Vision, value, and values

(Reading time: 2m, 7s)

Last Friday, I wrote about the ways organizations may cede too much control to their audiences. One of the points I returned to was the idea of value propositions for museums — in fact, I wound up writing about that idea again yesterday in the context of MoMA’s online store … I feel an aside coming on.

Should I be worried about covering the same topic more than once in these daily letters?


New people join the list, and longtime readers adopt new perspectives. What resonates with one person one day may need to be painted in a different light to capture someone else’s attention. Ideas change, too. Everything is iterative, and nothing is really new. Carry on.

Now, after last Friday’s email, I had an interesting exchange with list member Randi Korn whose article, Self-Portrait: First Know Thyself, Then Serve Your Public, I wanted to share with you.

Here’s one of the parts in the article that caught my eye:

Mission statements clarify, particularly for staff, what the museum values, including collections, programs, and scholarship activities. But they usually do not incorporate a vision for the museum’s relationships with its visitors and communities or the kinds of experiences that visitors can have. A museum’s mission statement should have a companion statement that, with great specificity, the kind of visitor experiences it values. The museum then can provide visitors with opportunities to have those experiences.

The question here, as I understand it, is: What unique value does the museum want to provide the visitor based on its individual characteristics as defined by its collection and staff expertise?

Value is at play here, but it may be a little different from the value proposition I keep returning to. I think of a value proposition as asking: What unique value does the museum offer to visitors, from the visitor’s perspective? I tend to think of value from the perspective of the visitor, but Korn’s article reminds me that it’s essential to maintain a balance between what audiences may value and what the museum is uniquely capable of offering.

This reminds me of a letter from a few months ago where I pointed you to an article about the Indianapolis Museum of Art opening a mini-golf course. I said I winced a little at that idea — probably because something about it felt a little out of balance. Does that kind of recreation reflect the unique value of the museum? I don’t know enough about the project to say for sure, but it’s an example of an initiative that may reside on the far side of a value spectrum that’s defined by the audience on one side and the organization on the other.

Does your organization have a values statement or value proposition? How do you view the differences between these ways of communicating an organization’s identity internally and to the public?

Hit reply and let me know.

Thanks for reading,