Saturday, August 13, 2011

Charting A Course

This past week, five colleagues, all independent museum professionals, sat down to talk about our futures.  We had discovered that despite doing a significant amount of planning with organizations, none of us had a strategic plan, or even any sort of plan.  And, we discovered, all of us wanted to think about, for various reasons, some shift in what we do or how we do it.   So we all came together at my house, to eat fresh peaches and tomatoes,  taste freshly-infused vodka,  laugh, ask hard questions and consider the future.

The process was exceptionally informal and designed collaboratively before we all came together.  Like every process, we tweaked it a bit as we went along.   We began by devoting a half hour each to a career review.   How each of us designed that review was up to us--and the results were fascinating.  We had a mind map,  a statistical analysis of income vs. satisfaction,  graphs analyzing sources of project funding, a pie chart of activities,  and for all of us, narratives about how we got to where we are (not a single straight line in the bunch!).   We asked each other questions, delving deeper into the ways in which our businesses operated (made easier by the agreement that the details of our conversations would stay within the group).

Just like the career paths, the business models were widely different.  One limited liability corporation, two bloggers and tweeters,  two relatively avoidant of social media,  one with project subcontractors,  one with employees.   One with a foot outside of the museum world currently;  another with former foot outside in the hospitality industry.   But we all agreed that our business models were pretty accidental as well.

The next day we re-convened and did a SWOT analysis for each of us, again devoting a half hour or so to each person.  It probably worked best after we'd had part of a day and a long talky dinner together.  Although we all knew each other before gathering, it was in different ways, to different degrees.  I think a level of trust was really important in this conversation.  It's hard to hear people talk honestly about you--and I will say I think we were all harder on our individual weaknesses than anyone else.

Lunch break and then we split up, spending about an hour creating, in whatever fashion, some sort of a plan.  Big sheets of paper, on the computer, sketched out as a map--everyone designed it in their own fashion.  Then of course, back together to share the plans for comment and final thoughts.  And among those final thoughts?  Some plans to work together in several different ways--an unexpected but not surprising outcome of our time together.

What made this process work?

Anne Ackerson, who blogs over at Leading by Design, mentioned the idea of abundant organizations to us:   that by sharing our time and talents, we create something that has more than enough--more energy, more creativity,  more enthusiasm, more deep thinking.   The sum was definitely greater than the parts.

Familiar, not too familiar
We all knew each other, but all of us didn't know each other intimately.  We didn't know the inside details of each other's business, nor in any great way, of our personal lives.  This meant that we could approach something like a SWOT analysis with a degree of thoughtful distance.   We had about a ten- year age range between us,  and I think the fact that we all thought of ourselves as mid-career meant that we related to each other's issues.

Commitment to Change
We had all experienced strategic planning processes where the organization board and staff were only doing it because they felt pressured in some way.   Those planning processes usually fail to produce real change.  For all of us,  we really wanted to think more deeply about our time and we wanted to make changes,  to have control over rapidly changing, complicated work lives with cultural organizations.

A Sense of Humor
Enough said.  The people you choose to work with really matter.

What's next?  It's up to each of us to decide what form our plan will take and I hope to get mine into shape over the next few weeks.  We've decided to meet a few times a year, to share ideas and continue providing encouragement and feedback.  We're contemplating some ways we might work together, and how we might share both this process and our hard-won knowledge with emerging museum professionals.  So many thanks to Anne, Gwen, Marianne and Christopher for a great time--and stay tuned!

Image:  pie chart from Audrey Lapierre, via Flickr


Samantha said...

Sounds productive and fun! This might be something I can think about doing with new museum professionals. Quite a few of my friends, blog and/or twitter followers are just entering the museum, archives and library fields. Charting a course in the beginning and working together like your group can keep us aware of what others are doing and changing as we move up in our careers.

Samantha - Mus(eum)ings!/museumings

Linda said...

Thanks Samantha, for your comments. I think the group working together is great--and one suggestion I might make for new professionals is to go outside of your graduate school group. I think the fact that we were a widely varied group in terms of training and experiences was important to our discussions. Good luck--and keep us posted if you begin a process.