What Good Museums Can Teach Us About Change Management

Friday, June 20th, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, Kathy and I visited the Koshland Science Museum here in Washington, DC. We’ve gone to a lot of museums. She looks at paintings, bones, or rockets. And I look at paintings, bones, or rockets. For the most part, we tend to have parallel and separate experiences. Then, over coffee, we talk about it.

Our experience at Koshland was quite different. The exhibits not only engaged the individual, but also begged for conversation right then! For example, in the exhibit on infectious diseases, you could choose options for eradicating malaria and then see how effective that approach would be. We both were surprised by the dismal results of some approaches. So then, we started to mix and match – “try things out” – to see what the most effective approach might be. We got curious and talked about why one approach was so much better than another.

Contrast that experience to most presentations announcing the need for change in an organization. Most are long talking-head snoozefests with a seemingly endless number of PowerPoint slides. There is nothing to get excited about. . . sink your teeth into. . . debate. . .or explore. They are as lifeless as the bones in a paleontology exhibit.

We could learn a lot from good museums. Think of the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It is a veritable playground that entices people to try things out to see what happens. Imagine if we tried to engage people in ways that invited exploration. (I think some participatory change processes like large systems change events come close, but they too often miss the “Wow, that’s so cool!” magic of a great museum exhibit.)

If you have thoughts about this, and especially ideas that you’ve seen that meet the “wow” test, please add a comment to this post. Thanks.

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