Let’s play! How to block innovation in your museum?

One of the best sessions I attended at GovCamp this week was a reverse brainstorming session run by Nerida Hart on “How to block innovation”. We had to come up with the things that effectively prevent innovation in an organisation. It was great. I thought it might be a cool thought experiment to involve you in too. (It also seemed appropriate to the theme of avoiding innovation to simply take an idea from elsewhere and adapt it to my own purpose.)

So let’s play! How would you prevent your museum from being innovative? To kick off, if I wanted to block innovation I would:
– prevent social media or talking to anyone outside the institution (definitely no conferences).
– punish failure.
– not value innovation.

Since this is a game, I’m even going to offer a prize (Australian treats!) for the person who comes up with the least innovative answer (mmm… incentivising mediocrity).*

Join in! What are the best ways to prevent/block innovation and fresh thinking in (your) museums?

*NB: It’s worth noting that the winner will be chosen completely at a whim. Nothing motivates like randomness and unpredictability in reward systems.

29 thoughts on “Let’s play! How to block innovation in your museum?

  1. Damn! Another great Twitter person I hadn’t realised I was sharing a room with that day.

    Keeping all employees focussed entirely on their own work, with no communication between different teams, would be very important.

  2. Hmmmm, if I wanted to block innovation in my museum I would:

    Make excuses rather than seeking solutions.

    Repeat without evaluation and change.

    Play it safe.

  3. I’d fill my staff’s schedule with meetings, maybe 2–4 per day for everyone! Most of the time in these meetings would be spent going over what was decided in another meeting.

    I would rely on outdated internal communications systems, like Outlook/Exchange, and vehemently oppose any initiative to use smarter groupware solutions because I don’t want to have to learn how to use it.

    Ditto the above, but with collections software or any other kind of software that is used by a lot of people in the institution.

    I would only hire the most experienced and respected prospects for any positions (assistant or otherwise) in my curatorial department rather than an untested, young and optimistic graduate who might try to “adapt” to the times.

  4. -reward the status quo
    -threaten to punish/reprimand any unsuccessful attempt at something new
    -not let visitors, communities, or audiences have a voice (I.e. no evaluation, no advisory groups, no “outsiders”)
    -hire and promote those who are afraid of change and seek stability
    -stay insular (no colleagues from other museums or other fields, no conferences, etc.)
    -have lots of red tape, protocols, and barriers
    -rest assured we are the experts and know what we’re doing
    -keep a “tight budget” and “bottom line” that “just doesn’t have room” for innovation
    -separate departments and teams from each other (I.e. silo)
    -believe “success” is gauged by # of paid admissions

    …essentially, I would keep doing much of what we’re all already doing…

  5. – adopt commonly accepted ‘best practices’
    – delay launch until everything is perfect
    – runs lots of focus groups
    – evaluate everything
    – ask visitors what they want
    – more swot and roi analysis for every project
    – undertake only that for which you have resources
    – establish carefully designed and well documented process
    – quote aphorisms as if they are agents of change

  6. Give the job of innovation to the most over-worked person in the museum, under-fund it and staff it with volunteers. It is not always successful though as sometimes they do manage to innovate despite the odds.. but it is quite cheap!

  7. -keep always doing the same things in the exactly same way
    -cut off expenses in training (who needs it when we know our job so well)
    -avoid informal channels of inner communication( it’s just a waste of time)
    -cut any attempt of expressing a different view or a criticism
    -going digital? what for? We’ve been doing great without it!
    -despise experimentation, go for what’s a sure win
    -don’t get visitor-centered: people don’t really know what
    they want. You better decide for them.

    they want. You better decude for them

  8. Love this! And welcome to new commenters. Ok, some more from me:

    – already be super-successful, and scared of trying things that might disrupt the winning formula (or too arrogant to think you might need to try something new).
    – give people very strict job descriptions, and never let them waiver or take on additional responsibilities.
    – make sure the work environment is very distracting (flickering lights, poor ventilation, no lunch room).
    – keep all the introverts in open plan offices, and isolate the extroverts.

  9. +1 on most of the above (particularly Bruce’s “delay launch until everything is perfect”). A few more pro tips for managers:

    * Pile the entire responsibility of digital presence for your museum on two or three people, then tell those people that a curator with three assistants and no exhibitions in the queue can’t participate in said digital presence because he’s “overworked.”
    * Make sure your staff understands that professional development is basically the same thing as vacation.
    * Force your genius web developers to build internal applications in Visual Basic. Because that shit is the future.
    * Overemphasize the importance of printed publications that a few hundred people will buy and underemphasize the importance of blog posts that thousands of people will read.
    * Constantly say things that clearly indicate you have a good handle on how the world works, like “nobody relies on Wikipedia–there are too many mistakes.”

  10. Absolutely essential : Let the IT department make decisions about how to publish on the web, what tools to use, etc. After all, they’re the experts! (Except they’re not experts in your _content_, _holdings_, and _audience_ — unless you are really lucky!)

  11. How to block innovation…
    – Demonstrations have a script for all staff to learn like stage actors rather than allowing staff to inject their personality, experience and knowledge
    – Design exhibits that appeal only to children rather than have the appeal inbuilt to the exhibition. A fantastic way to marginalise adults with no children.
    – Not providing free working wifi even though websites are prominently visible in displays and/or when encouraging visitors to download an app that adds to the experience of visiting
    – All professional development must meet the organisation’s approved guidelines for such activities
    – Keep evaluation as an afterthought or as a pie in the sky extra.
    – Don’t ask the visitors what they want or think.
    – Ignore all views contrary to management ideals.

  12. Great question –
    You can block innovation by
    – Only going for the sublime solution – anything less is not accepted – every exhibition, educational offer, web project have to be carefully well defined in method, concept and practice and everybody is allowed to veto decisions

  13. How to block innovation in your museum…

    -ban words like “innovation”
    -make sure all employees stay in their place
    -continually hire old, white men to be in charge
    -relentlessly pursue a few high-dollar donors rather than a lot of people who can give in smaller amounts
    -segregate social media in the marketing or IT departments
    -never ask front-line staff for their opinions
    -use phrases like “but we’ve always done it that way”
    -fire most of your educators and replace them with poorly-trained volunteers. Use savings to buy stuff for the collection
    -proclaim failure “icky”
    -surround your employees with the fruits of creativity but forbid them to actually be creative
    -add “must be prone to narcissism” to all job descriptions

  14. Ok – and the winner is – Jeff Steward for his answer “I would micromanage.” There is probably a personal bias here, because the people I’ve worked for who were most against change and trying anything at all new were also those who were micro-managers. There was definitely a current of fear about anything that might not be perfectly controlled, and that is pretty antithetical to innovation.

    So Jeff, expect a Tweet coming your way to try to exchange details, so I can get an address for sending out some Australian treats (YUM!).

    Everyone else – feel free to keep adding to the list. This is a fun exercise, and I love getting your insights into the things that stifle creativity in your world.

  15. enforce a staff uniform…one that involves a boxy blazer with shoulder pads….for ALL staff, not just front of house. (I turned a job down once for this very reason…life is too short to wear shoulder pads)

  16. Insist on mandatory paper filing duties
    Abolish email
    Insist that correspondence by done by hand and filed in triplicate
    Introduce mandatory uniforms
    Insist on name tags
    Sing the national anthem daily

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