Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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“We just don’t have time” – the culture of busy-ness

April 15th, 2007 by Seb Chan

One of the re-occuring themes in questions I’ve been fielding throughout M&W2007 is that of problems of the organisational culture of ‘busy-ness’.

This came up both in our workshop on Planning for social media as well as in other sessions on museum blogging and discussions of moving web projects out of just the web team. The “we just don’t have time” seems to be the clarion call of those who we most need to get involved in social media in our museums.

So, how to navigate this?

Andrew McAfee at Harvard Business School has written a lot about Enterprise 2.0 which is effectively about implementing social media into the internal workings of your organisation. Technology companies have been forging ahead in this area for a long time – IBM’s internal wikis, Microsoft’s internal staff blogs etc – there are plenty of examples. Often internal implementation of social media tools ends up in the organisation deploying similar social media tools externally, as the internal use makes everyone in the organisation aware of the benefits, as well as gives them a chance to come up with policies, procedures and solutions to some of the pitfalls and unexpected risks of such tools. Indeed, many of the museums I’ve been speaking to as well the Powerhouse Museum itself started with internal social media experiments first.

McAfee’s recent post on the subject is interesting as has application in the museum sector. McAfee, speaking to his MBA students finds that:

students bring up one specific concern: that people who use the new tools heavily — who post frequently to an internal blog, edit the corporate wiki a lot, or trade heavily in the internal prediction market — will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs.

and that,

Companies that are full of knowledge workers and that have built cultures that value busyness face a potentially sharp dilemma when it comes to E2.0. These companies stand to benefit a great deal if they can build emergent platforms for collaboration, information sharing, and knowledge creation. But they may be in a particularly bad position to build such platforms not because potential contributors are too busy, but because they don’t want to be seen as not busy enough.

And even if the leaders in such companies sincerely want to exploit the new tools and harness the collective intelligence of their people, they might have a tough time convincing the workforce that busyness is no longer the ne plus ultra. Corporate cultures move slowly and with difficulty, and it will take a lot more than a few memos, speeches, and company retreats to convince people that it’s a smart career idea, rather than a poor one, to contribute regularly and earnestly to E2.0 platforms.

I often look to high-tech companies to observe state-of-the-art work practices. Something about the intensity of both the competition and the war for talent in their industries makes them laboratories for workplace innovations. And even though technology producers face time pressures that are as intense as anyone’s, many of them have not developed cultures of busyness. In fact, some have tried hard to build in the opposite mentality in their employees. Google, for example, gives their engineers ‘20% time’ – the equivalent of a day a week ‘to pursue projects they’re passionate about.’

This is especially relevant in institutions where the ‘research’ is seen as the ‘real knowledge work’ – science museums undertaking scientific research etc. In these organisations it is understandable that staff who are focussed on peer recognition through academic publications and research might be hesitant to embrace social media tools simply because they aren’t valued outside the organisation where most of their academic peers exist.

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