What the FUTURE OF EDUMACATION can learn from Startup Culture

I just spent an incredible week at first the Association of Children’s Museums and then at the American Association of Museums conference. I love these things- lots of fabulous fellow nerds talking about ed tech plans and trends and how to make more people care about education, arts and culture and museums. All good stuff.

I’m a bit of a straddler though… I straddle some worlds. I’m a game builder definitely and an educator (I’d like to say a museum educator) but I’m also a startup entrepreneur and so I get to see things from a lot of different perspectives. Spending a week with museum folk who are not steeped in startup culture makes me remember what startup thinking has to offer. Especially when we’re talking about the future of education. Startups are built for future thinking. They survive and thrive on future thinking so I thought I’d share some things about startup culture that I think education culture could benefit from.

#1. Startups Cross-Pollinate

Startups have incubators, shared office spaces, nightly, daily and weekly networking events and free or free-ish classes where they share knowledge and express their expertise on a weekly basis. Startups SHARE, SHARE, SHARE- TRADE, TRADE, TRADE and PARTNER, PARTNER, PARTNER. That’s why startups travel in packs with lots of communication between all of them. A rising tide lifts all ships. Maybe you have something I need. Maybe I have something you need. If you figure something out, I want to be closeby to see how it works! If you fail, I want to know in detail what happened so I don’t do the same thing.


is a great calendar of all the things startups do JUST IN BOSTON to share the wealth. We’ve only just started Drinking About Museums meet ups (http://drinkingaboutmuseumsboston.wordpress.com) which is great but why are teachers, educators and museum folk not networking and sharing at the rate that startup entrepreneurs are?


When I started at SCVNGR they first trained us all how to sell, sell, sell. And I HATED it. I still hate it. But if you don’t sell your good stuff, someone else will sell their not as good stuff and that’s not helping anybody. One thing I learned from startups is… yeah… there’s a lot of vaporware* out there. And they are SELLING that vaporware HARD. We have a proven product. Museums WORK. Education WORKS. There’s all sorts of data- all sorts of research that says education is the most reliable way to break the cycle of poverty. We know that museums increase community, empathy and thoughtful dialog- why are we shy to sell this? Why are startups selling harder than we are? We shouldn’t be afraid to sell what we do. Every museum professional should be a hardcore salesperson- just as every startup employee is. Check out this great post on 4 things to remember when selling. It’s not “lie, cheat and steal”. In fact most likely it’s stuff you think of already- just takeout “startup” and put in “museum”.


*if you’ve never heard of vaporware, it’s a term for an idea that’s not actually built yet. Sometimes these ideas are sold before they exist. Sometimes they get built. Sometimes… they don’t. It’s scary that it’s often not a question of whether a product works… it’s a question of whether it even exists in the first place!


In the startup world, when you have an idea and you’re wondering, “who will do this?” Well no, let me stop there. You never wonder “Who will do this?” because the answer is you. It’s always you. You have an idea- the fact that you had that idea means that you are its master and it’s your responsibility to make it happen. Extra hours? Extra time? Extra effort? Yes, yes and yes. Another thing that startups and educators have in common is long, long hours doing what they love. But how will we ever build the future if we’re worried about going overtime?

The converse side of that- whose fault is it? Yours. It’s always yours. There’s always something you could have done to make that not happen. There’s always a way you could have maximized the situation seen it coming, improved it- the buck always stops with you. It sounds crazy, right? But imagine if you have a whole company- or museum- of people thinking that way? Suddenly things get done faster. And they have to get done faster- because the future is coming! To read more about startup culture, check out one of my favorite blogs by the CEO of HubSpot:


I could write another post about what startups could learn from museums but that’s for another time and another audience. In the meantime, I would love to see museums thinking in the startup mentality. There was a lot of talk about the future of education and if you ask me, startups are a great benchmark for thought processes when we’re thinking about the future. Lemme know what you think!


4 responses to “What the FUTURE OF EDUMACATION can learn from Startup Culture”

  1. Thanks for the shoutout! 😀

    1. You bet! Thanks for the great calendar!

  2. Good question at the end of #1 section. Why aren’t we networking more? Maybe we feel networking should only happen with our chosen Museum type (art, history, etc?). Inspires me to get networking here…

  3. Yeah AAM really got me thinking about it- startups are such ravenous networkers but educators are a little more shy about it. Do you guys have a Drinking About Museums in Omaha?? We meet in Boston about once a month and it’s a great start!

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