by • 11 Nov, 2011 • People, Thoughts about museumsComments (8)3904

Will your next hire work towards a great future for your organisation?

Curriculum Vitae
Photo by Desi on Flickr.

There are two ways to look at a potential new hire: you can look at what she has done already, or at what she is still going to do in her life. Simply put, you can hire for their past, or hire for your future.

Certainly, there are positions where a long and prosperous career is an advantage. President of the board, for instance. For others, a decent degree might be useful, such as brain surgeon or passenger plane pilot.

Most of the time, however, a curriculum with ten straight years of working experience in a relevant field preceded by five straight years of relevant higher education only means your potential new hire is extremely good at avoiding change and being predictable.

That is hardly the kind of skill and attitude the 21st century asks for, even in a conservative sector such as culture. Then why, I wonder (because this is a rant), do I see so many unconventionally talented and young people around me struggling to find a position in the cultural sector in the Netherlands? It is not as if we are not in a desperate need for change…

When I came back to the Netherlands after spending some years abroad in the spring of 2009, my curriculum was a hotchpotch of freelance jobs, voluntary work, extracurricular courses and one-year appointments. I’ve heard it being called a mess. My CEO at the Museum of National History thought differently, and did so with many of my colleagues. Young and ambitious people who compensated a lack of experience with a double amount of enthusiasm and ideas. It’s the best team I’ve ever worked with, and we regularly pulled tricks considered impossible by all the highly trained, highly experienced people in other institutions.

These brilliant young people brought with them fresh ideas, optimism, experience from elsewhere than behind a museum desk, passion and a hunger to be successful. They developed themselves quickly to be exceptionally great at the work they were actually doing. They became superstars together with the museum.

These people, and so many others around me, don’t need ten years of relevant work experience, or even a relevant degree. That is because these people are passionate and ambitious and curious and open to new things. No education and no job can teach people to be like that.

You can hire new people to be safe and predictable, or take your chances to innovate and do things differently. You can hire to continue as ever, or to maybe become something special. The first approach suits the organisation that knows of no trouble, faces a bright future, and regardless of what happens will still be there in 100 years. The second, everybody else.

So, what’s it going to be? Will your next hire be predictable and boring, or unconventionally and passionately work towards a great future for your organisation?

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  • I’m working up a very similarly flavoured post right now. 

    I think the reality is that you need a mix of both – but the role of ‘the safe and predictable ones’ is to shield and shepherd the passionate experimenters and create a work environment where they can flourish. 

    There’s always a need for ‘wise counsel’ and one of things I find terribly lacking in the sector at the moment is a strong mentoring programme for young entrants, not from the late career generation, but from the mid-career generation (who in turn should be mentored by the late career generation). These mentors, now we have ‘teh Internets’ should and can easily be international. 

  • I like the idea of a mentor programme. This summer, when I had the opportunity to visit the great people at Tate, I realised how lucky I was to have that opportunity, and how much I would love to offer that to more people in the sector. I’d love to be a mentor to new cultural rebels, as well as welcome visitors whenever possible. It shouldn’t be difficult to set up such a system…

    And of course we need predictable people as well. I’m happy the guy paying my salary is predictable!:-) I just think there’s way to much focus on that in the Netherlands. I’m sure it’s better in more innovative countries.

  • I don’t really think there are ‘more innovative countries’. 

    There are just ‘more innovative moments’ where the right people, place, ideas and capital to implement them have converged. You can probably try to set up a system to generate a greater chance of such moments but there’s never any certainty. 

    At least the Dutch are known for their international travelling. Unlike some other highly developed countries I can think of where under half the population doesn’t have a passport.

  • This is another discussion, but I do believe there are areas (countries, but especially certain cities) that foster innovation and change better than others. As well as moments, by the way. With sufficient power and ambition, one can create such areas and moments. I believe innovation is a choice, not a lucky break when all the conditions are right.

    The Dutch are known to travel internationally, but I guess Holland looks different from the inside. Our journeys to discover and bond with different cultures are long gone. Most of us now travel because the beaches are nicer elsewhere. It’s the Dutch you meet as a foreigner that are the fortunate exception and by no means the average. I guess the same holds true for all other nationalities.

  • Lynda Kelly

    Nice post Jasper. Charles Handy looked at this several years ago in his book The Elephant and the Flea, which talked about future workers being fleas, flitting in and out of jobs/orgs/careers but that they still relied on elephants for this.

    I recently wrote a paper (with the prof community’s help called “Can we build the 21st century museum with 19th century skills which (like Seb) I’m about to blog also.

    This is a great conversation to have. Am wondering whether Directors are having this??


  • Hi Lynda,

    Like with everything, I guess there are Directors who talk about this, and those who don’t. From the Dutch museum reality, for instance, I know that places like the Amsterdam Museum actively scout young talent, hire many of them, and have them grow within the organisation. Another well documented case is the Museumnight (n8), where the organisational staff has to be young and can only stay on for 3 years.

    I’m curious about your paper and blog post! Thanks and all the best,

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