14 June 2013

“Exploit your size”

Nina K. Simon is one of those writers who writes about one thing on the surface, but has lessons that apply to many areas. In her list of what she has learned in reviving a museum, a few things resonated with me:

Exploit your size. There are unique advantages to every budget level. Big organizations seem comfortable with this – they make big plays based on their scale. But many small organizations seem to spend too much time trying to emulate big organizations rather than exploiting the opportunity to be more personal, more idiosyncratic, and less bureaucratic. No one opens a small coffeeshop and thinks, “we’ll really be successful if we are just like Starbucks.” The whole point is to not be Starbucks. Instead of apologizing for the “lack of professionalism” of small institutions, we should celebrate the ways that our programming can lead to stronger engagement on an individual level. My first year at the MAH, I would often say that we are a “no money, no bullshit” operation. We may not have funding for your project, but we won’t tie it up in red tape either. You want to have an artist collective sleepover at the museum? Sure. Want to give visitors sledgehammers and invite them to help make a giant metal sculpture? Sounds great. Want to give free admission spontaneously as a gift to visitors who need it? No problem. Just as a large organization can exploit its resources, we can do the same in a different way as a small organization.

This made me think a lot about #Scifund, crowdfunding, and “small science” as I have dubbed it. It may have been Nina’s “no red tape” comments. I see many people who say “crowdfunding can’t work,” when what they really mean is, “crowdfunding can’t work for me.” They may be true, but maybe others have different goals and advantages than you do.

Unfortunately, at an institutional level, there often seems to be little interest in supporting this kind of diversity. This is why her last tip also matters:

Remember why you got into this. The reason that we do this revolutionary work is in service of a bigger mission(.) Whatever your personal focus, it’s worth thinking about whether you are working on a problem that you consider to be truly important. ... Find a problem that is truly important, and you will find a revolution worth fighting for.

Go read the rest if you are at all interested in making positive change.

External links

Memo from the Revolution: Six Things I’ve Learned from our Institutional Transformation

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