We’re doing it wrong. It’s time to recognize that cultural organizations may have to switch direction regarding these four concepts.
As our world becomes more and more connected, it’s becoming apparent that many long-held beliefs for cultural organization are proving wrong in the information age. This debunking includes myths like the sustainability of a blockbuster exhibit strategy, free admission being a cure-all for engagement, and the “last year plus five percent” approach to budgeting.
Nearly every post on this website busts some sort of myth. At the very least, I hope that the data and analysis presented here challenge organizations to stop and think, “Time out. Why do we blindly continue this age-old practice, and…wait…is it even working?!”
But alongside the big “busts” are some more simple misunderstandings of words that lead to bigger organizational problems, and even some straightforward notions that need an update if organizations want to succeed.
Here are four concepts that many cultural organizations are getting backward. When we focus on the wrong thing, we miss the whole point of what we’re trying to do in the first place. Let’s nip these misunderstandings in the bud:
1) Welcoming all vs WELCOMING EACH
Personalization is a big deal in today’s noisy world. Personalization trends are affecting nearly everything when it comes to cultural organizations – from group tours to onsite interactions to membership structures. Personalizing interactions and experiences is critical.
The increasing need for personalization is also critical as organizations consider which of its audiences it is aiming to reach…and with what message. “Targeting everyone” just doesn’t cut it. (Check out this comic for a little laugh). Or, for a more cultural organization-targeted laugh, here’s a snapshot from one of my favorite #MuseumSwearJar tweets last week. It illustrates the point perfectly. (The hashtag was a fad revolving around trends. Awesome? I think so.)
The concept of “welcoming each” also relates to intelligent admission pricing. Every organization has a data-driven, optimal price point that will maximize revenue without unduly risking attendance. Affordable access programs – or programs that reach specific, underserved audiences – require completely different strategies than simply “making the experience less expensive.” (I’ll post a Fast Facts video on this concept next Wednesday, and will include a deeper dive in the accompanying post.)
When we “welcome all,” we miss the opportunity to “welcome each.” And today, personalization, data, and smart targeting matters.
2) Collections vs CONNECTIONS
Data suggest that what people see while visiting a cultural organization is less important than who people are with when they visit these organizations. Yes, our collections and programs are important, but organizations often tend to overlook their important role as facilitators of shared experiences. Our organizations are, at their very core, about people and not things. Even history organizations are about changing today (educating or inspiring) more than they are about yesterday. We are all about this time and these people.
This is an especially important point when it comes to digital connectivity. Too many leaders persist in the belief that social media and online platforms are about technology. That’s incorrect. They are about engaging people.
3) Fads vs TRENDS
Fads are not the same as trends. Both have relevance to organizations, but dismissing a trend as a fad is a very dangerous practice.
A fad is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed enthusiastically for a period of time. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a fad. So, too, are #tbt, personality quizzes, and most hashtags (remember #FollowFriday?).
A trend, on the other hand, indicates a general direction in which something is changing or evolving. A trend has the potential of becoming a long-term influence on the future of a market, and is worthy of special attention. The increasing use of social networks is a trend. Quitting smoking is a trend. Trends generally have identifiable and explainable rises, driven by consumers’ functional needs and consistent with other consumer lifestyle trends.
Fads are bandwagons, but trends are often critical for your organization to embrace in order to move forward. When organizations write off things like the increasing use of data to make informed decisions or the use of digital technologies as fads, evolution halts. Things get held back. “That’s just a trend,” isn’t a thing. (“That’s just a fad” can be a thing, but that doesn’t mean that fads cannot be utilized to connect with audiences.)
4) Scheme vs CULTURE
Okay. I’m not the biggest football fan, but this concept has been brought up very frequently by a colleague of mine who also works with visitor-serving organizations at IMPACTS. Here’s the explanation:
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly famously said, “Culture will beat scheme every day.” Football teams play the same game with the same rules – and they have similar access to world-class talent. Yet, amongst this standardization, certain organizations regularly win…and others regularly lose. Winning has less to do with the “Xs and Os” (i.e. the scheme of the game). What distinguishes victory from defeat is more a function of organizational culture than any trick play or fancy formation.
Schemes are tactical. It is how you play the game. Culture is about achieving a common cause and purpose. It is why you play the game.
I observe many organizations working on the “scheme” of adapting to new realities by imploring staff to “get better at social media” and hiring new positions with the word “digital” in the title. Instead, organizations should be cultivating a culture that accepts the opportunities borne of evolution, and rewards persons at all staffing levels who embrace the mantels of leadership and innovation.
Let’s stop writing off trends as fads, carrying out “one size fits all” practices, focusing on things instead of people, and taking on tactics instead of embracing deep and meaningful growth. As soon as we realize that the continuation of these concepts are a threat to organizational development, then we will be able to focus on opportunities to make a sustainable, meaningful impact on the world. In many ways, our success is a matter of getting out of our collective way by updating our thinking to better align with today’s realities.
Let’s hop to it.