this project increase professional literacy, fluency, or both?
  • How should this project create culture that actually manifests (or creates) values we support?

I’ll try it out on the crowd at MCN and see how it goes over. Fingers crossed!

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Useful Dialectics, Part Four – Literacy vs. fluency

Digital literacy “..is essential to improving technical infrastructure and workflows. Digital literacy needs to be achieved across the board, especially in the context of museum leadership.”  

The New Media Consortium “Horizon Report: 2016 Museum Edition

Muse_reading_Louvre_CA2220

Muse reading a volumen (scroll) by the Klügmann Painter. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Here we are now, four post into this series, with another dialectic to ponder. I started off looking at change and transformation, design and tradition, and hierarchy and network. In this post, I want to explore the tension between literacy and fluency, and how confusing them shackles museums and perpetuates an unhealthy perception of digital skills as “other” and therefore not central to museums’ operation in the 21st century. And for extra points, we won’t just stay in the cozy realm of digital literacy, but wander a bit into museum literacy.

Literacy 

One challenge that I often hear executives mention is the mismatch between their current staff and their digital ambitions. “It’ll cost too much to hire a shedload of programmers!” they say, and that’s usually the end of that. Implicit in that statement is the mindset that “digital” is a domain that needs to be understood at least as well as any curatorial domain if anything is to be done. Since museums derive their authority from the expertise of their staff, it follows that without that same level of digital expertise, they’re helpless.

According to Wikipedia,

“Digital literacy is the set of competencies required for full participation in a knowledge society. It includes knowledge, skills, and behaviors involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. While digital literacy initially focused on digital skills and stand-alone computers, the focus has shifted from stand-alone to network devices including the Internet and social media. The term digital literacy was simplified by Paul Gilster in his 1997 book Digital Literacy. Gilster described digital literacy as the usage and comprehension of information in the digital age. He also emphasized the importance of digital technologies as an “essential life skill.””

Notice that nowhere in there does it say anything about becoming a programmer or learning PHP.  In the same way that you don’t need to be an automotive mechanic to drive a car, you don’t need to be computer scientist or engineer to use digital tools. When she was Director of the ROM, Janet Carding told me that one of her goals for her staff was that they be able to perform their own basic AV troubleshooting without requiring dedicated AV staff to turn on projectors in meeting rooms, plug in laptops, and the other digital minutia of the modern workplace. When I expressed surprise, she reminded me that typing used to be a specialized skill restricted to “typists”. They went to special schools to learn how to do it well and very quickly. Big organizations had whole offices full of these specialists. Sending out a letter was next to impossible without them. Now, everybody types their own damned letters (or emails) and the typist has gone the way of the lamplighter. Figuring out to plug your laptop into the screen in the meeting room shouldn’t be any different. The postdigital workplace doesn’t require a staff brimming with digital specialists. It requires a staff with enough confidence and training to use the tools at hand. The next step, building new tools to solve museums’ specific challenges, also requires staff who deeply understand those tools and can build new ones. It’s not an either/or situation, but a both/and situation.

Stop kicking the can down the road

I often hear senior executives talk about the lack of skills their staff have and how they need to wait until more “digital natives” enter the workforce, and a new generation of leaders arise. First off, that’s bullshit, and second, I have little patience with this kind of kicking the can down the road. Digital maturity is not really a generational issue, it’s a cultural one. Designing a work culture where continuous staff development is part of the landscape is the only way to escape the dilemma of having staff who don’t know how to use use the latest tools. Today’s 25-year-olds will be just as ill-equipped to deal with the technologies developed five years hence unless we design a culture that “bakes in” staff development as something we all do, all the time, as a regular part of being alive in an age of digital abundance. Among the many smart things he says, Robert Weisberg recently wrote about The Event Horizon of Digital Skills and Museum Staff, where he summed up the dilemma, writing, “The growth of digital initiatives requires the continuous development of digital literacy … . This shift involves staff becoming more aware of the museum’s collection of systems, cultures, values, and processes holistically in order to move an organization beyond silo-based, project-oriented thinking.”  I discussed some of different museums’ efforts to understand their digital ecosystems in my post on the Museum Stack, which is worth a peek, especially the different kinds of stacks people have proposed.  Finally,  the latest edition of The New Media Consortium’s “Horizon Report: 2016 Museum Edition”, suggests that this kind of literacy, not fluency, “..is essential to improving technical infrastructure and workflows. Digital literacy needs to be achieved across the board, especially in the context of museum leadership.” The skill dilemma is not a storm museums can wait out.

Building literacy takes a village…

Continuous professional development may sound great to some, but how does it happen in age of busyness and distraction? It happens because somebody decides it needs to start somewhere, and they start. Greg Albers and Annalisa Stephen detailed the Getty’s staff efforts to increase their own literacy in Making the Workplace We Want. Among their efforts, they introduced,

  • a series of 10-minute peer-to-peer technology classes,
  • new communications tools and meeting formats,
  • a 100-person on-site retreat for staff working on digital projects, among other drinks things.

Among the things I admire about this (and all the other grassroots efforts out there) is that Greg, Annalisa, and their colleagues figured out processes and topics that appealed to the Getty’s staff, and addressed the needs they identified. Their model might not adapt well to any other museum, but it doesn’t have to. They built the program the Getty needed. More importantly, I think, was their recognition that this kind of development is not someone else’s job, but everybody’s. I am very inspired by their willingness to embrace the idea that “individuals like us, at any spot in the org chart (we’re each sort of in the middle of ours) can and should strive to make meaningful cultural change where and when they can.”

…and some guile

There is often a stealthy/subversive element to digital literacy efforts. Max Evjen recently detailed conversations at Museums and the Web 2017 in a professional forum titled “Strategy 3.0: What is Digital Strategy Now” that brought up the idea of using the language of strategic planning as a tool to boost digital literacy efforts. For Evjen, “digital strategy” was a useful subversive technique in museums, because the word “strategy” is traditional museum language, whereas digital is not the traditional way of doing museum work. “The main challenge that our group identified was that in order to achieve digital literacy across the organization, cultural change is required, and that culture is dictated by museum leadership.” So, adding “digital” to the pile of things requiring strategic thinking is a way to bring it in from the frosty hinterlands of Specialistland to the heart of the museum endeavor. “More than anyone, we need to describe how the work of digital in the museum points back to the institution’s core mission.” 

At the Peabody Essex Museum, we’ve been engaged on a multi-year process of developing professional development programs for our colleagues and ourselves. I am continually reminded how much teaching involves learning as much it involves knowledge transfer. Professional development is a tide that lifts all boats. I can already see how the efforts are starting to pay off, in terms of colleagues trying new tools, new ways of collaborating, and looking at their practices more reflectively. And it’s not in the job descriptions of any of the people who have developed the program. Aside from me, the rest of the people on that team are not digitally focused. Which is as it should be, I think. This is too important an issue to leave to any one group of people in any organization.

And, because the universe is an endlessly surprising place, I can enlist a very unlikely ally, Count Guy Philippe Henri Lannes de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an eminence grise straight out of Central Casting. In a wide-ranging recent conversation with ArtNet, he said, “The digital tools have to be handled by wise and intelligent people.” He ruined it in the next sentence, though, by saying, “They cannot be left into the hands of techies, who will focus on the latest craze.” So, I agree and disagree with Mr. De Montebello. My experience has been that it is more often desperate senior leaders who leap on QR codes, robot guides, apps, AR, and VR. The important thing we can agree on is that digital technologies require careful consideration by the highest levels of museum leadership.

Increasing digital literacy should be a non-negotiable goal for any institution.

Fluency 

Literacy, though, will only get you so far. Digitally literate professionals can say, “There must be a way for us to do _______.” With some degree of certainty. Actually doing ________, though, requires professionals who are actually fluent with the tools. Pick a museum that has adopted an ambitious digital project in the past decade (Cooper Hewitt, Cleveland Museum of Art, SFMOMA, Te Papa, etc) and without fail, you’ll find people who are software developers, coders, UX and UI devs, database administrators, and so on… It is very, very hard to build complicated digital things without actual digital specialists on staff. How many museums have that kind of digital capability? Not many, though it’ not just a museum problem. A recent report in VentureBeat highlighted how far all organizations have to go. “Altimeter: When it comes to digital transformation, companies are still way behind” stated that “A lack of digital talent and expertise is one issue, according to 31.4 percent of respondents. And the perception that digital transformation is a cost center and not an investment is reported by another 31 percent.” Sound familiar? That a shedload of programmers I opened this post with will cost a lot of money, because they possess deep domain knowledge that translates into money. Solving the fluency gap is not nearly as thorny as the literacy gap. It will just require the will to pay for it.

Literacy, literacy. Which Literacy?

Digital literacy efforts as they’re usually portrayed are all about skill building; understanding how to manage data, intellectual property rights, etc. But there is also a need for domain knowledge, and that usually means bringing in specialists who possess those skills. Until museum studies departments start doing things very differently, those people will come with little to no understanding of how museums work. Where things start to get interesting is in institutions that have already taken those first steps and brought in digital specialists. They face two different literacy gaps they need to close. All their staff require ongoing professional development around digital literacy. And their digital staff require tremendous amounts of professional development around museum literacy.

Museums are not like for-profits, and people used to working in startups, or in the tech sector, come with a huge amount of baggage about how work gets done in “the real world” and when people are brought in because they possess specialist knowledge that the organization covets, it can be easy for them to assume that anything they did in their last workplace can and should be done at their museum. And that way lies madness, and lots of museum people hating on Agile, Lean Canvas, Kanban, and any of the other standard ways of structuring work that high-tech companies employ. Luckily, if the museum has already started working on ongoing professional development, the solution is pretty straightforward. The need for digital specialists to receive ongoing museum literacy training can run just like digital literacy training, and the colleagues who are students in one session can be leaders in another. And eventually, I think those museums will be the ones that get to the point where the distinction no longer means anything.

If you know of any good examples of professional development models, I’d love to hear about them!

UPDATE: I somehow missed the final paragraph in my cutting and pasting haste. Here it is.

Either/Or vs. Both/And

This dialectic, unlike the others I’ve laid out thus far, turns out to be more a confusion of related issues, rather than a real conflict. Museums that want to do well in the digital era need to address *both* the digital literacy challenge, *and* the lack of digitally fluent staff. Focusing on one to the exclusion of the other will produce results, but won’t achieve the kind of transformation possible by doing both. My strong feeling is that building a workplace culture that values continuous professional development will be the most straightforward to achieve that goal and mitigate the inevitable tensions that arise when you put groups of diverse specialists together and tell them to collaborate.

Next up, our final installment: Values vs. Culture.

 

UPDATE 2: I misattributed Max Evjen’s words to Rob Stein, but Emily Lytle-Painter straightened me out. Thanks Emily!

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.