Extending the museum narrative

Posted on April 3, 2012

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A very quick thought. A friend linked me to a post on Seth Godin’s marketing blog today, and although that post didn’t particularly resonate with me, another one did. In Extending the Narrative, Godin discusses the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

The socialite walks into the ski shop and buys a $3000 ski jacket she’ll wear once. Why? Not because she’ll stay warmer in it more than a different jacket, but because that’s what someone like her does. It’s part of her story. In fact, it’s easier for her to buy the jacket than it is to change her story.

There might be lessons in this for the discussions we’ve been having lately in museum tech circles about building digital practices into museums at a strategic level… maybe most museums haven’t been building digital in at a strategic level because doing so would threaten their story (ie that museums are about their ‘stuff’). Digital potentially challenges museum authority. It raises questions about why museums do certain things, and those questions are not necessarily easy or comfortable to answer. It is easier to embrace digital at arms length than to really examine what it means at a foundational level for museums, because doing so potentially means changing the narrative of museums.

Godin continues:

It’s painful to even consider giving up the narrative we use to navigate our life. We vividly remember the last time we made an investment that didn’t match our self-story, or the last time we went to the ‘wrong’ restaurant or acted the ‘wrong’ way in a sales call. No, that’s too risky, especially now, in this economy.

So we play it safe and go back to our story.

The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give.

It’s something to think about.