This may be the most important sentence for the evolution of visitor-serving organizations.
This article is a short one, but it is an important one to me – and for cultural organizations, too, I believe.
This video is a plea for cultural organizations to wake up.
This week’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video is my rallying cry I hope that you’ll take a moment to watch the video and think about the message. Regular readers likely have this sentence ingrained into their brains. And if I could contribute one sentence to leave as my cultural organization legacy that has the potential to deeply change cultural organizations for the better, this would be it:
Your organization can determine importance, but the market determines relevance.
That sentence is so much more meaningful and important than it may sound when you first hear it…
It is the basis of nearly every myth-bust on Know Your Own Bone. Essentially, it’s quite common that cultural organizations will declare that something (some content or issue, for instance) is important. However, if nobody cares about that “important” thing, then it’s difficult – if not impossible – to educate, inspire, or initiate support. As a well-educated and sometimes erudite sector, we’re used to knowing things and being expert about things. And we are experts. But just because we are fascinated by a topic doesn’t mean that the market cares about it – or knows enough to care about it- yet.
It doesn’t matter how loudly an organization shouts that something- an issue or some content, for instance – is important. If the market doesn’t understand the relevance of that issue or content, then that issue or content may as well not matter at all. Nobody hears it. Or they do, but it has no “so what?” to make it meaningful.
Connectivity is king in today’s world. To fulfill our missions, we need to build a bridge. We need to cultivate relevance, and we need to bring value. After all, our organizations cannot exist without the support of visitors and donors. Our task, then, is to help connect people to things. If we think something is important but we haven’t established its relevance, then it is not likely that the market will listen. We haven’t created a reason for them to listen by establishing a connection to that issue.
We think we are about things. We are not. We are about people. At our best, we are hubs of human connection.
Data suggest that who people are with is by far and away more important to our audiences than what they see onsite. With > What. We are connectors and facilitators of shared experiences. It is one of our superpowers, and yet we often throw this away in favor of esoteric, distancing content. Our industry still most values those who specialize in content over those who specialize in connection. What good is content without connection?
The idea that the market determines relevance is NOT a “dumbing down” of cultural organizations. The market expects us to be experts. Instead, it means finally realizing that people matter in executing our missions.
It’s our audiences that matter most in our organizations’ survival. After all, they pay admission, become members, spread word-of-mouth endorsements, and make donations. On top of that, our missions to educate and inspire revolve around human beings as well. Why, then, do so many cultural organizations believe themselves to be about things rather than human beings?
There are universities that may more willingly employ those leaders who stubbornly insist upon cherishing their own one-way interest in objects or content. Museums, however, have missions to connect people and things. Their missions may be to show how and why things matter. How have we so lost our way that misunderstanding this seems to be the primary barrier within cultural organizations – and is even the basis of layoffs at times?
And when I encourage organizations to consider human beings, I mean human beings – not solely erudite, cultural gatekeepers that scoff at content that inspires engagement among the not-as-expertly-erudite. These gatekeepers can be helpful influencers to underscore our topic expertise, but are our missions to “educate and inspire the already topic-educated and inspired?”
We can be as loud as we want about scholarly ideas, but if we don’t cultivate connection among people, then there’s nobody to visit, to donate, to educate, or to inspire at all. Again: Organizations may determine importance, but the market determines relevance. We can pitch that something should matter to people, but we don’t decide. They do.
People matter most for both our missions and our solvency.
Let’s start acting that way.