“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
From brush strokes, corporate strategies and scientific formulas, to professional and personal development, the quote above by the legendary artist Van Gogh encompasses art, science, and even life itself. And so does curation. This article explores what curation is as an interdisciplinary skill set and how it applies to learning professionals in the corporate world in the Digital Age.
1. CURATION OF THE ARTS
An “eye” for art has always been a prerequisite for a great art curator, similar to a good “ear” for a great musician.
To keep up with the technological progress in today’s digital economies, art curators now need to add to the traditional background in art history and philosophy further studies and practice in fields like marketing, PR, fundraising, business, not to mention social networking, social media, communication and writing, in order to develop the skills needed to establish and maintain an online presence in the art world.
The art curation skill set keeps growing. This ongoing aggregation of skills needed for effective art curation today has been noted by many. Susan Kendzulak for instance explores the topic in articles like Career Description: Art Curator, where she lists the skills required for successful art curation:
- being organized, passionate, knowledgeable,
- adept at multi-tasking, and
- proficient at writing.
Art curation and the skills it requires have also entered the TED stages worldwide. TED, by the way, is a beautiful example of conference curation.
In a TED talk from six years ago, art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist connects art curation to filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, and creating memorable experiences. Like many contemporary art curators, he promotes an expanded notion of curation that goes beyond a set context – the museum. In this talk he adds three more skills to the curation skill set. Career magicians also display this set as their strong suit. Here they are:
- inventing new rules of the game,
- developing new ways of displaying exhibits to create highly memorable experiences, and
- understanding the rules of engagement between persistence and letting go. In the words of architect Peter Zumthor: “There’s persistence, but then there’s letting go, and allowing things to come in again.” *
In another TED talk given two years ago, innovator, connector and strategist Erik Schilp states that the curation of heritage is an activity open to anyone who can answer two key questions:
- What is the story I would like to tell?
- How can I reach as many people as possible with that story?
His message is that everyone can feel empowered to take ownership of and pursue curation if, by doing so, they can create a story worth telling and sharing with others.
My takeaway from the conceptual exploration of art curation is a view of curation as an act of individual empowerment that is expressed as the result of reflection rooted in and intended as a powerful emotional experience. With that said, a possible formula for curation could be: exploration + reflection + ownership.
Just like learning in the Digital Age, curation has become increasingly experiential, personalized, and empowering. This should not come as a surprise for corporate learning professionals. Many learning professionals, myself included, regularly integrate topic-related curation in daily activities. If you are interested in learning more about how we learn today, do explore the characteristics of Digital Age learning defined by Regis Chasse in the Point of View Learning in the Digital Age.
2. CURATION IN PROFESSIONAL LIFE
To contextualize what I mean by “professional”, when I think of curation as it applies to professional life, I subjectively refer to corporate learning professionals. The question of how learning professionals can employ curation as a skill set can be answered in many ways. I chose two relevant examples to illustrate this.
The first example comes from learning professional Becky Willis. During a recent Brandon Hall Group webinar, she describes curation as a five-step process:
Just like the art curators above, Becky Willis recommends integrating the results of the initial investigation from the find stage, and the results of the selection process of the filter stage, into a story that has all the ingredients to generate learner engagement and create pull through personalized learning journeys in which the learners are led by trusted and recognized thought leaders or SMEs.
Following the skill aggregation trend that has also entered the territory of L&D and corporate learning professionals, curation expertise can further build into instructional design skills that allow learning professionals to curate and author learning activities from design to execution. They can do this within highly functional frameworks like Becky Willis’ Learn-Do-Share framework, which I find very useful.
On to the second example: curation as a collaborative tool, closely connected to talent development. A perfect illustration of this is Steven Smith’s blog post on the opportunities and challenges of Digital Age Learning in which he curates the Digital Age Learning insights he selected from a group of learning professionals from 16 multinational companies working together under the umbrella of an EFMD Special Interest Group.
Strategic alignment and collaboration are at the center of Steven Smith’s digital transformation formula below. This formula does not make direct reference to curation as such, but I see curation as a skill set for learning professionals embedded in Steven Smith’s concepts of “talent” and “community of talent“. That is because providing learning professionals with opportunities to up-skill and develop new in-demand skills like curation is a company-wide approach at Capgemini. This is shown by initiatives like the 2016 Digital HR Challenge, where curation as a skill was recognized with a Special Prize, or by setting up a recurrent facilitated learning journey on Digital Age Learning that includes materials tailored to and curated by learning professionals.
Build Capability & Community
+ Place critical business questions at the center
+ Engage talent with a vested interest in the question
GAIN solutions for the business and a community of talent that create meaningful behaviors & content for continuous learning
Collaborate & Align
+ Bring together talent from diverse business backgrounds and expertise
+ Focus them on client and market challenges
OBTAIN alignment across the organization through effective collaboration
Transform & Grow
+ Build capability & Community
+ Collaborate & Align
EVOLVE the organization & its people.
Fueled by a gradual increase in capability and by ongoing community growth, collaboration and alignment are essential to individual and organizational growth and transformation. After all, organizational growth is, more often than not, a direct outcome of individual growth.
3. CURATION IN PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
I believe each resume can be viewed as an example of personal and professional curation. Similar to a self-portrait, an autobiographical work or even a cat scan, when we put together our resumes, we are each curators of the scope and content of our careers. The blend and balance between personal and private content, and the level of detail provided will vary from person to person, and from one career stage to the next. The final outcome of this endeavor to curate will be increased awareness and empowerment for the learning professional in all aspects of business and personal life.
Apart from one’s resume, modern tools like press kits and public profiles, like the ones on LinkedIn, can also provide more or less accurate pictures of people’s portfolios, titles, experience and skills.
As we develop throughout our lives and careers, our online profiles follow a similar time-sensitive pattern of development. It would be interesting, for example, to get an update on Elon Musk’s one-page resume from 2016. How different would his skills and competencies listing be today compared to last year?
Only time will tell how the personal and professional changes that lie ahead for learning professionals will reflect on the evolution of their skill sets in the future.
Design Thinking, Instructional Design, Digital Age Learning, E-learning and Emotional Agility are some of the skills that I have added to my LinkedIn profile over the past six months. The latest addition, no surprise here, is Content Curation. In my current role as a learning professional I have found that developing a balanced core skill set based on Intercultural Communication, Talent Management, Training and Facilitation is what works best for me.
Talking about the skills on LinkedIn, does your profile reflect your current professional development stage? If you are a learning professional, is curation one of the skills listed on your profile? Looking forward to your insights on your winning skill set formulas, so do leave your comments below.
* You can read the full interview with Peter Zumthor, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones here. When asked about the strategy behind his architectural works, more specifically about how he built a garden (Hortus Conclusus) for the 11th Serpentine Gallery Pavillion in London in 2011, here is what Peter Zumthor answered:
“The recipe? I don’t know. I think it starts out with the intention to create emotional space. This is what I want to do. I don’t set out to do a beautiful object that you look at from the outside. I like that too, but it’s not the real core of what I’m aiming for. It’s always the emotional space, but with the correct emotion for that work. I want to make it so my mother, for example, could understand it: if she saw the Pavilion she’d say, ‘Sure. It’s a garden.’ So it starts out like this, and maybe you need some talent to do this. Certain people bring materials together that just give you the creeps. So it’s obviously subjective, and different for different people. I’m persistent though, like I was here with the Pavilion, from the brick to the roofing felts, to bringing all these things together – you have to be persistent. I’m persistent because this is the core, because I want to achieve emotional spaces. This is something I can do.”
The Serpentine’s Pavilion was initiated in 2000 by Julia Peyton Jones – then Gallery Director, currently retired, and has become an international site for architectural experimentation for some of the world’s greatest architects. Each Pavilion is sited on the Gallery’s lawn for three months and the immediacy of the commission – a maximum of six months from invitation to completion – provides a unique model worldwide (source: Dezeen).
Featured image source: astrosurf.com.