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"Hands-On High Culture" and the Building Industry

Image Credit: The New York Times
Last week's NYT Sunday Review featured an opinion piece from Judith H. Dobrzynski on visitor engagement at museums. Sunday Review is usually the second section I read (Sunday Business is first..and yes, I read the paper version), but museum articles don't typically pique my interest. This one did:

"Visitor engagement and participation are changing the nature of museums. And not always in good ways."

Dobrzysnki builds the case that the "experience economy" may evolve museums (especially art museums) to a place where they lose their 'museuminess' (my word - she speaks much more eloquently). Although I am only an occasional museum goer, I get it on some level. Cultural institutions are more than standard consumer offerings. They have an obligation to educate us about the past, ourselves, and society, to expand and shape our perceptions. However, I found myself considering two points that relate exactly to the building industry.


Business Models Evolve

There are times, many times in fact, that a company or an industry needs to evolve its business model to maintain its mission. In order to continue to educate, expand, and shape society, museums need to consider how they engage with an evolving population. In order to avoid commoditization, the building industry needs to reduce waste and conflict.

 Legacy stakeholders, often resist disruptive innovation. It's not surprising; change threatens "the way things used to be done" or "the way things should be done". Disruptive innovation is exactly that - disruptive. If successful, change will eliminate previous practices, strategies, and services.

 But if "experiential exhibits" can have more impact on people and society, is it so bad if the identity of museums changes? If use of technology or collaborative business models can improve the outcome of projects, is it so bad if we abandon rigid clients or markets? Your answer may depend on which side of the change you are on, but I point to Encyclopedia Britannica's recent fate for my answer.
"If you don't disrupt your business, someone else will."
Clay Christiansen, HBS professor and disruptive innovation expert

Change is Execution Dependent 

It doesn't matter if the industry is museums or construction, or the change is experiential or technological. The nature of change is experimental, its R&D. There will be successes, and there will be 'learning moments' (over-successes? near misses? can I just say failures?). Dobrzysnki points to several "art world amusement park" exhibits; I point to missed clashes and seemingly inaccurate lasers scans.

It frustrates me when people ask "Why didn't BIM catch this?". These learning moments aren't usually "BIM's fault". BIM is neither good nor bad; BIM doesn't cause or solve problems. It's usually about how people use it. And as I read Dobrzysnki's article, I thought the same thing of visitor engagement. It probably isn't a good idea or a bad idea; it just is. Sometimes it will be executed well...and it sometimes it won't. It's execution dependent.
"I always love that phrase 'Oh, this is a good idea but it's execution dependent. As if anything in life is not execution dependent. Breathing is execution-dependent..."
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix as heard on Marketplace

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