A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

I know I’ve been promising to share John Oliver’s guest letter with you all, and I wish I had it ready for you now, but — frankly — John is a total pain to work with. He’s one of those people who thinks he’s funny, and people who think they’re funny are the worst kind of people to work with — Like people who use italics.

I mean, he keeps scrawling on screenshots of himself and uploading them to our shared Google Doc.

Screenshot of John Oliver with AT&T logo and handwritten hashtag "#businessdaddy"

He thinks these allusions to his past shows are cute. As if everyone goes to sleep and wakes up thinking about John Oliver and his little inside jokes.

John Oliver saying "Moving on"

Anyway, John’s guest letter — if it ever gets published — is all about the recent kerfuffle regarding Susie Wilkening’s survey of museum-goers about museum “neutrality”.

John’s letter still isn’t ready — who knows if it will ever live up to our EDITORIAL STANDARDS — but he and I have been arguing back and forth in the comments of his draft in Google Docs, and I thought it might be interesting to share some of our conversation with you all.

Here’s an excerpt.


John Oliver: I’m asking if it’s possible to have a culture without values?

Me: Yeah, seems like a culture without values is kind of an oxymoron.

John: Yes, so if a culture must have a shared set of values, is it possible for a culture to be neutral?

Me: What do you mean by “neutral”?

John: Politically.

Me: What does a museum have to do with politics?

John: Have you ever worked for or with an organization that has no culture? Imagine an organization where leaders say, “We have no culture.” That would be crazy — Culture is a selling point for organizations. It’s a hiring tool.

Me: But some of those same leaders would draw a line at politics.

John: But everything is political. I mean, come on — We’re having this conversation on the eve of the 2020 election. Now more than ever, you have to admit that, whether we like it or not, every decision (or indecision) an organization makes is political or is vulnerable to being politicized.

Me: But shouldn’t we at least know what museum-goers think of museums and neutrality? I mean, don’t museums — museum leaders — have an obligation to consider museum-goers’ views in their planning?

John: Museum leaders making plans based on the stated preferences of museum-goers is like an army preparing for cyber warfare by ordering more muskets.

Me: Well, I think we should at least consider the demographics of the people who participated in the survey…

John: Are they all museum-goers?

Me: Well, yes, but it’s important to account for—

John: If we want to understand the future of banking, should we be focused on the demographics of the people who have bank accounts and are willing to participate in a survey on the neutrality of banks?

Me: Whoa — complex question fallacy. We were talking about neutrality and you introduced futures thinking.

John: Aren’t they related? Let’s imagine a world where people who conduct business with banks are a dwindling population. If more and more people are hiding their cash under their mattress or investing in bitcoin, why would a bank poll existing customers?

Me: Museums aren’t banks.

John: My local Blockbuster isn’t a bank either, but I remember responding to a survey a few years ago that was addressed, “Dear Blockbuster-goer…”

Me: Yeah, yeah. Take a breath.

John: And then when some percentage of respondents said that they thought Blockbuster should be “neutral”, Blockbuster employees  and Blockbuster consultants asked, “Ok, but what are the demographics of the people you surveyed?” And “Can you share the methodology of this research?”

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A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, “sometimes funny”

Me: Hey, we need to consider the validity—

John: Of a house on fire? The value of research lies in its ability to facilitate better decisions. Ask Blockbuster about validity.

Me: Ok, look, there are only so many gifs I can include in a guest letter. Can you clear some of this out and maybe I can get your post out to readers before the end of the year?

John: Sure, Kyle. And be sure to keep an eye out for the cease-and-desist letter from HBO’s legal team.

Museum with blockbuster logo
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