"Photograph of postal employees in the Postal Savings Office, New York City" by Smithsonian Institution

by • 27 Mar, 2014 • Organisation, Thoughts about museumsComments (1)11745

Break down your walls and work in a cafe, incubator or shared workspace

As an entrepreneur in Amsterdam I spend my time on my bike cycling all through the city, mingling with creatives and other busy bees in coffee bars (not coffee shops!), cultural institutions and other public places. Earlier this year, to ease the hunt for wifi and great beans I started renting a desk in a shared workspace with countless other entrepreneurs and artists.

The result, of course, is random encounters and fresh ideas from being surrounded by the buzz and energy of others. These week the encounters cumulated in an idea.

So here’s the idea, initiated in a discussion about what heritage and museums can learn from start-ups: Why not work a couple of days each week from a bar, incubator or creative hotspot? I’m sure you will achieve more, be more creative and probably be on the receiving end of more opportunities.

The main difference between most institutions in culture & heritage and startups is that the latter often lack walls – both physical and hierarchical. Startups (like De gulle ekster which I’m involved in) are often run from open and energetic environments where people and ideas mingle more freely and entrepreneurial energy is in the air. Of the many characteristics of such organisations, the round-the-table, in-it-with-the-team way of working is one that could greatly benefit many of the institutions we work for.

Walls are barriers and so they limit success and slow progress. The only advantage of walls I can think of is that they’re a great place to put up art. (And, OK, indiscriminately keep the weather out.)

By the way, the need to concentrate in the confines of your office is not an argument for walls. The average worker checks his email 30 times per hour, which is significantly more that the average barista will check if you want another latte. Concentration comes from disconnecting your wifi and a good pair of headphones.

Also, work from a bar, incubator or elsewhere. Bring your laptop. Bring your headphones. Don’t schedule your meeting there. You will look fancy, but not really do anything differently and it distracts the people who do work around you.

There’s a business model in here somewhere as well, with boards of directors of prestigious businesses looking for prestigious places to welcome their prestigious partners. Places that are free much more often now because you and your team are at the local incubator mingling with startups. I’m sure the fee for your office can be higher than the price of a desk like mine.

The first pictures of New Inc., the New Museum’s new incubator show a wallless space. I’m sure we’re going to see and hear lots of exciting things coming from this place. The new Waterline Museum I’m working with at the moment has elements of the wallless culture embedded, which is often a benefit of starting new things from scratch. And I’m sure this post wouldn’t have happend if I hadn’t been sharing a workspace with the platform behind the startup/heritage discussion.

If you’re working with your institution from an incubator or cafe or elsewhere, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Let me know!

Header: “Photograph of postal employees in the Postal Savings Office, New York City” by Smithsonian Institution

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