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by • 28 Jan, 2011 • Inspiration, Thoughts about museumsComments (5)3499

What would Richard Branson do if he ran a museum?

Born in the early 1980s, Richard Branson, his bold endeavours and the iconic brand Virgin have been a constant source of amazement in my life. Everything Sir Richard touches seems to turn into gold (just look at the ad above!). So, what would happen if he said goodbye to galactic and bought himself a museum?

1. He’d cut a lot of the red tape

The amount of bureaucracy in an average museum is appalling. “The world is full of red tape, created by committees with too much time and an overbearing desire for control” Richard would make sure decisions were made fast and using the qualities of the people involved. Not hastily, but with determination, tackling problems when they arise and taking responsibility. If you can build an airline from scratch in three months, everything is possible.

2. He’d embrace change, challenge and innovation

“You’ve got to stretch to grow.” Nothing is sacred, especially not because it has been done so for years. If something were broken, Mr. Branson would fix it. “To win, you have to break the rules.” Innovation, not for the sake of change, but to improve the product. How often do you see museums repeating the same old trick that – honestly – doesn’t really work that well? It doesn’t cost much more energy to try something new. You might discover something great.

3. He’d make the museum sexy

Does this even need explaining? Look at the ad above. Surprisingly, I believe this is the one point most museum get. Think about the sex appeal of the Tate and MoMA brand, amongst others. There’s more though. “Create excitement in everything you do” and do not fear the extraordinary when putting yourself on the map. People love it to be part of sexy things.

4. He’d put the visitor at the core of business

“If we offend one person by a bad experience or sloppy service, then we’ve potentially lost hundreds of customers.” Sir Richard talks with the passengers on his planes, buyers in his stores, everyone. Why? “Our customers are the kind of people who are bright and innovative.” Not only will you tackle trouble and inconveniences at an early stage, preventing bad word-of-mouth, the best ideas probably come from the visitors! When was the last time you talked with your visitors for more than 5 minutes?

5. He’d make sure the museum played a role in its community

When your museum is successful, it should start to do some good. “Make a difference and help others.” Mr. Branson would always think about how his museum could have a positive impact on the world around it. First its immediate communities and then the world. There’s some museums doing wonderful work on inclusion, emancipation and empowerment in their communities. However, there’s also still museum using the “crowd” as cheap expendable labour… Be meaningful for the people around you, and work CO2 neutral.

6. He’d never think it’s impossible. Whatever

Most of my admiration for Richard Branson comes from his attempts to fly around the world in a balloon. Especially after almost getting killed. Nothing is impossible, there’s always a way, and it’s always worth trying before giving up. Quite often as a response to a challenge, such as the ones above, I hear museum people say “That’s a wonderful idea but it just doesn’t work in our organisation.” Richards Branson’s response would be, “Screw it, let’s do it.”

All quotes from the book “Screw it, let’s do it. Lessons in Life and Business” by Richard Branson.

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  • Funny that the same day I see this post, I receive the invitation to the Mattress Factory’s big summer fundraiser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8BLZ78Px_A

    Art museums are good at sexy. History and science museums? Less so.

    And I must admit that I get a bit uncomfortable with the Virgin-style sexiness–it’s so heteronormative, and as a feminist I can get rankled easily by what I perceive as male gaze/objectification of women.

  • That trailer really made me want to go. If only more people dared to do it like that. I guess you’re right (contemporary) art museums are better at being sexy. Although that might be because of many reasons and I try not to say “because (contemporary) art is sexier than history or science.” I think we can make science and history sexy, and it’s happening.

    And regarding the gender biased side of the ad: I think it’s up to cultural institutions to set an example of how it can also be done. The Mattress Factory seems to be comfortable with it. I bet we can make museum sexy in a Coca Cola Light kind of way!

  • Jamie Fuller

    This is a great list and good food for thought. In response to a previous comment, though, I have to say that I don’t think history and science museums need be any less sexy than art museums! Aviators, explorers and other historical figures were the rock stars of their day and many a scientist has been considered a heretic or eccentric dreamer by his contemporaries. Adventure stories and science fiction has been capturing the minds and imaginations of readers/ move go-ers for decades and still top the charts; all the material is there – the challenge is simply for museums to bring material to life for visitors so they can understand and catch the passion!

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