My 2019 Word of the Year

My word of the year for 2019 is formidable. According to the dictionary, formidable means “inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.” By no means am I seeking to control through fear in the year 2019; rather, I want to feel and be at the top of my game as I complete my PhD and begin my digital fellowships at two UK museums. When I hear the word formidable, I immediately conjure up the image of Mary Poppins – practically perfect in every way. Poppins does not control through fear, but through compassionate pragmatism.

In 2017, as I was starting a new role in the financial services industry, I chose the word bridge. This word guided my interactions and objectives as I sought to build an enterprise digital transformation strategy. I spent the majority of the year on a listening road tour – observing and seeking the thoughts of associates of all levels of the organization. The word complemented my urban planning strategic inspiration.

In 2018, I gravitated to the word believe because I needed a higher power to help me navigate organizational politics and the strength to complete the bulk of PhD dissertation writing.

It has been my habit to engrave my word of the year on a charm (like those from My Intent or Giving Keys) and place the charms on my infinity bracelet. I wear this bracelet daily and find myself fiddling with or gazing at the charms while working through a problem or taking a meaningful pause while talking. The charms are a constant reminder of the goals I am aiming to achieve.

This is the year where I have set my sights higher than ever. I needed a word that was strong enough to support the move to a new country and new career. I needed a word that conveyed the type of control that would devour my self-destructive tendencies. I bantered about words like strength or fearless, but such words did not evoke the awesomeness required. Then, in December, while reading an interview with Emily Blunt promoting the release of Mary Poppins 2, I came across the word formidable. Blunt was describing her impression of Julie Andrews’ interpretation of the famous British nanny. Instantly, I knew this was the word I must claim in 2019.

Do you have a word guiding your new year aspirations? Three? A phrase? Share how you came to claim your word(s) or phrase.

Happy New Year!

My #BookDNA 2018

Each week since 2012, I share the books I read that have become part of my #BookDNA. And each year, I select my favorite reads to share with you! This is no easy task.

Books are my favorite gift to give and receive. If you are still seeking last-minute holiday gifts or want to buy something meaningful with a gift card you have received, then I highly recommend the following books:

Fiction

  • Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel – The final book in The Themis Files. I gifted the first book to many friends several years ago. This science fiction tale has strong female characters, robots, and is not written in traditional narrative format – the book is a mix of interviews and journal entries. The format may seem a bit jarring at first, but I guarantee the story will hook you.
  • The Poppy War by R. F Kuang -  This adventure is a mash-up of Hogwarts and Asian-inspired fantasy. What I really appreciated about this book is that it was written for an adult reader.
  • Furyborn (The Empirium Trilogy) by Claire Legrand – This fantasy follows two strong female characters – one a royal and the other an assassin – separated by a millennia. Both women have powerful magic binding their fates to each other.
  • Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi - I was blown away by this book. This West African-inspired fantasy debut has some of the best writing I have ever read. If you were feeling empty after completing the Broken Earth Trilogy, this new epic will fill the void.

Non-Fiction

  • Personal History by Katherine Graham – Did you like watching the film, The Post, this year? Katherine Graham was more formidable than the performance portrayed by Meryl Streep. I was equal parts depressed and inspired by the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. This woman so much during her lifetime. The story is fitting for us to read now – how do we learn from the past?
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover – I haven’t seen a Best of 2018 list that does not mention this book. This memoir reads like fiction. Tara’s story of stepping into her first classroom at seventeen and her quest for knowledge that takes her to Harvard and Cambridge University is a page-turner that I read in one sitting!
  • Building the Future: Big Teaming for Audacious Innovation by Amy C. Edmondson and Susan Salter Reynolds – Put down all the how-to business books and read THIS book. Authors, a Harvard professor and a journalist, share culture clash lessons derived from the story of a struggling smart-city start-up.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some notable Best of 2018 book lists for further exploration:

My new gig: Digital Fellow, One by One

Last month, I shared that I was leaving the corporate world to pursue the study of digital transformation in the cultural sector. At the time, I was unable to share the particulars about my new position because I was in the midst of securing a visa for a 15-month fellowship in the UK. The past few months have been a turbulent time of transition, but the visa is in-hand, I have secured lodging, and have outlined a plan for my family’s international move. Game on!

So, a bit more about my new gig

I will be one of five Digital Fellows associated with ‘One by One.’ This is a collaborative project exploring and developing digital literacy in museums. ‘One by One’ is a 30-month national research project helping to build digitally confident museums. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is led by The University of Leicester in partnership with Culture24, and is being delivered together with a range of museums, strategic sector agencies and academic partners – including the Museums Association, HLF, Nesta, Arts Council England, AIM, NMDC, the Collections Trust and the Museum Development Network.

Phase One “mapped the ways digital skills are currently supplied, developed and deployed in the UK museum sector and pinpointed current changes in the demand around these skills.” Read more about Phase One findings.

Phase Two will be released soon and “will detail the specific range of digital literacies needed by the UK museum sector.” Read more about the objectives and methods for Phase Two.

As a Digital Fellow, I will join the ‘One by One’ team during Phase Three of the project and will be based in two of the the partner museums, The National Army Museum and The Museum of London, to deliver a “practical approach to building digital literacies within specific museum contexts” for the two museums where I will be embedded for nine months. Read more about Phase Three objectives.

The final six months of my fellowship will be spent with the other Digital Fellows capturing the insights gleaned from the museums associated with Phase Three.

I would be lying if I said I was not equal parts excited and terrified about this new opportunity, but the ‘One by One’ Project aligns brilliantly with my dissertation focusing on digital transformation readiness through the understanding of an institution’s digital data collection and use. I will be able to apply the tools and learnings from my corporate experience to the cultural sector. In time, I hope to re-enter the corporate sector and share insights from the cultural sector! There is so much we can learn if we adopt a growth mindset and take inspiration beyond industry echo chambers. Stay tuned – I will weave tales of my museum adventures into the new digital walkability series.

Making our digital cities walkable

There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. -Jane Jacobs

I am obsessed with the teachings of Jane Jacobs – ‘What would Jane do?’ is a question I often ask myself when scoping a new digital community project. When Walkable City was published in 2012, I was immediately drawn to the concepts author, Jeff Speck, championed because they were a modern interpretation of the community principles Jane Jacobs advocated. Walkable City  is a book that inspires me to think about how we can make our own digital spaces – workplace and consumer communities – walkable.

What do I mean when I advocate for walkable digital spaces within an ecosystem? Make it easy for your consumer to find the right content/community at the right place and right time. Perhaps, if we consider the digital ecosystem instead of individual pages, microsites, and communities, we can increase the value of the whole. I challenge you to look at your company’s website or intranet or community space – who owns the space(s)? You may immediately answer: sales, communications, human resources…, but do they really? In reality, the space is most-likely subsidized by many business units and communication/marketing campaigns with competing interests and varying levels of funding and executive support or interaction. Sleek landing page design may be hiding a multitude of sins…drop-down and hamburger navigation menus that trigger panic in a new hire or an employee on a deadline seeking information or personal contact. Rather than reflecting a healthy digital ecosystem, your digital spaces look more like urban sprawl complete with digital deserts and highways cutting off one space or community from complimentary resources.

The digital workplace is part of a greater ecosystem. It is a mistake to think or plan for the digital workplace as a standalone node within a digital wasteland of failed microsites and intranet redesign projects. Cutting corners does not result in making better places for connection, community, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Yet, aspiring for greatness is not enough…we need to see the path and all that is required to make decisions for, prioritize, and invest in the future. There is no single front door to the workplace, just as there is no one path to navigate the physical halls. We cannot forget the lessons learned from physical urban planning as we design our digital spaces.

We are building digital cities.

Similar to physical city planning, digital urban / community planners or architects need to be armed with how to sell walkability to receive consistent and ample funding to invest in the economics, health, climate, equity, and community of their desired digital space. This is no easy task because there is a false sense of simplicity to digital, social, and community projects. Companies of all sizes are swept-up in thinking there is a one-time cost to design or underestimate the time and energy needed to foster connection.

Over the next several months, I will be reflecting on how Speck’s recent book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, may be applied to the digital frontier. Let’s cut through the marketing consultant jargon and frame the scaffolding you will need to structure your vibrant digital space, by:

  1. Understanding the digital ecosystemWhat does the digital city include and how do I sell this concept to management, peers, and consumers?
  2. Establishing zonesHow do I take on the role of a place-maker and create safe spaces for engagement, creativity, innovation, and collaboration?
  3. Building crosswalksHow do I easily connect digital neighborhoods?
  4. Developing green spacesHow do I create free-range activity and interaction that is not stifled by management or short-term engagement bribes? 
  5. Packaging experiencesHow do I learn from community interactions and experiences to continuously refresh company intranet/website/community design and navigation?

It is time to go beyond theory, begin shaping strategy into action, and forge pathways connecting our digital neighborhoods into a thriving digital ecosystem.

Using digital workplace reflections to fuel scenario planning

It is that time of year when everyone seems to polish their crystal globes and share predictions for the year to come. I am wary of such practices because we spend so much time with an eye on the horizon that we stop to reflect on the past and what we can learn to assist us in the present. Drop ‘digital’ – The workplace is constantly in a state of flux. We have been wrangling how to collaborate-in-place (whether it be physical or digital) for some time. Predictions are used to convey an understanding of the environment and a certain level of expertise. Unfortunately, it is difficult to suss out the true expertise amidst the plethora of predictions, and as a result, many companies take these predictions and try to force fit company / individual solutions rather than seeking out fit-for-purpose through scenario planning exercises (developed specifically for the company).

I am a fanatic about scenario planning…I better be considering it is one of the two business tools I have been researching for the past four years to support my dissertation. You do not need to be a futurist or contract a consulting agency to craft your own scenarios. All you need is some thinking time. I know – Easier said than done. I do not recommend devising or evaluating scenarios in 15-minute increments between meetings, but I have found December to be a fine time for this work because many companies have a freeze on technology or new spending/projects and essentially shut down the last two weeks of the year. No matter what time of the year you choose to embark upon your scenario planning challenge, ensure you set aside a good chunk of time to engage in this deep work.

What is scenario planning?

Similar to many of the catalysts igniting the digital age in the 1960s, world events also influenced the way business strategy was being discussed and designed. The academic practice of scenario planning began with Herman Kahn’s work assessing the possibility of nuclear war and economic uncertainties of a potential boom in the 1980s. Scenario planning came into the business mainstream in 1971 within the Royal Dutch/Shell Company under the vision of Pierre Wack and Edward Newland (Schwartz, 1991). It is this process of examining potential futures and structuring narratives to influence business leadership and decisions adopted by Shell and other business titans over the course of three decades that will be the focus of this study and ultimate creation of a final framework adapted for cultural institutions.

Futurist and president of Global Business Network, Peter Schwartz, captured the theory of scenario planning in bestselling publication, The Art of the Long View, in 1991. Schwartz learned scenario planning under the tutelage of Pierre Wack. Scenario planning was crystalized for the business community formally in 1985 as part of a pivotal two-part Harvard Business Review series, ‘The Gentle Art of Reperceiving’ and ‘Shooting the Rapids,’ penned by Pierre Wack. It is this initial article that began to make transparent the “special sauce” employed by Royal Dutch/Shell to escape financial and industry turmoil in the 1980s (Schwartz, 1991). Wack introduced scenario planning as a shift in managerial mindset from the traditional forecast planning. Scenarios are a set of hypotheses with three prerequisite conditions of relevance, coherence, and likelihood (Godet and Roubelat, 1996). Scenarios are developed from “outer space,” meaning they incorporate information external of the company, such as business cycle information, technology trends, demand and supply pricing, and more quantitative variables (Wack). This type of data crowds the pages of forecast planning, yet does not address the “inner space” or the mind and personal factors managers use to judge these scenarios for potential business strategy and outcomes (Wack).

Scenario planning bridges the inner and outer spaces to surface the unknown and challenge assumptions required to address and influence actions of decision makers. Wack emphasizes the required philosophy embracing scenario planning is understanding the power of responsibility and ripples of impact at all levels and various timelines. Wack states, “…power comes with an understanding of the forces behind the outcomes. Scenarios must help decision makers develop their own feel for the nature of the system, the forces at work within it, the uncertainties that underlie the alternative scenarios, and the concepts useful for interpreting key data (1985).” It is useful to understand what resources the organization has at any given time and the extent to which those capabilities may be affected. The maturity model serves as the business object to understand the current state, but the value is only reaped when this understanding is paired with the drivers, interdependencies, and trends of possible futures impacting the tasks and timeline an organization may or should take to optimize assets.

The elements of forecast planning are essential ingredients for a scenario to plant inside the mind of a manager. Wack calls this process “rooting” because a narrative without such predetermined data “would be effective and alive in the minds of managers as long as a tree without roots (1985).” The futurist maintains the image of the tree to further relate scenarios to cherry trees where the fruit is not born on the trunk or larger boughs, but the smaller branches (Wack). The fruit of labor that is the outcome of a scenario requires the extraordinary foundation of the tree trunk, the protection and resourcing of the boughs, and the focused and agile investment channeling through the smaller branches. The tree is part of an ecosystem fueled by specific nutrients derived from its environment, developing a unique signature or terroir. The scenario outcome or fruit is only as sweet and rich in flavor as all of the elements required for it to take life.

Academia is not short on models or frameworks devised to shed light on topics of interest or bearing on cultural institutions and when aligned with thinking inspired by Wack, “scenarios can effectively organize a variety of seemingly unrelated economic, technological, competitive, political, and societal information and translates it into a framework for judgment – in a way that no model could do (1985).” Just as a cherry tree could not take hold on the Arctic, scenarios are meant to represent different worlds with various outcomes that are consistent with the internal fundamental structure or life force of the cultural institution. Scenarios represent the many pathways to achieve that life force (Wack). There is no one right answer, but a small number of narratives exploring these pathways that when synced with capability status of a maturity grid, will prepare an organization to weather any circumstance and bear fruit for the next generation.

What areas should we be questioning?

Many organizations take steps to question and plan for the future. While these actions are commendable, some of the planning exercises may be causing more harm than good by advocating deterministic thinking and unintentionally supporting the assumptions of decision makers. Schwartz recommends asking the following open questions to begin mapping the gaps and opportunities of the organization: “What challenges could the world present me? How might others respond to my actions (1991, p.3)?” Scenario planning is not limited to thinking or planning about negative-based futures and may also be applied for organizations dreaming about greater opportunity and viability in the years to come. Scenarios are narratives constructed around various plot points of quantitative and qualitative data that paint a distinct worldview for that scenario (Schwartz, 1991, p.4).

Forecast planning may be the default for decision makers because fault can be traced back to the past quantitative data extrapolated for future consumption without context. It appears easier to take this route for action rather than the continuous barrage of questions and challenging of status quo driven by the scenario planning process. Blame can and is shifted down instead of accountability being at the top for action of success and failure. Schwartz does not side-step failure as a reality, but strengthens the argument for scenario planning as giving the manager a degree of confidence not viable in any other planning situation and being prepared for any outcome. Schwartz councils, “It is this ability to act with a knowledgeable sense of risk and reward that separates both the business executives and the wise individual from a bureaucrat or a gambler (1991, p.6).”

Change is difficult for a company of any size in any industry. True transformation occurs when actions and mindsets align towards mutual positive outcomes. Wack termed this behavior modification as “reperceiving” or to sync one’s reality with reality as it is perceived or may become in time (Wack). The end result is not to prescribe exact outlooks, but begin emotional and actionable tangible preparations for addressing any significant potential future. These early futurists pioneered the blend of art and science that would become the art of the long view Schwartz and the next generation of futurists would document and explore.

Your challenge

Consider using the digital workplace predictions drafted by Paul Miller of the Digital Workplace Group to begin crafting your own possible, plausible, and probable scenarios to aid in your decision making and investment processes. This is hard work. It is messy work. You may encounter the pressure to produce tangible, actionable, and agile results, but the process of benchmarking and scenario planning is the necessary and actionable work required for a solid digital ecosystem foundation and flow of information.

If you would like examples of well-crafted narratives, check out Trendswatch 2018 by the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museum, depicting four narratives set in the year 2040. … You don’t have to be a cultural institution to benefit from these examples. The narratives were drafted by CFM by crowdsourcing ideas from the museum community.

Share this challenge with your community by asking them to help think about what the world would be like for your company in five, ten or twenty years.

Resources

To get you started, let me share with you some of my favorite resources to help create scenario narratives:

Letting go and making way for a new adventure

When I published my first blog post in 2004, I never could have imagined how much my life and career would change over fourteen years. During this time, my blog has transformed three times. Initially, my blog, Communicators Anonymous, focused on the trials of a young, early career PR professional. My obsession with data and how communicators should understand their communities beyond mere personas kicked off the second iteration of the blog known as, The Root Report. Then, in 2010, I dubbed my blog, Your Digital Tattoo, to convey and discuss the permanence of our individual digital bread crumb trails.

I won’t be renaming my blog with this next career transition. The digital tattoo concept is more relevant today. Instead, I will be expanding the discussion of digital transformation journeys, importance of community management, and the need for digital literacy development, beyond Corporate America. There is much that can be learned and transferred between the private industry and the cultural sector.

Since 2012, I have been working toward moving from the private industry to the cultural sector. It has been a long road for everyone involved! Earlier this year, I leapt without a net – I resigned from an executive position in a successful financial services company and focused on completing my PhD dissertation on digital data collection and use. What is the saying? When one door closes, another opens. I have accepted a 15-month research position in the United Kingdom! As anyone who has been through an international move knows, the visa process is complicated. Once all the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed, I will follow-up with more details about this position in future posts.

My social media habits and personal content marketing have changed dramatically over the past couple of years. When I was no longer the face or voice of a brand, I took the opportunity to take a step back and observe digital behaviors. Now, I am back and ready to contribute a consistent voice once again. On this blog, I will detail my new adventures in the cultural sector, as well as, further explore the digital neighborhood + urban planning ideas I have been road-testing for the past five years.

My curiosity is insatiable – I hope you will join me as I embark on this new adventure!

And what better time to announce the publication of The Routledge Handbook of Museums, Media and Communication. Inside, you will find my first published chapter in museum studies – Smart media: Museums in the new data terroir. I am honored to be included among such brilliant voices of our generation.

All details for how to order this text, are in this flyer: flyer-final-USD