28 Sep

Team Dynamics in the Nonprofit Workplace / The Pride and Prejudice Guide to the Non-Profit Workplace

Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen, was first published in 1813. In the subsequent 200 years, the tale of a family of unmarried daughters and their subsequent marital aspirations remains a popular novel. In my recent reread of the book, I started to focus on the staying power of this literary classic. This novel is about interrelationships, communication, and strife. In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any nonprofit. Rather than regurgitate the novel, check out the synopsis before digging into the rest of the post.


In many ways, this book, with some plot transformations, could be any non-profit office place. Instead of the ideal husband, rich and loving, the non-profit organization is seeking the ideal donor. While we dream of a Bingley, a rich, affable donor who lets us do what we want, we end up with ever so many Collins, the low-level donors with outstripped demands on our time. The rare Darcy might come up; this donor is demanding but in ways that appreciably grow your organization.

The Non-Profit Team

So, if the suitors are the donors, then the Bennett family is a useful metaphor for the non-profit organization. Each working team has a set of people: You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves. You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend.

You will likely have a number of Jane’s and Kitty’s. These are people who do their work and keep things going, but they don’t make waves.

You will have a fair number of Mary’s. These are the people who follow rules above all other choices; they don’t bend. These are not leaders, but sometimes they are also not followers.

The smallest categories of workers are the Lizzy’s and Kitty’s. In many ways, they are like ying and yang. For all of Lizzy’s amazing characteristics, her judgmental nature makes her challenging in the workplace. Similarly, for all of Kitty’s negative characteristics, she is definitely doing something. So many of the people in the non-profit ecosystem are maintaining the status quo, and the Lizzy’s are a rarity.

So What? 

In the novel, Lizzy, the main character, slowly comes to value people for who they are. For example, when her friend marries Lizzy’s horrible cousin Collins, she comes to see that the match is actually fairly good.  Love isn’t the only path to marriage, she realizes.

Working with other people is often about just getting along well enough to get the project done without impaling each other.  A big part of this is realizing that you can’t change people. Frankly, it is hard enough to change yourself, and you are generally in control of your faculties. So instead of changing people, you are often better served by understanding others.

Certainly, the characters of Pride and Prejudice are more simplistic than real people. Most people aren’t straight Lizzy’s or Lydia’s. But, when you are sitting in a staff meeting, wondering why your insane coworker is allowed such latitude, step back. Try to consider what positive things happen when this person goes off the deep-end.

15 Sep

Making Equity Happen — One Man at a Time

The thing about privilege is that, if you have it, you likely don’t notice it. Privilege is when you gain benefits in society for being part of the dominant group. Privilege is easier to notice when absent. When you are the dominant position, the world is defined by your group. You might not have the distance to see the world through the eyes of people on the outside.

The pervasiveness of male dominance, for example, suffuses our society. Think of the English language. The strength of a team is defined by manpower. The honorable athletes amongst us are noted for their sportsmanship. Our species or our civilization, alternately, are poetically described as all mankind. Sure, you might consider these but linguistic quirks. But, in each of those terms, the position of man is central. In other words, everyone else is defined as “not” man. Think for a moment about how it feels to be in the “not” position—to define yourself as being in opposition to something. Your existence is contingent on their existence, yet their existence is self-defined. So as a man, even the English language puts you at the center and you need to strain to see out to the edges.
But, once you see those edges, what happens next? When you see your privileges, what do you do with them? Privilege is a power position. You have access to situations that those not in power don’t. Will you maintain the structure as it is for fear of change? Or will you act on the side of equity, and bring more people to the center with you?

Bringing more people to the center, or redistributing the structure of power, can be daunting. I mean, am I asking you to change the world? Yes, I am. But, I am not leaving you the work alone. This whole post came out the wonderful work nikhil trivedi does about equity. I have had the pleasure to know him for a while. He shares his empathy and compassion in everything he does. He is inspired by and works in concert with all the women, femme, and gender nonconforming people who came before him. But, he is not just an emotive dreamer; he is a doer. He models the way that men can be advocates and actors in the fight for equity. He offers many tips for men to change the power structure in his upcoming post and Museopunks podcast. Also, if you want to rid your language of these sorts of gendered phrases, here is a good list. 

07 Sep

What if I’m Burned Out? Counteracting Workplace Burnout

There are days when all of us feel a little tired. But, sometimes, you find yourself dead-tired day after day and the thought of going into work makes your brain feel like it’s going to short-circuit. The former might just be garden variety tiredness, but the latter sounds like burn out.

With the real possibility of working 24hrs a day, American workers are being asked to do more and more. Non-profit and museum worker often find themselves between a rock and a hard place; work hard because jobs are hard to come by. The result is this sector is full of people who are performing impaired by the mental and physical effects of burn out.

The following graphic is a quick look at burn out. But for more reading, catch this article from the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review.  Robert Weisberg and I are also working on an e-book, due this fall at #MCN2017, that will expand on ways to dodge burnout to survive change. 

05 Sep

What Flow and Transcendent Design Mean for Museums #CX #UX / On Yayoi Kusuma

Kusuma Yayoi has been on Instagram accounts big and small over the last year. Her exhibition Infinity Mirrors has been selling out faster than THE concert of the year. Her work has been hailed as “the perfect art experience for the social-media age.” Kusuma’s work has become coupled with the national addition with self-promotion and narcissism. The exhibition’s success is due to the national desire to be “seen” at the exhibition by virtual voyeurs/ Instafollowers. Press alludes to the superficial isolating nature of the experience. The criticism of the popularity of Kusuma misses the essential reason for the popularity of the exhibition; being there puts the viewer in an infinitely unrealistic, transcendent space.

On Transcendence:

Transcendence is the kind of feeling that is easier to experience than describe. You can use words like awe, intense, time-suspending, and rapturous. In a truly transcendent experience, you lose something—your sense of time, space, or reality. In return, you gain the change to have an experience that feels unquantifiable and irreplaceable. This transcendent state is special and different from mundane existence.

Transcendent experiences break with the mundane in important ways, often with an orientation moment, as accessibility designer Alastair Sommerville notes.  The ideal orientation to something transcendent requires a complete break with the “real” through a disorientation state and into a completely different but meaningful state. User Experience consultant and scholar Elizabeth Buie shares a number of transformative effects in this state: change in beliefs, acceptance, openness, unburdening, comfort, open-mindedness, joyfulness, release, and peace.

Nature is a particularly noteworthy transcendence-trigger. In a 2014 study, students spending time in a eucalyptus grove report feeling less self-centered and satisfied. These students also left the experience with higher levels of the bonding-promoting hormone oxytocin. In other research about transcendence, scholars highlight the important of self-loss. The most affecting moments transcend one’s own self and make you part of something bigger. In other words, transcendent experiences align you with forces outside yourself.

Walking into that Infinite Mirrors, you are outside of anything you know, as such suspending reality, and itself transported into a completely new space. Within that sphere, you can construct something unlike what you know anywhere else. While the selfies seem superficial, taking one places you with many, many others. A shared community is another situation that fosters transcendent experiences, as scholar Elizabeth Buie notes. Shared experiences foster collective, intimate moments aimed at communal purposes. You might be posting pictures of your beautiful face on your Instagram account, but it isn’t because you are a narcissist. You are posting an account of this moment that you can’t even begin to describe in words.

Flow VS Transcendence

Whereas transcendence is one amazing moment, flow is a series of good, solid moments. Transcendence is one insane, mind-blowing love and flow is your solid, steady partner. Both are good, but for different reasons. A good flow builds a movement in space, towards a solid completion. In ideal flow situations, as Stimulant CEO Darren David describes “the act of doing itself is pleasurable, not the outcome or the payoff. We must get people curious about something that’s novel or unusual, but comfortable enough that they won’t instantly opt out because it looks too hard or confusing.”

The flow state is like knowing you can walk across a rope bridge because it is only a few feet over a beautiful calm creek. The trip across is worth it, but you also know if you trip, you won’t get hurt.   Flow is about movement; it can vary from fast to slow.  Flow is when you can solve a problem but without too much stretch of outside your comfort zone (Buie, #UXWeek17).  Flow experiences are rewarding and replicable activities.  Flow fosters knowledge creation supporting meaning-making in safe but challenging ways.

Designers can increase flow through good choices. Intuitive navigation, such as simple signage and systematized pathways, serve as the backbone of flow. Basically, the physical space should help them with overwhelming them; it should be a space that makes them feel in control of their experience. Spaces can be “designed to favor exploration or engagement or energy to achieve certain outcomes.”

What Flow and Transcendent Design Mean for Museums

Here is where the challenge is. Flow should be the bread and butter of museums. They should design spaces that feel comfortable and easy for visitors. If they do, visitors will be willing to take up the challenge of experiencing the spaces (though even then they want self-directed challenges). Yet, museums often focus on collections over visitors. In other words, museums don’t think enough about flow.

Transcendence, on the other hand, is like lightning in a bottle. It is hard to make happen in the exact same way again. As such, no one installation will be the next “Infinite Mirrors.” Sure, there are lessons that can be learned:

  • Make it something totally different.
  • Make sure there is an orientation that breaks with reality.
  • Foster dissonance and suspension of reality.

But, there are infinite ways to get to that state, and yet, there is no one way to get it right.

Much of the backlash against Kusuma is missing an important point. Visitors crave transcendence. They find it all over, in travel, outdoors, in concerts. They want to find it in museums. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t crave flow. If those visitors of Kusuma don’t convert to museum-goers, it’s not their fault. We don’t spend enough time on flow and then misunderstand awe. In the end, if we don’t spend more energy on both, people will stop coming for either.