Tag Archives: Dan Spock

Playing with the Past, Part Three: The Challenges of Working Across Industries

4736145388_dd73194d77_z_d

Oil and Water Do Not Mix by Flickr user kris krüg. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When we started this series of posts, the goal seemed clear; talk about how gamification and cultural heritage can work together. I had to complicate that by explaining why I thought focusing on gamification missed the important point that the game mechanics were not the part of games that made them worthy of emulating. I wandered from there into talking about games, play, fun, learning, and then how these might relate to cultural heritage, and two particular concepts that I find to be valuable tools; the magic circle and the interaction alibi.

As a writer, I am prone to “bury my lede” as they say I the newspaper business. I thought now would be a good time to make an unambiguous statement about game designers and cultural heritage professionals working together. Though I am not a fan of the idea of gamification, that does not mean I think game design has nothing to teach those of us working in the cultural heritage sector. In fact, like Ms Bennet, “My feelings are quite the opposite.”

Collaborations between gaming and cultural heritage professionals have tremendous potential to generate new and valuable kinds of experiences.

The exciting thing I see in gatherings like the CINE seminar in Reykjavik is their potential to create a community of interest around the topic of games and heritage. The domain expertise of the people in the room is so varied that it provides a great example of what the cognitive scientist Gerhard Fischer calls “symmetry of ignorance”. Unlike communities of practice, where all the stakeholders come from roughly the same field, communities of interest bring together stakeholders with different practices. The act of creating a shared understanding of a complex problem–like creating engaging heritage experiences–among all stakeholders can lead to  new insights and the kinds of experiences that would be hard to envision in a community of practice.

So, before we talk about how we might work together, let’s look at some of the challenges I’ve encountered in the past.

The Challenges of Working Across Industries

Differing perceptions of time

Cultural heritage professionals tend to have a very long view of things. It comes with the territory when you deal with the past, and preservation stretching out into the foreseeable future. Projects germinate for a long time, take a long time to fundraise for, and sometimes years to realize. This can lead to feeling a bit like one of Tolkien’s Ents when dealing with people who make software for a living, like computer game designers. The software industry moves at a pace that is completely alien to most of my colleagues’ experience. Instead of years, software people are focusing on design sprints, where two weeks out is a normal horizon. Products are conceived, built, tested, launched, and revised in a matter of months, or the amount of time it might take to make one major decision on a large exhibition project. And this anti-pattern is a tough one to overcome.  Everything about modern software development in the Agile/Lean era is organized around privileging the production of code, making product, and fixing it after if needed. Though agile methodologies are starting to creep into museums, the norm is still a much more risk-averse, serial production methodology that emphasizes quality, “getting it right”, over all else.  Minimum Viable Products can be a hard sell. Don’t underestimate the culture shock collaboration will create for both partners.

One tactic I have used successfully in the past with potential suitors has been to sit them down privately early on and lay out how the different perceptions of time are a real issue, like this:

“The museum I work at dates its founding to 1799. Your company is how old?”

[Insert number less than ten.]

“Right. And do you think your company will still be around in three years? How about five years? How about twenty years? Because we’ll still be here.”

[Uncomfortable silence]

I’ve had versions of that conversation multiple times, and nobody has ever given a definite answer for the twenty year horizon. The best I’ve heard was someone who confident his company would be bought by Google or Apple within the next five years.

Transmediality of the cultural heritage experiences

Dan Spock, now at the Levine Museum of the New South, has aptly noted that “the museum exhibition is “the medium of media”—it utilizes the written word, sound, image, moving image, performance, installation, and most recently digital electronics.” It is a deeply transmedial experience, and cultural heritage professionals by and large work pretty effortlessly in and among those media. “This works for a label, that should be tactile, this other thing is best delivered via audio.”  Most game designers tend to specialize in a particular medium. Board game designers make board games, computer game designers work in computer code. The difficultly of matching up broad but shallow expertise and narrow but deep expertise can be significant. To the specialists, the transmedialists can look like well-meaning dilettantes, and to the transmedialists, the specialists look like embodiments of Maslow’s Hammer, for whom “if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Just because you’re a great AR firm, it doesn’t mean that AR is the answer to any problem a museum or heritage site might have.

Weakness of objective

One of the things that makes games so appealing to cultural heritage types that of all the types of play we looked at, games provide the kind of clear objectives and understanding of what it means to meet those objectives that cultural visits rarely provide. You know when you’ve captured the king in chess that you’ve won, or that whoever first gets the predetermined amount of points in Settlers of Catan wins. The objective of a visit to a heritage site isn’t so tightly focused.  It’s the paradox of free-choice learning environments. To be all things (or many things) to a diverse audience, we all-too-often wind up being not too much of anything. That weakness of objective means that there’s no way to plan the arc of your visit, or know what progress you’ve made toward a completion goal. Visitors go until they feel tired, and then they leave.

Note that none of these challenges are insurmountable, they’re just challenges. They can be mitigated, and even overcome. Next, onto the good stuff, opportunities!

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.