Being the Mentor – Ditch Digital Guru or Manager Titles

Last week, I needed a vacation from the vacation (to Germany to visit close friends and England to attend the MuseumNext conference). My Inbox was a disaster and the meetings mounted up because people were preparing to be out of the office this week because of the American holiday, Fourth of July. The crazy whirlwind that is my full-time job, being a parent, and a museum fanatic/lurker, prevented me from writing a post summarizing my recent MuseumNext conference take-aways. The additional time did give me some breathing room to (procrastinate) think through what I would post and why. One theme resonated throughout the MuseumNext conference: Everyone wanted to be or have a digital guru and no one seemed to want one person to be the digital commanding force. Let me explain.

The conference kicked off with a bang as Koven Smith delivered some hard truths about “becoming authentically digital.” Though the conference audience may have been museum professionals, Koven’s recommendation to accelerate taking digital out of job titles to get get more people thinking about and taking an active role in digital work and integration, applies to any industry at the moment. This was my favorite line from the keynote:

“In the same way that DDD used to mean “automatic awesome” for audiophiles, “digital” for museums means sweet motherlodes of engagement and young people. We’re finally getting digital. Let’s roll out that blog, and wait for carloads of teenagers to arrive on our doorsteps. That’s the way this works, right?”

I will not duplicate Koven’s post and try to define digital. It is all semantics and how the definition does or does not align with your organization’s culture. I have struggled for years determining if ‘social media,’ ‘community management,’ and now ‘digital’ belong in my job title. To get through the front door, you feel like you should be using those descriptors, and then, when you are past the guard, the title description becomes a straight jacket. I have said many times publicly, that my goal is to work myself out of a job. The role of community manager belongs to every member of the organization, just as ‘digital’ is (as Koven describes) “a methodology that could be adopted by anyone inside  the organization.” In a follow-up session at MuseumNext, Tijana Tasich, Digital Production Lead at Tate, echoed many of Koven’s recommendations about eliminating the need for a separate digital department, and suggested we recruit digital leaders to act as guides of how the organization can apply digital experience and authority.

Let’s go one step further and recommend the grooming or hiring of digital mentors. There is also a lot of baggage that is attached to the word, ‘mentor,’ so allow me to define mentor as one of the archetypes of Joseph Campbell’s, Hero’s Journey, described by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey as:

“In the anatomy of the human psyche, Mentors represent the Self, the god within us, the aspect of personality that is connected with all things…Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy takes, myths, or screenplays, stand for the hero’s highest aspirations…Mentors are often former heroes who have survived life’s early trials and are now passing on the gift of knowledge and wisdom.”

In the journey to ‘becoming authentically digital,’ the hero is the collective organization. The function of the mentor is to teach or train the hero for upcoming challenges and bestows an important gift to the hero to be earned and used at the appropriate time during the journey.  Just as there are many types of heroes, there are many types of mentors, willingly or unwillingly, teaching in spite of their own tragically flawed selves. Both the hero and the mentor are called to serve and neither can ignore the call to adventure.

“Although the Hero’s Journey often finds the Mentor appearing in Act One, the placement of a mentor in a story is a practical consideration. A character may be needed at any point who knows the ropes, has the map to the unknown country, or can give the hero key information at the right time. Mentors may show up early in a story, or wait in the wings until needed at the critical moment in Act Two or Act Three.” Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

We must prepare ourselves and our organizations to be able to become and / or receive these guides. To become authentic, we have to understand ourselves, worts and all. Taking ‘digital’ out of a job title will not accelerate the needed thinking to embody a digital methodology. Museums…organizations…are in need of digital mentors who can provide motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Now, when you frame the job description in this way, many of the self-proclaimed digital gurus, directors, and managers become irrelevant.

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