I'm devoting my brief musing today to a story from the Harvard Business Review that I included in "Dispatches from the Future of Museums" last week. In case you missed it, please do read "What Design Thinking is Doing for the San Francisco Opera,"
It describes how students from Stanford's Hasso Plattner School of Design worked with staff of the SFO to create a pop-up event called "Barely Opera" that upended most of the conventions around how opera.
This story reinforces a message I've been delivering to museums in lectures and here on the blog; "In balancing [the] equation [for financial success], a museum gets to set the value of only one variable—the one that represents its core purpose, the heart of what it exists to deliver. The staff, board, volunteers have to be willing to experiment with all the other variables."
"Barely Opera" demonstrates the power of
- taking risks
- rapid prototyping
- participatory experiences
- going to the community, rather than expecting the community to come to you
- learning from outside your sector
- swapping roles inside your organization
- celebrating failure
SFO found that the biggest internal barrier to this rapid application of design thinking was the value their staff place on perfection, a trait their General Director describes as "our blessing in allowing us to produce moments of exquisite theater, and our curse in terms of not giving us the flexibility to adapt quickly.” Once staff overcome that barrier, the result (as you can see in the video below), was indeed messy, imperfect, and in a very meaningful way, a huge success.
The good news? The pop-up audience loved the content--responding better to classical opera repertoire than to the few pop standards organizers threw into the mix. "The problem for younger audiences" the narrative concludes, "were some of the trappings and traditions that surrounded the art form – the feeling that there were lots of rules made for an intimidating experience." A lesson in there for museums, as well, I do believe.
Anyway, here, see for yourself: