Museums are People

Paper figures

So it may seem disingenuous to quote anything Bill Gates says after his comments about museums last fall. Remember him telling the world that donations to museums are morally reprehensible? Well, he’s entitled to his opinion, and this post isn’t about philanthropy or really about Gates. It is about one of Gates’ favorite books though. Business Adventures by John Brooks, a New Yorker writer. Why should you care? Well, because if you’ve been paying attention here, you know we keep advising, coaxing, and encouraging everyone to read, listen, watch everything you can about leadership, business and organizational behavior. Much of the best stuff written is by writers about the for-profit world, and while Business Adventures was written before many of you were born, it’s still a good read. (If you’ve given up reading books in favor of what’s online, check out Seth Stevenson’s post on Slate about the book.)

So…how does Business Adventures connect with the museum world? Well, in describing the Ford Co. and the disastrous launch of the Edsel, Brooks makes the point that Ford failed because of the decisions made by the men running the company. Some of those decisions were random, some were wrong, and a few resulted from poor communication. Brooks finishes by reminding readers that corporations run on people. Why don’t museums think like this? If anything, museums might say they run on collections, yet the rarest of pieces is meaningless without the care, interpretation and governance brought by  museum staff and volunteers.  In a world where just about everything is available online, the role of people in the museum equation carries more weight.

If you’re a leader do you put your staff and volunteers front and center? Does your board treasure its staff, acknowledge the free-will talents of volunteers, and make a point to invest in them? Do you invest in yourself? Are you open to opportunity and not mired in process? We believe museums reflect the people who work in them. Strong organizations care for and about their staffs and their volunteers. Do you? Does your organization? Share your stories with us.

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