Monday, February 17, 2020

Positively Social

I was planning to write a post this week about positivity in management. And, I think I will, eventually. I have many thoughts, and a few notes on my dark forays into, well, darkness. But, instead, this week, I want to talk about the positivity of social media.

Listen, I’m not Pollyanna about much, and certainly not social media. It’s a time suck. It’s false social and often poor media. It’s disjointed and siloing. It’s hateful and harmless. All that bad exists in social. But there are bright spots of good. That’s what I want to showcase this week.
Work for many museum managers has gotten real recently, I suspect. If your fiscal year i
begins July 1, you’ve gotten past the blurry fun of the first half of the year and moved into budgeting. You are looking at spreadsheets. You’re trying to make tough choices. It’s keeping you up at night.
At the same time, if you’re in this field as both an avocation and a vocation, you can’t help but hear the constant drumbeat of change. The quicksand of philanthropy is underneath, and our footing feels precarious. I’ve buttonholed more than one colleague to try to talk about real solutions for salary equity. The problems in this field are real, and so many of us want to be the ones to solve them. Though, these solutions will only occur if we talk more.

I’m so lost as to how we’re going to get out of the mess that is the equitable support of arts and culture in the age of billionaires. It’s a big ole mess, frankly. That said, I know I’m solving this with others.

Enter social media. I started a conversation about salary as a percentage of operating costs. Mostly, I was trying to understand how to make sense of the field. I wanted some outside perspective. So many people responded, like Michelle Moon of the Tenement and Bruce Wyman of USD-Mach Design Consulting. Their conversations with me helped me continue and expand my ideas. It might have been a moment in their days but it had a big impact on me. I suspect many of us have dropped a note on social, without much thought, that had an impact on others. It might not be social like your coffee meetings with live colleagues at work, but it is a social form of meaning-making. I am truly appreciative of this resource.

Which brings me to the larger comment about social media. Museums are a very small sector (though larger than coal-mining!). The scale might feel suffocating. It’s hard to be in this a while and not know everyone. But, it’s also wonderful. It’s great to be in this a while and know everyone. The power of connections is what makes this whole crazy fieldwork. I suspect, and tried to test this on Twitter, but didn’t quite hit it right, everyone is about three degrees from everyone else. 

Think about that. Everyone can find someone else who can help them within three degrees. I’m not talking about a popularity contest. Being cool or popular isn’t the point. Instead, it’s about being three degrees from someone who can help you with your thoughts. Or being three degrees from someone you can help. We’re in a position, largely due to social, where we can make collective action happen every day on social media. Art Museum Transparency is one good example of this; as are #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson and #Museumsarenotneutral.

What are the ways you can make a positive impact, one social connection at a time? 

Next week, we’re going to talk about how the quirky parts of our job can be positive. Do you have a story to share about something positive that resulted from doing the “other duties as assigned” parts of your job? Tag me so I can add your thoughts to this month’s summary post @artlust on twitter, @_art_lust_ on IG, & @brilliantideastudiollc on FB. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Positivity starts with you

Pollyanna was one of my godmother’s favorite movies. It seemed a bit like a fable, this girl who looked for the good in everything. I hadn’t spent enough time with people to be think it was an unreachable fiction. But the world depicted was so divorced from my own life as to be basically as unlikely as ET.

Years later though, I remember hearing someone call another colleague a Pollyanna. I was surprised by their derision. Pollyanna wasn’t hurting anyone with her behavior. She was just trying to do her best playing the cards she was dealt. But, then I found myself interacting with the forced cheeriness of “I’m happy” colleagues. They wouldn’t speak negativity because they didn’t want to take sides, say. Or they would only talk about the successes, say. There were also the people whose idea of forecasting the future and budgeting was basically storytelling and conjuring. These were the people who call problems  “opportunities.” These folks use positivity as a coping mechanism and a shield. They often project, and even push, their attitude onto others. They don’t dig deeper into negativity. But like so many facades, the ugliness underneath remains. Potemkin villages don’t flourish; they just shine in the moment of inspection.

Why do people do this? Seeing the negative, voicing the reasons for such issues, and then finding solutions are all really hard to do. It’s hard to be willing to speak truth to power; it’s even harder to speak your own truths. You might be fooled by others (I know I often am), but the people many are most fooled by are themselves. So, people honest with problems is hard. Now, honesty is not negativity, though they can be kissing cousins. Honesty is about sharing good and bad.

Negativity is dwelling in the bad. They can sound like the same language. The difference with negativity is that it persists, permutating and propagating itself. Negativity has a velocity that can feel explosive. And, negativity loves power vacuums. So, the so-called Pollyannas often avoid negativity, in the way someone might avoid a potentially addictive drug.  Negativity feels good, at once a release of energy and people validating your fear.

But like a reformed sinner, I know the cost to your soul of negativity in the work place. The toxicity can erode your well-being. It fuels you, while at the same taking energy away from you. Negativity can eventually colonize your mind, and like a virus, just feed itself.

So, how do you not fall prey to the pull of negativity but also not be a Pollyanna? I don’t know if I have a universal answer. But, for me, it’s a bit about vigilance. You are the only one who can remind yourself to not be negative. You are also the person who has to remind yourself to be realistic. You might tell me that you can do your best at being positive, but you are mired in a toxic workplace. 

And, I’ll tell you the fight is real. I’ve been there. But, the best thing I did, and I had the means to do so, was to leave. I also made the very conscious choice not to continue to let my mental processes go back to that place. Old mental habits feel better than your most comfortable shoes. They’re well-worn paths are where your mind, if not trained, will take you. You have to push your mind to other, more positive paths. And, putting up a façade of positivity won’t keep you off those dark paths. Your mind will take you there when you’re in your quiet moments or when the stress short circuits you.

Try this. On a given day, measure your reactions. How many of them were realistic, but positive? How many were hopeful? How many were about growth and improvement? How many of them were defeatist or negative? Be honest with yourself on these answers. After you tally your responses, try to make one more positive reaction tomorrow. Give yourself a couple weeks of being a bit more positive. Then assess how you feel. If this move toward positivity feels good, what does it hurt? Who knows—you might be glad of the change.

Pollyanna wasn’t a fool. Being positive is just as easy as not. If you aren’t pushing people into false positivity or shaming people for their level of negativity, your positivity can make doing work easier. And, I do believe there is plenty of good in every work day if you look for it. As Pollyanna said, there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” You are the one who can find sources of gladness in your work life.

Is positivity part of your work process? Tag me so I can add your thoughts to this month’s summary post @artlust on twitter, @_art_lust_ on IG, & @brilliantideastudiollc on FB. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Positivity, Time, and Work

Last week turned into an empirical study in my own personal goal for the year (being kind to myself). I had written most of last week’s post at the beginning of the month. I only needed to dump it from the temporary file into blogger, but I couldn’t find the five minutes. Sure, there were five minutes somewhere. But, mentally, I just couldn’t. And, I could have beaten myself up. I could have thought of the scores of loyal readers, most of whom predate my authorship. I could have worried that people might be waiting for my post. Or I could do what I said in January. I could let it go. I could give myself a break. 

So, instead of stressing, I’m going to combine the last post for January and the first one of February. The topic for February will be about work and positivity. How do we harness positivity to make our own work better? 

For me, one huge step is to be confident in my own abilities, and honest in my weaknesses. Last week reminded me of a weakness. I can ignore work as easily as I can do it. In ignoring work, or procrastinating, I add new labor to my docket. I add the labor of worrying about the work I haven’t done. The worry becomes a shadow looming over me as I do whatever other actions I’m doing with my time. Now, last week, I forced myself not to worry. And, I did a pretty good job. But, it took real effort to stop worrying about undone work. There are times when doing the small task, like just finishing up this post, would be far preferable to the ghost labors of procrastination. 

Positivity in work is about making choices. Which tasks do I have to do to be less stressed? Which issues can I ignore because they don’t need my attention? Which elements of work are out of my control? What elements of this task can I control? When can I enjoy the fruits of my failures, compost for successes? 

Making good choices requires knowing yourself. For January, I was originally going to write about a practical goal I’ve set myself for this year. I’ve been trying to improve my work processes. You’re often the best person to improve yourself. As part of that task, I’m trying what I accomplish each week, and marking down how much of my time is spent doing each type of task (meetings, email, etc). 

I also tried to think critically about how long it takes me to accomplish something. I decided to do an experiment recently. In my early career, time was vast and free, or at least it felt like it. My energy was equally easily replenishable. I’d finish things right. No shortcuts were taken! Extra effort gains extra merit. But as it turns out, there isn’t really extra credit in the workplace. 

For example, two curators can be asked to write the same number of labels. One gets finished in ten hours and the other in twenty. Neither gets more credit than the other (if they’ve co-curated the show). Furthermore, lavishing ten extra hours on labels doesn’t ensure having labels that are twice as good. 

Why? Museum work includes many intellectual labors that draw on deep reserves of knowledge and years of experience. The person putting in ten hours from the example above might actually be putting in 10 hours plus 30 years of reading in the field. The person putting in 20 hours might have only 10 years of reading in the field. So, with 3 times of background, the first writer becomes twice as efficient. That said, experience doesn’t necessarily help. Some people are so mired in their process, and with years of using the same system, frozen in their ways, they can’t get faster at a task. Time, therefore, is not an indicator of quality. There are those people who say but I spent 20 hours on those labels—they can’t be half as good. There is no simple metric to understand how to consider efficiency and effectiveness in intellectual work. A good label is insanely hard to quantify. Just as porn was famously hard to define, good writing is easy to enjoy and hard to measure. 

Good writers are hard to manufacture. I’ve long asked applicants to write a short label based on a catalog entry. (In case you’re wondering, I shred the output after the job is hired. Their intellectual output should not be used for my org’s gain.) I did this because credentials often inveigle hiring managers. Your old prejudices and hang-ups, your own beliefs about credentials, are hanging out in your mind, no matter how you try to avoid it. Then, when you look through resumes, your unconscious brain might move you to a certain candidate. It’s hard then to say you’ve looked at apples and apples. You’re looking at a Harvard apple vs a Community College apple, say. Over the years, I found good writers didn’t come from a single background or training. They weren’t similar in temperament or attitude. Some people can just write. Some can’t. 

So, what does this aside about writing have to do with my experiment? Understanding work, time, and efficiency in museums aren’t easy or universal. Everyone’s process is different, and if you want to understand work in your organization, you should start with you. 

Over the holidays, as it was my first at my new job, I didn’t take a vacation. My boss was away, and I needed to be around. In this quiet period, I did three wildly different types of tasks. I performed an analysis of my organization’s attendance at programs for the last five years, I created the decorations for our new music series, and I worked on labels for an exhibition in our interpretation laboratory.

Data analysis isn’t strictly my job, but I’ve been asking everyone to start using data to help inform decision-making. (Notice I didn’t say drive). I work with a couple of data-obsessed folks, so my analysis was somewhat easy. Everything was at my fingertips, and I’m a bit obsessed with using excel as it was meant to be employed. 45 minutes later, I had some solid graphs and a couple of zip code maps to pour over. I made some quick conclusions and walked away. Later, as I was sending my findings to a colleague, I told them the exercise took me 1 hour. The active time was one hour, but there was that percolating time. It was as critical as my active time. In the workplace, we often don’t allot for these interstitial moments. Putting in the time to ruminate can be challenging, but in the end, essential. Smart workers often chunk rote tasks and/ or various types of tasks in order to allow space for deep thought. Also, it’s important to remember in organizations, work is often accrued time. I wouldn’t have been able to have that time, or data if a couple people hadn’t put in the initial labor to compile my source numbers. So, my 1 hour of work was also someone else’s 20 hours of work. Was all this time worth it? More on that later. 

After the data crunching, and before my analysis, I spent time preparing decorations for an event. It has been a long time since I made things. In an old job, I used to make all sorts of things. I’ve probably made more coasters than I’ll ever need. Most of the jewelry I wear are old samples. And I feel like if everything I’ve screenprinted in my life were lined up, it’d stretch coast to coast. In other words, I’ve got pretty good muscle memory and a great facility with scissors. It took me 20 hours to decorate 20 giant lanterns, make 20 T-shirts, print 4 large rolls of paper, print 80 tote bags, and make 12 banners. Now, I’m excluding the time in bed when I dreamed up the image, the hour to make the image for the screens (done by a colleague), the two hours to burn the screens (done by a dear friend), the half-hour of driving to get the screens and back. Experience not only helped me be efficient but in some ways, it helped me be effective. I chose an evergreen image we can use for years. I focused on big decorations so my efforts were maximized.

But experience also led me down some less smart paths. Work is often about patterns. Imagine you date a crummy person. Rationally, in the end, you say, no more bad people. Two decades later, you might find yourself recalling dozens of crummy people in your past. Museums have a lot of tasks that are terrible dates. For events, for example, you might decide you must have this particular set up. Sure it will mean you lose a weekend, and your porch will stink of indigo dye, but it’s worth it. The mission is worth it, you think. Well, friend, like that bad date, the mission doesn’t care about you. And your choice (I’m looking at you, Seema) was a bad one. I’d gotten into the bad habit of excusing the overage of hours for events and fell back into that pattern. (Though at a particular moment in December, a wiser me stepped in. We ended up with some indigo blue bags but more white ones.) I chose to spend time with my kids over wasting time getting the right blue. 

That’s the thing about work. Every single element is a choice. You might say I need to spend a good deal of time reading and searching before I write that label. You might feel you do your best writing twenty minutes before the deadline. You might think you have to write something out longhand first. Those are all choices. None of those choices are inherently wrong.

As to the last task, the labels, I’ve spent countless hours and none. At first assessment, I’m like the person who took 10 hours to write my labels. (I certainly feel twice as old as many). I’m a fast and slow writer. When I finally get to writing, I’m fast with the keys. But there are hours, weeks even, of time falling into every rabbit hole of research I find. I probably could change this method, but I’m old and I’ve never been good with tricks. Instead, I’ve chosen to set up systems to accommodate my process. I do things that are fast for me, like data crunching and silkscreening, by rote. I choose to sandwich rote tasks with deep tasks to give me time for both. I choose to allot a specific, very short, amount of time for tasks that don’t give me a high yield. 

In the end, I think the prepping data was a good use of my time particularly given that did the deep thinking part while silkscreening. My decorations were a mixed bag. The production was a good effort, but the batch dying wasn’t. While the products are a lovely blue, the products will not appreciably improve the event and as such it’s a poor allocation of my time. 

Finally, the hours I spend thinking about writing are an imperative use of my time. Ideas can be self-propagating but slippery. Their trajectory is hard to track; their path tortuous but exhilarating. In a knowledge field, ideas are our ore. We need them to fuel every part of our organizations and to propel our visitor-engagement. Does my scanning Blaire’s Moskovitz’s regular feature on museum collection connections to award attire look like goofing off? Sure. But then, hours later as I wait for a meeting when her thread sends me down a rabbit hole of colors, design and the science of looking, and then I find myself reenergized to write labels, I know that I wasn’t a detour. It was the scenic route—the richer, more enjoyable path. 

For me, time has an eggs/ basket quality. With these three tasks as my baskets, I decided the labels would take the most time, and that’s where I spent my time. 

Work processes aren’t a given or immutable. Reflecting on the time a task takes and if that is the right amount of time can appreciably improve the way you work and therefore how you feel about work. In the end, you might need to work longer. You might need to do things a certain way you perceive as right. And that is your choice. I made the choices that made me feel the most positive about my work and my output. 

What are some choices you make at work to help you feel good about your labors? Tag me so I can add your thoughts to this month’s summary post @artlust on twitter, @_art_lust_ on IG, & @brilliantideastudiollc on FB. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

NonProfit Work and Us

Alison Koch shared these thoughts originally as part of Museum Computer Network's 2019 Ignite. As I sat in an aerie above the stage, I DM'd her to ask her to share her remarks here. They were that true and that powerful. I hope you enjoy them. 

Written by Alison Koch

I think us non-profit folks have a particularly complicated relationship with work.

Mission statements can quickly come to justify all sorts of bad habits and behavior, both as perpetrated upon us by leadership and peers, as well as the ways we often end up treating ourselves. I mean, we’re not not curing cancer. Everything feels like it’s on fire, sometimes because the rainforest actually is!

So, on the one hand, we have a meaningful north star – a noble mission – but on the other hand, we are struggling with a unique existential crisis, limited compensation, and sky-high expectations.

How might we re-imagine the future of mission-based work?

First, I think that museums need to think about their staff as a stakeholder group worthy of just as much time, attention, energy, and evaluation as visitors or donors.

What would it look like if we investigated staff turnover with as much rigor as we courted lapsed donors and members? We love a comment card from a visitor, but how can we gather better, honest feedback from staff early and often before they quit or leave the sector? And how do you act on that information to save the relationship? An exit interview is too late.

We also know we can’t just sit around and wait for a magical top-down change. How can we as individuals take steps to make this meaningful work feel like a sustainable choice in the long-run?

First, please stop beating yourself up. Don’t let the mission be a weapon you wield against yourself. You are doing enough, I promise.

You don’t have to start at “Yes”. Get better at saying “No.” Or “Okay, but I need until June.” If you are forced to stretch or sprint unsustainably, speak up. Document your concern. Explain. Advocate. Don’t just drink your coffee quietly while the room burns down, because you are also flammable.

What small thing can you normalize? What big thing can you break and rebuild? With whatever power you have, do something that makes other people stop and say, “Wait, we can do that?” Every inch we can move in the right direction course-corrects leadership and sets an example for our peers. It’s no small feat.

I’m asking you to stay. We need you. You are too important not to be a part of the future of our work. If we all leave, there’s no one to show us how to do it differently.

Alison Koch is a digital storyteller, technical product manager, design thinker, dog mama, and perpetual American Sign Language student, currently serving as the inaugural Digital Content Producer and strategist at Playwrights Horizons theater in New York City.

First Image credit: Paru Ramesh

The Future of Mission-Based Work

Usually, I'm really positive and optimistic. In many ways, I want to believe the future is what we can make. Though, sometimes when I do literature review for projects, I find myself depressed on the future of the field. There are so many possible futures that would suck. How do we make sure the future is the one we want?

Alison Koch offers her thoughts about this. I included these ideas in a month about wellness, because as you see from her remarks, the future is about each of us.

Written by Alison Koch

I think us non-profit folks have a particularly complicated relationship with work.

Mission statements can quickly come to justify all sorts of bad habits and behavior, both as perpetrated upon us by leadership and peers, as well as the ways we often end up treating ourselves. I mean, we’re not not curing cancer. Everything feels like it’s on fire, sometimes because the rainforest actually is!

So, on the one hand, we have a meaningful north star – a noble mission – but on the other hand, we are struggling with a unique existential crisis, limited compensation, and sky-high expectations.

How might we re-imagine the future of mission-based work?

First, I think that museums need to think about their staff as a stakeholder group worthy of just as much time, attention, energy, and evaluation as visitors or donors.

What would it look like if we investigated staff turnover with as much rigor as we courted lapsed donors and members? We love a comment card from a visitor, but how can we gather better, honest feedback from staff early and often before they quit or leave the sector? And how do you act on that information to save the relationship? An exit interview is too late.

We also know we can’t just sit around and wait for a magical top-down change. How can we as individuals take steps to make this meaningful work feel like a sustainable choice in the long-run?

First, please stop beating yourself up. Don’t let the mission be a weapon you wield against yourself. You are doing enough, I promise.

You don’t have to start at “Yes”. Get better at saying “No.” Or “Okay, but I need until June.” If you are forced to stretch or sprint unsustainably, speak up. Document your concern. Explain. Advocate. Don’t just drink your coffee quietly while the room burns down, because you are also flammable.

What small thing can you normalize? What big thing can you break and rebuild? With whatever power you have, do something that makes other people stop and say, “Wait, we can do that?” Every inch we can move in the right direction course-corrects leadership and sets an example for our peers. It’s no small feat.

I’m asking you to stay. We need you. You are too important not to be a part of the future of our work. If we all leave, there’s no one to show us how to do it differently.

Alison gave these remarks as part of her 2019 Ignite Talk for Museum Computer Network.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

On Staff Wellbeing

This month we're talking about wellbeing. Last week, I told you some of my thoughts about my own wellbeing plan for the year.

Before I turn the blog over, I'm going to tell you the truth. I'm a workaholic. It might be obvious, given a full-time job, consulting practice, and weekly blog. I've thought a great deal about myself. How much of this is healthy? From my own side, I have so much energy, if I don't find plenty to keep my brain busy, I can go awry. But, as a manager, what does it show for my staff?

While I've always encouraged my teams to take time for themselves. I haven't always done this myself. Recently, I've really tried to turn off completely. I sent an email at 6 PM on 12/20 to a contractor. I received an out of office saying that emails received until 1/6 would be deleted. Now, I'm not sure I'd want to make people resend their emails, but the impetus of that out of office was to create a system of sanity when you return from holiday. In many ways, that's the key to wellness and work for me. Make choices that don't make it harder for you in the long run. So, if the pile of emails after vacation is stressful, then find ways not to have that.

This thoughtful approach to work and wellness is at the heart of the blog post for this week from Laura Crossley.


Written by Laura Crossley

Our wellbeing can affect how we feel about our lives, jobs, and relationships. It’s an essential part of us and something that is precious and needs to be cared for. Wellbeing at work can be affected by lots of factors, such as relationships with managers and colleagues, the amount of involvement people have with organizational issues and decision-making, job design and the level of control individuals have over their own work, work demands, and the acceptability of flexible working.

Writing on organizational resilience will tell you that staff wellbeing is important because it helps organizations; staff who feel good perform better, are more willing to go the extra mile, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay at an organization in the long-term. These are, of course, all great reasons to support the wellbeing of your staff. However, I’d argue this isn’t just about developing more resilient organizations; surely being nice to colleagues, showing kindness and empathy, and treating people with respect is basic human decency and ethically the right thing to do?

Self-care is important and it’s helpful to know the things we can do as individuals to boost our wellbeing but it’s not good enough to treat colleagues badly and think that’s okay because they can look after themselves. Employers and organizations have a moral and ethical responsibility to support the wellbeing of their staff and (in here in the UK, at least), a legal responsibility too.

So, as well as doing the basics of treating people with respect, what else can organizations do to support and promote staff wellbeing? As a starter, I’d suggest:

  • Put in place effective policies for managing people issues such as grievances and bullying, make sure staff are aware of these policies, and - crucially – ensure the policies are followed if complaints arise.
  • Give staff clear information about how to get wellbeing support inside and outside your organization. It shouldn’t be a chore to find out where to get advice and help.
  • Promote an environment where people feel as comfortable as possible talking about their mental health and how they are feeling.
  • Ensure jobs are reasonable and appropriate and give staff as much control as possible over their work. If you are a natural micromanager, I implore you to please consider the wellbeing of your staff and learn to resist the temptation to oversee every detail of someone’s job.
  • Empower, involve and value staff; ensure they feel comfortable about voicing concerns and include them, where possible, in decision-making. Communicate openly and often.
  • Encourage people to take breaks and holidays. Staff are people, not machines.
  • Cultivate a positive email culture. Do not expect people to respond to you when they are not working.
  • Invest in training for managers to help them manage empathetically and in a people-centered way.
  • Celebrate individual and team achievements and say thank you – it’s really easy and makes a big difference.

These are just some ideas and I’d love to hear what works for you and people in your organization.

We talk a lot in the sector about how the work we do has a positive impact on the wellbeing of visitors and participants. We congratulate ourselves on a job well done. But if your personal and organizational practices are negatively affecting staff wellbeing, I’d say there’s not a lot to celebrate. If we are truly to become a sector that promotes positive wellbeing, staff wellbeing must be made a priority.

Laura is Head of Content at the National Football Museum, Manchester, UK, where she is responsible for overseeing collections, exhibitions, learning and community work. Laura is on Twitter at @lfcrossley

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Wellness and Personal Intentions

This month, the topic is wellness. Self-care is part of wellness, certainly. But wellness is bigger than yourself. In a workplace, everyone’s individual self care impacts the overall wellness of the organization. One person burned out behaviors can start a tidal wave of negativity through an organization. (That said, that burnout is likely a result of poor structures in the org; but that’s a topic for another month.) So, this month, the topic is thinking about wellness individually and how it impacts work.
January is the traditional month for imagining a better you. It’s the time when you focus on good intentions, and then at the first stumble, you start feeling like a failure. It’s a month of high hopes and low vibes.
So, let’s spend this month talking about good intentions but doing away with low vibes. The low vibes comes in part from the arbitrary nature of choosing January 1 as the date for your resolutions.
Time is a construct. January is the beginning of the year as part of an old Roman clerical choice. April 1 had been New Years. Some faiths have New Years in the fall.
Point is: pick a day, and feel free to make it your day to make an intention. But day two is often when the low vibes start. For example, let’s say today I’m gung ho about writing. I’m going to promise myself to write every day. Imagine tomorrow morning I have a crack of dawn flight and then a crazy day of meeting and then family responsibilities and then...Point is, every day is variable. Any one day can foil your plans. If your goal is everyday for a year, you’ve lost a whole year of dreams in two days. But, that’s because you gave yourself very little wiggle room and your intention was huge.
Now wiggle room is tricky. If you hope to do better in the world, you’ve got so much latitude anything will satisfy your goal. As long as you don’t call all your colleagues idiots and cut people off in traffic, you’ve succeeded in your goal.
Huge intentions are also tricky. For some people, they are just the ticket. These are also the people who’ve lived a life of succeeding in tiny goals. Their life is full of positive feedback loops. ‘Write a book this year’ can actually happen for them. I made that intention one year. Before that, I’d written many, many published works. I’d written essays, books, and labels. In other words, I’d trained. And success has trained me. I made a giant intention, but I’d set myself up to succeed.
Setting Goals isn’t like planning an escape room. You’re not trying to set up a system where you have a 99% chance of not doing it. You’re setting up an intention for something you have a likelihood of doing. Pick something where the odds are good but without work not great. If it is something you’ve already done okay, make a huge intention. It will motivate you, and you’ve trained yourself up. If it is new, set up smaller intentions. Like, if you dream of writing a book, set down mini goals: I’ll write 1000 words this week of free writing, say. But notice, my intention above is concrete and achievable. It’s not like the wiggly intention of doing better. It’s also got a bit of wiggle room, in that I give myself one week to write a set of words, rather than giving myself daily targets. Assign yourself this goal every week for two months, and you might have the level of success to give yourself daily word count targets. Or you might decide reading is more your speed than writing. And either answer is okay.
Which brings me to my intention for the year. I’m choosing a single big intention for the year. But I’ve been training up. I spent the last couple years consulting. I worked a lot; and I loved the work I was doing. One year, I decided I needed to get ideas out there, but I didn’t have the money for an editor. (Any reader of this blog can tell ;) ) But I also decided my ideas mattered, and I wouldn’t be hard on myself for typos. I had the best editor in the world at my old job. I just never learned the skills to catch my own mistakes. It irked me at first to have so many typos on my blog. I’m the sort of person who finds typos in The Times in seconds. Then I realized I am no more or less smarter than I was when I had an editor. If I need the ideas out there, I’ll just give myself a break about the typos. They annoyed me when I reread my writing at first. Now a couple years later, I just shrug and fix them. And, my life changed drastically from my blogging. People wanted to hire me. The positive feedback loop proved being gentle on myself was worth it.
With this one practice experience under my belt, this year my intention is to give myself a break in all aspects of my life. I’m going to be honest with myself and shrug off missteps. This is not to say I’ll ignore them, but I won’t ruminate on them. I’ll learn from them and then let go.
I’m choosing this goal because I think it will change how I lead. I hope it will have positive effects on my work and my energy. I guess time will tell.  And then I’ll tell you :)
Personal goals can have big impact on the work place. How you see yourself spills out into the world and workplace? Don’t believe me? Pick a drastic change of attitude at the work day. If you don’t generally smile, spend one day deciding you will smile at everyone you see. Come home and write down how your day went. I did this exactly experiment recently. Not with smiling, bc I’m naturally smiley. I decided to walk slow. It was hard. But when I reflected, I noticed more people approached me to talk. I also realized I noticed more things about my work place. Changing for one day, and a small thing, can have big impact. I’m excited for the impact I’ll feel, and through me, my work place when I spend this year giving myself a break.
What are your intentions for the day, month, year? Share here or on social media.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

What will our future be like?

Have you ever tossed a coin? I had a friend’s Dad who was a big proponent of this form of adjudication. He’d toss it up in the air. Like a film, time slowed. I watched the coin turn and turn as it flew. Quick hands clasped and then covered the coin. Finally, the reveal and the answer. Head! (or Tails!). He never did it for anything that matter, because middle schoolers rarely allowed Dad’s to decide anything important. But I still remember watching the coin, and wondering, and waiting. In some ways, that’s what the end of 2019 was for me. I’d poured through the various comments on the questions I asked for your predictions of the next decade. But the responses depressed me. Really bummed me out, depressed me. As Susan Spero reminded us, in 2029, our current 12-year-olds would be graduating from college. What would our field be like for them as they go into the work force? Though when I read Susan’s tweet, I did wonder how many people at 22 can get hired at a museum in anything but a part-time job. Think about that. My first reaction was that in ten years we’d still expect graduate degrees to do entry level jobs. Not a very optimistic look at the future of our field. I’m not alone with a jaded attitude toward our future. When polled, many people thought working in the field would feel much the same.
I think the general mood in the field is ambivalence. There are moments of hope, like the work of MASS Action, and then plenty of problems like the Marciano Foundation's closure. There is plenty of good and plenty of bad, and we don't know if as a field we should call heads. The path we take is not completely our choice; though we all have more choice than we might imagine. In trying to make sense of everyone's tweets, I decided to do some preparatory reading. Dear readers, I value you all, but I rarely read 1 book let alone two as source reading for a post. :> First, I read The Optimist's Telescope by Bina Venkataraman, a book about the challenges of predicting the future. In essence, the book said our present grounds so wholly as to bias our predictions of the future. I moved on to The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, which basically tells me chance is as likely a force in our life as choice. I'm not sure either book helped me write the post, but they did remind me I can only be wrong in the predictions I offer. So what will our future look like? If we toss heads, we'll end up with a landscape very similar to what we have. Many predict there will be more museums:
We'll still be enamored with technology:
We might toss the coin, though, and win. I asked us what our most ardent wish for the field would be. That offered so many positive and exciting possibilities for our future. Mimosa Shah shared her ideas of an inclusive field:
And, many people who took the poll thought our audiences would be more diverse:
This diversity doesn't mean more of everything though. Our leaders have learned to prioritize. We do less better, as Matt Tarr and Susan Edwards suggest:
In short we move from lip service to action, as Scott Stulen suggests:
How do we do this? First, museums start repositioning themselves:

And, they have the money to make these positive changes: The thing I realized as I read those books about the future and how choice and chance interact is tomorrow is always the future. Tomorrow at work you can make choices that make the field a bit better. Every day, you have the opportunity to pivot this field toward equity. Every person in every organization can choose to try to change things. I'm not talking change-maker level stress. I just mean the little choices. You can try to explain your reasons for your choices. You can listen to other people's reasons. You can choose to reply to your staff member's emails. You can choose to smile at your colleagues. You can choose to find ways to create the middle ground. We are all working on the future of this field, every day. As Mar Dixon reminded me, we've been building this future for the last decade: We are the future. It's not up to one giant coin toss. Our future is a million little actions. Our best intentions are useless, but our so-so actions are everything. Any action toward good moves this ship toward a future I want to see. We are charting our course every day. I want to be going toward a positive future. With all of steering this ship, I am optimistic we can get there.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


In the waning days of the decade, I’ve been inviting everyone to take stock of and make predications for museums. The first few posts of the month have been focused on the decade we’ve all just experienced, and next week, I’ll share everyone’s thoughts about the future.

Today, though, I thought I’d tell you about an exercise I’ve been doing. It started one late evening when my partner was watching something. I’d been reading a novel, only turning an eye to the show periodically. Two episodes in and I was woefully lost with the narrative and even worse off with the characters. Instead of berating him with my queries about the characters, I started spitballing about museums. He’d done his time in various museum departments over the years. He had ample room to counter my bold statements about museums. (Good ideas rarely come fully-formed from one person.) I grabbed my computer, and as he watched fire-fights and interpersonal intrigue, I penned a long look back on what I’ve learned about museums over the last two years.

My post began with some highlights (and lowlights about my career): 
"I’ve been alone with so many famous works of art, I’ve lost count. I’ve seen the backs and the bottoms and the insides. I’ve heard the secrets I can’t share."

And my ideas included:
1. People will give money to educate kids. But many funders won’t give money to turn on the lights. Who cares if it's hard to educate kids in pitch black galleries?

In the week or so since that post, I’ve been thinking a lot about good times. I had wanted to catalog some high points of the field and my career, as an invocation to everyone to do the same. Meditating on good is harder sometimes than bad. Seizing the moment to remind yourself of your worth can be challenging.

But, in the end, I found it hard. Not because I’ve forgotten the good. Quite to the contrary, actually. The good resides in my mind, just at the edge, its happiness bubbling up at odd times. But, the good times for me turn out not to be outcome-based. My CV and my list of happy memories don’t line up at all. I’ve written things and done things, and I’m sincerely proud of my accomplishments. But those outcomes don’t necessarily hold emotional weight as certainly fleeting, unremarkable moments. The times in the last decade that hold the greatest sway are the feelings, and most of these emotions grown from interactions with my colleagues. I wrote about it on Medium a few weeks ago. The post started like this: 
"I’ve spent twenty years in the professional world. I’d had two decades of relationships at work and in social media. Extrovert of extroverts, that translates as scores of people. So many people have come into my life, flowing in and then flowing out."

So to end this week’s post, I’d invite everyone this week to drop a note to a colleague who impacted you in the last decade. Tell them hello and thanks. Or tell them you thought of them. Or tell them a funny story. Just reconnect. The work and the outcomes, the collection and the labors, are what we do every day. But the people we’ve known are often filling in crevices with goodness and laughter. The webs of people who make work happen are integral to our everyday happiness.

Next week, for the last post of the decade, I'll share our thoughts about the future. Join the conversation about the future of the field, here, or on social media. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Worst of Museums for this Decade

Ask and you shall receive. Be careful what you wish for. These two adages were both in my mind last week when I asked people for the worst museum trends.

I wasn't surprised that the worst trends had much more pick up than best. The grass is always greener, as the adage says, or rather, we as people are usually pretty good at figuring out what we lack, what other people have, or what went wrong. Or, I should qualify that. We're often good at seeing the symptoms. The real improvement though is when you can get down to the root causes. On social media, it's hard to get into systemic issues effectively, but maybe people did start to touch on some of the big, bad issues in our field.

Brad Dunn basically summarized the overall themes of people comments. In this decade museums worst trends were in labor and tech:

The issues of work were pretty front and center for people. As I looked through the responses many of the issues were intertwined. The cats-cradle mess seemed to start on some level with professionalization. Suse Anderson spoke about the drawbacks of professionalization:
Even five or six years ago, I think many in the field would think of professionalization as being whole positive. Now, many see the downsides, including crushing student debt along large numbers of credentialed people with few open jobs. Susan Spero brought up the cost tuition rises had to the field:
Many brought up the challenges with museum studies programs, with Rich Ligner responding directly to Susan's tweet above.

The rise in professionalization spurred an increase in museum studies programs, as a way to train future professionals. Yet, the market couldn't support the many, many museum studies graduates that came out. As such, we have more supply than we had demand, and the work places used this as a chance to employe cheap labor.It's brought us to this point where we have a culture of underpaying, or not paying people at, to do professional work. I can't think of another professional field where credentialing is so varied or where portions of the work is routinely done by non-credentialed or unpaid professionals.
For my part, another challenge with museum studies programs is that there is a great deal of of variety in programs. As someone who has often hired professionals, I wouldn't say the benefit of a museum studies degree hasn't always been clear to me. I see a vast range in skills and knowledge depending on the program, and I see many qualified people who don't go to a museum studies program. This complexity highlights the complications we've created around training and hiring. There are many ways to become a museum professional and we don't have uniform measures across programs (like a standard set of board exams).

Now, I'm not exactly advocating for boards, but a comparison helps us see why regulation is important. In medicine for example, there are only a certain number of spaces allowed for residency, and it is regulated by congress. We keep ourselves near shortage of doctors and as such there is great competition for seats. We won't go down the looming problem of the lack of physicians our nation will be facing in the upcoming decades, but instead let's look at museum work. Money is the regulatory mechanism in museums. The number of open jobs is based on the amount of money museums can raise. Philanthropy is changing, with large benefactors giving way to people giving less and earned income increasing in importance. Like medicine, we, in effect, have few job openings. Unlike medicine, which graduates slightly more students than residency seats, museum studies programs graduates scores more students than spaces. This problem becomes compounded by the fact that many museum professionals get paid lower wages and therefore likely delay retirement. It's like we're running a roller coaster where few get off while we continue to allow the queue to form. It makes for sick riders and angry potential riders. IThe whole system is nauseating.

No matter how hard you try to make people happy with cosmetic changes, like team building, as Julia Kennedy mentions, these inherent workforce issues must be solved if the field hopes to continue to evolve fruitfully. We're losing many of our mid-career professionals, and we could find ourselves in very real work force issues. As Susan Spero pointed out, a decade from now today's seventh graders will be graduating from college. What will the museum work force look like when they join our ranks?

 In this decade, instead of dealing with workforce issues head-on, we often focused on the shiny new thing. Technology was the number one worst trend in museums in people's comments. Apps, QR Codes, AR/ VR, Interactives, all our most lauded tech, got mentioned. As Dan Hicks and Paul Bowers said:

The tech became a siphon, taking away resources, and was seen an end itself:
Tech didn't support the museum in its mission to engage visitors in specific goals, like social learning:
Instead museums found themselves at the mercy of the next big thing and the whims of tech firms:
As someone with a horse in the race on museum technology, I spent a great deal of time thinking about these comments and coming to terms with them in some ways. For me, technology and labor were really two sides of the same coin.

Museums spent this decade chasing the future on behalf of the past while ignoring the present. There was so much good in tech, like open data and social media, and as Chris Alexander mentioned museums brought a great deal of technology in house. But, these positive aspects of tech was overshadowed by the pernicious aspects of technology, often swallowing whole budgets in their wake. For many museum workers it was like watching a whole family starve short one.

Likely part of the problem was fundamental to how museums only took the worst of corporate culture:

We, as a field, didn't really slay our demons, not just work force issues but real collections issues (repatriation and decolonization), and instead moved onto new efforts like technology. In doing so, we only exacerated or allowed certain problems to fester:
Without looking at our fundamental system, the whole enterprise could be up for a challenge next decade--your thoughts on that next week.

(Please consider passing your ideas about big trends for the next decade. Tag me so I can add your thoughts to this month’s summary post @artlust on twitter, @_art_lust_ on IG, & @brilliantideastudiollc on FB).