Links of the Week: May 20, 2021: Reflections of …

Links of the Week: May 20, 2021: Reflections of …

4 min read


A couple of people—and orgs—I follow have been in a remembering mood.

If you're reading this and not a subscriber to Museum Human, consider scrolling to the bottom and signing up now—it's free and is the only way to read the site's longer weekly post on the organizational culture of cultural organizations.

I read two articles almost back-to-back with reflections on the latest period in someone's—or some org's—life. I haven't been as reflective lately, for a few reasons beyond the obvious year-plus-to-forget (and yet, we have to remember or else much of our loss and grief of the past year will be forgotten as we try to rush back into normality).

When my Insight Timer meditation app told me last month that I'd sat every morning for 1,000 straight days, I couldn't manifest a celebratory mood, and barely just a whoa, what happened? And the next day I got back to sitting—that's what makes it a practice.

Before I get to the recollections, here's a recent piece from Boston Review looking at the US, historically, as a developing country whose economics and social development have as much to do with coalitions as with capital. This is important to remember as we try to sweep the trauma and pain of the past year-plus under the rug—will we remember the inequality and injustice which drove our death toll?

And here's yet another article, from Quartz, about managing burnout. While we all want to say to our organizations, how about ending the institutional requirement that workers burn themselves out, this article does ask readers to end the "romance" with our workplaces. I would say, the romance is as much with a personal idea of overwork as with institutions which "won't love us back."

Now, on to reflections …

First, Paul Bowers, former museum senior staffer and now CEO of the Australian sustainability org Renew, wrote on Medium about his first 400 days as the top leader in an organization. It's good reading—especially for someone like me who's always rattling on about leaders needing to be better at putting their workers first as opposed to always centering the institution. He didn't so much disagree with this sentiment as much as add all the things that make leadership so difficult—accountability, planning for an uncertain future, authenticity for a senior leader, and organizational inertia (especially when trying to end old projects).

It's easy for me (well, as easy as two posts a week) to critique museum leadership, but there are humans at the top, which we have to remember when making our demands for more Time, Money, People, and Resources. Regarding whom to listen to, Bowers writes:

Don’t judge by who defends the status quo and who advocates for change — it doesn’t matter which they do, it’s whether they reference purpose and hope in their arguments.

Hey, hope! (And action!) It's something to keep in mind when making a case to senior leadership—but perhaps hard to put first when workers are stressed to, or past, the edge. Do leaders have an obligation to create an environment where positivity is possible, or to create an organization-wide environment of psychological safety so that even worker negativity in the face of poor conditions and morale can be expressed authentically?

The other recollection I enjoyed was from the Europe-based org culture consultancy Corporate Rebels, now going on five years. If you don't subscribe to their free newsletter, you should do so for a healthy dose of reading about organizations which are doing culture—and business—the right way.

(If you subscribe to Corporate Rebels, expect to read a lot about Haier, a Chinese company which functions as a collection of thousands of "micro-enterprises," small teams which compete for business in a large corporate ecosystem. I've often wondered if museums could host this kind of internal environment—say, could different teams in Education/Interpretation and Editorial compete to write the labels for an upcoming exhibition? (Would such competition actually lead to better collaboration?) Could print or digital make cases for better content related to a particular exhibition, if there were resources for only one treatment? It's an intriguing thought experiment and could lead to better cooperation and innovation—and no small amount of chaos.)

Anyway, the Corporate Rebels team wrote about five years of going against the organizational grain. Here's one sobering finding:

The big questions though are: Where are we at? Is work more fun for more people? Is a global workplace revolution truly underway?
These are hard to answer. Overall, the honest answer is 'no'. Billions of people are still working in boring, outdated and frustrating workplaces. Most aren't truly enjoying their jobs. In fact, a big chunk of the working population still sees Monday to Friday as a long and boring interruption between weekends.

These are interesting words considering the maelstrom which turned workplace jobs upside down. Will the upcoming age of maybe-hybrid office work, or workers leaving because they don't get hybrid options in their workplace, change people's willingness to endure jobs they hate?

And though Corporate Rebels'  advice is not as revolutionary as it might have been ten years ago, the fact that institutions talk progressive workplaces but easily default back to dysfunction, hierarchy, and inertia (especially during times of crisis) means there's always a need for this approach. Corporate Rebels provides useful case studies almost every week. Check them out.

Enjoy the reading and be well!


If you're reading this and not a subscriber to Museum Human, consider signing up for a free subscription below—it's the only way to read the site's longer weekly post on the organizational culture of cultural organizations. Thank you for reading!


cover image by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash [description: a circle of paper clips on a blue background]


Creative Commons License

Links of the Week: May 20, 2021: Reflections of …  by Robert J Weisberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

I work on a bit of everything in museum content. I find human solutions to tech problems. I geek out on workflow. No, really. I learn and teach and write everything down.