Art of Relevance

The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Nina Simon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, gave a powerful TrustLive talk at the recent Houston PastForward conference on place and relevance.  She defines relevance as a key that unlocks meaning, opening doors to experiences that matter to us, surprise us, and bring value into our lives.

In her book The Art of Relevance, Nina applies two criteria to all the stories she tells about relevance.  First, how likely new information is to stimulate a positive cognitive effect – to yield new conclusions that matter to you.  Second, how much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information.  The lower the effort, the higher the relevance.  As those of us who heard her speak know, she frames this work in terms of doors and keys that help different groups access rooms of information.  To understand individuals different from us, we have to go outside our rooms and look – with empathy – at the views of the community outside the door.  We have to learn from other rooms and people outside of our comfort zone.

As we think about relevance in all we do, we need to recognize that it is a process and – Simon asserts – a moving target.

“Your content (or work, or information) can be relevant to different people at different times for different reasons – or not.  Even at institutions that have undergone radical reinvention, change doesn’t stop.  As Will Rogers said, ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’”

We can approach the shifting tides of relevance in three ways: by embracing them, fighting them, or equivocating over them.  You can imagine which response Nina Simon suggests.

Have a good week.

More to come…


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