INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from AAM
With the worst of pandemic disruptions behind us (we hope) some museums are using this as an opportunity to rethink their operations, rather than simply rebounding to the previous norm. COVID amplified the inequities between stable and precarious jobs and highlighted the stratification that has characterized museum work for many decades. Today on the blog, Margaret Koch, Director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum, tells us how she and her staff are using the time and space afforded by the pandemic pause to reshape hiring and staffing in order to increase staff diversity, and provide pathways for staff at any level to advance within the museum.
–Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums
As if dealing with an earth-shattering pandemic were not enough, many museum leaders have seen the headlines and felt the pain of the “Great Resignation,” terminology first attributed to Anthony Klotz at the Mays Business School of Texas A&M University and quickly grasped by media outlets such as NPR, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and many others. While the pace of this phenomenon may have picked up speed as a result of people re-assessing career goals, life-professional balance, etc., I don’t see it as a new development that inexplicably appeared during the pandemic. I view it as a situation decades in the making. From my perspective, it is of our own unfortunate design as for years we low-balled salaries in the field, hired for the organizational structure we wanted to maintain rather than the one we said we aspired to, and threw “everything plus the kitchen sink” into job descriptions. The flight of committed, experienced staff members through the Great Resignation amplifies our own past practices (for which there be many reasons, but ones we should admit we choose not to address), and the stress of dealing with a devastating crisis with a very real human toll. As we as administrators reflect on the losses we have witnessed and personally experienced, we also have the opportunity to shape a stronger internal, equitable environment in which diversity in leadership can thrive, and emerging leaders receive the tools and confidence they need to succeed in any aspect of their chosen career paths.
At the Bullock Texas State History Museum, we have been wrestling with how to retain experienced staff and attract qualified applicants, while trying to be cognizant of and responsive to the communities we serve throughout Texas in both human resources and programming. A significant challenge for us is that, although a state institution established by legislative action in the late 1990s, our annual operational budget is primarily funded through earned revenue, rather than state appropriation. Until a few weeks ago when a fund for maintenance and capital projects was passed by the state legislature, we had no endowment in our 20 year existence. Combined with concerns about equitable compensation in a competitive market like Austin, Texas, we find ourselves challenged to rethink and strengthen key elements of our business model, including pace of work and benefits to employment. These issues are critical to our financial sustainability as well, since it is the excellence of our team that makes service and relevance to our communities possible.
Currently, only 23 positions of a fully staffed 90 are funded by the state. Despite that, unlike many other cultural entities that had to temporarily close to the public, the Bullock did not eliminate positions when the pandemic began. Instead, we depleted our trust fund to keep staff on payroll, believing that their ability to pay rent and put food on the table was important for their own health as well as the community’s. First and foremost this decision was driven by concern for our staff members’ welfare. The longer-term advantage to this decision related to our financial stability; by caring for staff, we would have qualified people in place when it was safe to reopen. The state hiring process is complex and lengthy, and we did not want to take a chance of losing the experienced, dedicated people we relied upon to get us up and running. However, as some people decided to retire, move closer to families, rethink and realign professional goals with personal ones, or search for higher-paying jobs, we held off rehiring for their positions, which left about 22% of our positions open. While open positions resulted in delays and reprioritizing where ever possible and admittedly longer days for leadership, in rebuilding our team we are taking the opportunity to restructure positions and hiring goals to increase the diversity of our staff and provide pathways for advancement.
Amidst the pandemic-induced postponement of projects and deadlines, and reduction in the days open to the public, we dedicated time for evaluation of what we were doing well, and what required improvement to better serve our mission. Each department examined itself in relation to institutional mission and its role in fiscal responsibility. During this process, we identified our staff as one of three primary institutional stakeholders, along with educators/students and museum members, and expanded our definition of leadership to include mid and lower-level managers. This has begun to improve the multi-faceted communication process. By providing clearer conduits for those who may not be supervisors, but who nevertheless have a critical mission-focused role to play, staff stakeholders recognize we value and need their contributions for creating a more equitable internal as well as external environment.
Our new fiscal year began on September 1, 2021, and our finances have stabilized for the present due to being the extremely fortunate recipient of federal COVID relief funds. Now we are working on changes to our internal staff systems that support our goals to diversify hiring and create pathways for staff advancement. These include:
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few of the challenges to our evolution. When you have a good team in place, but one that identifies as mostly white, to diversify staff you either need funds to create new positions or wait for positions to open through voluntary turnover. We are in the latter category. New positions are difficult to add without the added revenue, and revenue streams are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic. In a culture of promoting from within, we run the risk of staying within the same staffing demographic, which in turn makes it more difficult to foster a team aware of and willing to deal with their biases. Learning to communicate more respectfully but honestly means staff must be prepared to hear opposing perspectives and participate in uncomfortable conversations that call for self-reflection. We don’t like critiquing or even gently confronting our colleagues and asking for change, even if doing so might fix a problem. Our salaries do not yet, (and honestly may never), match the private/corporate sphere and the cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially. The multi-stepped hiring process within a state institution is often tedious and time-consuming. Even as we offer good health and retirement benefits, candidates may not be in a position to wait for the process to be completed. For all these reasons, we often lose strong candidates to other entities and cities. And lastly, it is difficult to create the hybrid positions we want to use to strengthen professional development because such a classification within the state system of employment does not currently exist.
In conclusion, we are on a journey to fight against complacency and sliding back into old habits. The potential rewards though, strike to the very heart of what it means to be a healthy place. Despite the challenges, I think it is possible for museums of all sizes to become stronger as cultural institutions in service to their constituents. Connecting with accomplished museum leaders during the pandemic across the country through virtual gatherings gives me hope, because I see that our field is fostering many creative and sustainable ideas and practices. Our decision to renew investment in the team at the Bullock, we hope, will have positive, lasting effect on how we serve our communities, so that every individual is able to find themselves in the Story of Texas now and into the future. I also hope that those of you in private and municipal institutions share how you are shaping and dealing with the issues before us. For administrators such as myself who are closer to the end of our museum careers than we are to the beginning of them, we do have a responsibility in words attributed to Georgiana Ross Baker, the mother of human rights activist Ella Baker, to “lift as you climb.”
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Reposted from The Guardian
Detectives are investigating after two artworks, commissioned in response to a series of homophobic and transphobic attacks in Liverpool, were destroyed. Merseyside police said they are treating the incidents as hate crime.
The artworks were vandalised within days of going on display as part of Homotopia festival’s Queer the City outdoor exhibition.
The incident, caught on CCTV, involved several individuals ripping down a poster reading Queer With no Fear at 4am on Wednesday, according to Homotopia’s director, Char Binns.
The work, by the artist Ben Youdan, had been displayed in the window of Fact, a cinema and cultural centre. “It was found by a member of staff from Fact scrunched up in a ball at the Bombed Out church later that morning,” Binns said.
A similar incident occurred on 29 October, when a piece entitled Hate Has No Place in Liverpool was ripped from a wall in the city centre. The artist Rosa Kusabbi described her illustration as a “joyous celebration of all things LGBTQIA and Liverpool”, including a banner reading Here and Queer.
Binns said she was “absolutely gutted” by the incidents. “It’s very hard not to take it personally. We can’t say definitively what the motive was behind these artworks being removed, but we already operate as queer people in this climate of fear and this work was created in response to hate crime in our city. So regardless of the motive, it still makes us feel afraid and attacked.”
Hundreds of people protested in Liverpool in June after a series of violent attacks. In one incident, a gay couple and their friends were threatened at knifepoint and beaten up by a group who shouted homophobic abuse.
Youdan’s artwork, funded by Liverpool council’s culture department in response to the attacks, was intended as “something positive coming out of something very negative”, said Binns. She said the incident had left the team behind Homotopia, the UK’s longest-running LGBTQI arts and culture festival, feeling frustrated.
“We want to be visible as a community. Homotopia is all about being out and proud and loud and fabulous. But if that makes us vulnerable, how do you do that? How can you be both visible and safe?” she said.
Binns vowed that the artworks would be reinstated. “The bigger picture is that we are in the middle of this joyful festival where we have deliberately commissioned joyful queer art because we all need a break. We will reinstate this art. It will be bigger, it will be queerer. This is not going to stop us.”
Reposted from Security Management Magazine
Actions, thoughts, and emotions do not exist in isolation. The way they interact will influence your perception of the world around you. Alongside attempting to meet your basic and psychological needs, as emphasized by Abraham Maslow in his influential paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” our behaviors are influenced by the way we experience feelings of confidence in our personal and professional activities or how we feel valued and respected by our friends, families, teammates, and wider social structures.
When individuals’ values align with the organization’s, this expression can be positive. In cases where those values clash, negative emotions—sadness, frustration, anger—can result in inappropriate behaviors and choices. This can be detrimental in the workplace and requires employees to be empowered with the knowledge of potential insider threats and options available to mitigate them which can include behavioral analytics systems, data loss prevention tools, ongoing vetting, and internal employee monitoring processes.
In fostering a multidisciplinary approach to countering insider threats—involving insider protection teams, intelligence and investigations, legal, and human resources—an educational campaign can provide employees with confidence that they can operate openly and quickly to help mitigate risk.
Security professionals can also take proportionate and cost-effective action to managing insider threats by proactively managing disgruntled employees.
All employees should strive to provide a strong example of appropriate behavior that both develops and underpins an effective business and security culture. If an employee’s behavior breaches those expectations security leaders may benefit from taking the time to observe the incident and ask some reflective questions.
This proactive approach to managing risks to teams, business processes, intellectual property, and confidential information takes a different stance to traditional security—it assumes that people have good intent. Such threats may be averted through emotional, rather than security intelligence. Employees who identify a change in the behavior of others can act quickly to engage with the individual in question to investigate concerns, detect threats, offer support, or escalate concerns.
For example, asking why someone may be acting in a way that is unexpected and considering whether something in his or her personal life may have influenced his or her behavioral choices. This can provide leaders with an opportunity to use soft skills to demonstrate care to employees and increase team unity and loyalty, which in itself can positively benefit security posture. In addition, posing reflective questions to employees to encourage them to consider their choices’ impacts can provide growth opportunities, which will help develop them as both individual practitioners and team members. Such reflective practice can be performed during team performance reviews, after service incidents, and potentially after engagements between individuals that were observed as being potentially inappropriate.
Such a caring approach may in fact be the support the employee in question needs to get back on track to being the high performer you originally invited to join the team.
There are a range of training resources available—in addition to Daniel Goleman’s essential book, Emotional Intelligence—to develop communication skills and an awareness of emotional intelligence. Behavioral change takes time, however, and managers seeking to adjust security culture may need to be patient with employees and colleagues.
If security leaders are advising asset custodians and managers about how they can approach this shift, they might consider three conditions that are commonly accepted as prerequisites for malicious activity: opportunity, rationalization, and incentive. Leaders should also consider the ways that one—or all of them—can be reduced during a period of behavioral change to protect the business and to give the employee the best chance of success.
Opportunity can be reduced through the design and implementation of asset protection systems. The personal motivations of employees can be influenced through a range of employee loyalty rewards and schemes, which can be financial or focused on positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviours.
Taking the time to develop a deeper understanding about colleagues and employees can play an important role in the development of a holistic risk management system. It will help security leaders assess situations and judge them against expected behaviors. A phased approach can be adopted.
Take the time to develop an understanding and awareness of team members. Getting to know employees plays a crucial role in motivating them to deliver their best work, and it can help managers understand their needs and the organization’s expectations. This is crucial information for determining whether team members are happy with their jobs, whether they feel ignored or left out, and if anything may be going on in their personal lives which could influence behavior.
Identify security threats and risks. It is imperative that assets are identified and classified according to sensitivity and value. Through a business impact analysis, security leaders can determine what the effects would be if assets are damaged or fall into the wrong hands. Managers and employees should become familiar with the security threats to their organization and team, and leaders should provide clear information about the behavior that is expected of employees.
Determine appropriate security behaviors. Appropriate security behaviors should be determined in line with your organizational security policies, and all team members should be briefed on the expectations. Team performance can then be assessed against the security policies and the identified security behaviours to identify vulnerabilities and mistakes and respond or adjust accordingly.
Determine existing levels of security knowledge and awareness. It is important to determine what a team knows and what they do not know about security policies and procedures. The identification of skills and knowledge gaps will enable you to design appropriate training programs.
Encourage your team to care. Ensure that security conversations form part of your regular team meetings so that all employees have an opportunity to inform others of their concerns or questions. Team members should be encouraged to take the time to check in with each other. Along with holding regular calls or meetings to provide project updates, dedicate time to caring for each other by asking questions and taking an interest in what motivates team members, what their interests are, and what challenges them. This can help team members and managers identify when a behavioral change has taken place, giving colleagues and managers an opportunity to divert the person from becoming a potentially harmful disgruntled employee.
Act quickly. Security breaches can happen anywhere and at any time. Reporting, record keeping, and response systems must be in place to ensure that risks are tracked and mitigated as quickly as possible.
Reposted from BusinessWire
Badger Technologies, a product division of Jabil and leader in retail automation, is collaborating with TrackTik Software, a leader in cloud-based security workforce management, to automate manual security checks at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) in Columbus, Ohio. A pilot program is underway using Badger™ PatrolBot™ autonomous robot and TrackTik software to augment the museum’s 24/7 security team, safeguard world-class exhibits and offer an extra measure of protection to museum visitors and staff.
As the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated solely to telling the stories of veterans, NVMM is honoring the courageous women who have served their country by naming the robot “Deborah” after Deborah Sampson. A Massachusetts native who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, Deborah is one of several women with a documented record of military combat experience in that war.
“The museum is pleased to pilot this autonomous security robot while honoring one of the nation’s first female heroes of the American Revolution,” said Col. William J. Butler, U.S. Army (retired) and chief of staff at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. “Our ability to extend security guard operations using robotics also builds on a military tradition of leveraging leading-edge technologies to continuously improve operations.”
The Badger PatrolBot autonomous robot also will participate in NVMM’s Veterans Day 2021 celebration on November 11th, which features distinguished veterans and guests, including Gen. Les L. Lyles, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force; and Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, U.S. Army (retired) and president and CEO of the National Veterans Memorial Museum. Admission to the museum is free on Veterans Day. Badger Technologies and NVMM also will be hosting a robotics educational session for students and guests as part of the Veterans Day celebration.
“It is a privilege to support the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in showcasing how world-class robotics can improve security operations,” said William “BJ” Santiago, CEO of Badger Technologies. “Security operations for the museum can direct the robot’s duties for 12 hours on a single charge to cost-effectively augment labor while extending the reach and efficiency of their security patrols.”
Equipped with streaming video cameras, the Badger PatrolBot robot initially will navigate automatically around exhibits and people to verify that windows, doors, and exhibits are secured and properly sealed. During the second phase of the pilot, the robot also will verify that floors are free of debris and potential hazards. As part of a total security solution, Badger PatrolBot will take advantage of TrackTik’s Application Programming Interface (API) to streamline security guard tour scheduling, real-time checkpoint logging, incident reporting, GPS tracking, messaging and alerts.
“We are deeply honored to be part of the National Veterans Memorial Museum celebration in support of the United States veteran community," said Simon Ferragne, CEO and founder of Montreal-based TrackTik Software. "Our strategic partnership with Badger Technologies has allowed us to deliver an enhanced security workforce management solution using robotics to transform security guard operations and deliver more value to our clients. Together we are driving innovation and growth that will benefit all of our clients and the communities in which they serve."
Reposted from the Baltimore Fish Bowl
When prominent writer and filmmaker John Waters asked the Baltimore Museum of Art to name its restrooms after him, he suggested that they might become a must-see destination for his hometown.
“Maybe people will come from all over the world to eliminate there,” he said after the museum agreed to his request. “That will be something that the Maryland Tourist Bureau can push.”
But when Waters joined museum leaders to unveil the restrooms during a private reception and dedication ceremony Wednesday night, Waters wasn’t just focusing on their potential to draw tourists. He used the occasion to make a serious statement about transgender rights, and the role institutions such as the BMA can play in changing society.
The new restrooms named after Waters are also the first at the BMA that were designed to be gender-neutral, meaning anyone can use them. They consist of four private rooms with solid walls and lockable doors that go from floor to ceiling, rather than stalls with swinging doors and metal partitions, plus a minimalist access area containing sinks and mirrors. Lettering by the entrance identifies them as: “The John Waters Restrooms/All Gender.”
“When I heard the new restrooms could be remodeled for all genders, I was even more excited,” Waters said just before the unveiling. “I could be part of a much-needed public elimination upgrade. Finally, we could all go to the bathroom together in full privacy. That’s what I call progress!”
To help christen the restrooms, Waters invited a special guest, transgender activist Elizabeth Coffey from Philadelphia. Coffey, who also goes by Elizabeth Coffey-Williams, appeared in four of Waters’ films, including roles as the “flasher girl” in Pink Flamingos and Dawn Davenport’s jailhouse lover Ernestine in Female Trouble. Now 73, she’s an artist, community leader and advocate for trans/LGBT elder issues, especially LGBT senior housing.
Waters said he met Coffey while she was transitioning in the early 1970s, has stayed friends with her, and wanted her to be the first person to use the John Waters restrooms. It was his way of putting a face on an important subject and using humor to make a serious point – just as he does in his films.
“She was the first person I know who transitioned in Baltimore,” he told the gathering of several dozen guests. “In 1972, we didn’t know that word yet. To us, she was just a beautiful hippie chick we knew who had been born in the wrong body. We didn’t care. We already hung out with crazy straight and gay kids. What was another subdivision of sexual disruption? She wanted to be a complete female and Hopkins Hospital and Dr. John Money helped her to do that.”
Waters said Coffey “joined in the making of Pink Flamingos halfway through transition, and her scene is probably the second most notorious scene I ever filmed. She was a brave, talented underground actress, a gender-fluid body stuntwoman, and I owe her big time for helping me make that film so successful.”
Coffey’s personal life “has been just as amazing and today she is still causing trouble in a great way,” he said. “She’s an activist for senior trans housing, which just proves the Filthiest People Alive, as we were once called, never retire. They continue to agitate.”
Coffey said it’s a big step for an institution such as the BMA to create “all gender” restrooms, and that’s meaningful to transgender people such as herself. While the thought of naming restrooms after John Waters is humorous on one level, she said, the decision to make them gender neutral brings up a serious issue that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Yes, a lot of this is funny. It’s playful,” she said of an event designed to let people look at new restrooms. “But what I’m really excited about is that we’re going to get to do it together. I don’t have to look at you and say we can go together but you have to go somewhere else and the rest — I don’t know where you can go. We can all go, and we can all go.
Too often, she said, that’s not the case.
“Other than the joy and the fun we’re sharing tonight, there are a lot of people that in many, many places are driven out of a place where they just want to go to bathroom,” she said. “Can you think of anything any more elementary than just going to the bathroom?”
As might be expected with anything associated with John Waters, this wasn’t a standard ribbon-cutting. After Waters and Coffey made brief remarks in the museum’s Fox Court, Waters invited the guests down one flight to see the new restrooms and watch as Coffey became the first official user.
Coffey stepped into the second room from the right, one with a magenta-colored accent wall, and closed the door behind her as photographers captured the moment for posterity. She emerged a minute later, holding the toilet paper she used. After that inaugural flush, other guests were invited to relieve themselves as well, or head back upstairs to the reception.
Waters, 75 and now a museum trustee, requested that the museum name the restrooms after him when he agreed last year to donate the bulk of his private art collection to the museum after he dies. The restrooms constitute one of two areas in the museum that now bear his name, along with a gallery in the Jacobs Wing that was christened The John Waters Rotunda in May.
The donation includes 288 works by others and 87 works by Waters, who is a visual artist as well as a writer, actor and filmmaker. It will make the BMA the largest repository of Waters’ work, including prints, sculptures, mixed media and video pieces. Other donated works are by artists such as Andy Warhol; Cy Twombly; Cindy Sherman; Roy Lichtenstein; Diane Arbus; Catherine Opie and Nan Goldin.
In conjunction with the donation, Waters and museum leaders said last fall that the museum would present an exhibition of items from Waters’ collection, to show what the museum will gain.
Yesterday, directors said the exhibit has been scheduled to open in November 2022 and run through April 2023. A title has not been disclosed. The museum’s last exhibit on Waters was John Waters: Indecent Exposure, a retrospective of his own work that ran from Oct. 7, 2018 to Jan. 6, 2019 and then traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. The 2022-2023 exhibit is not expected to travel.
When Waters announced the gift of his private art collection last fall, he said the trustees and directors didn’t initially think he was serious about naming the restrooms, but he was.
Why did he want to be associated with the restrooms?
“Public restrooms make all people nervous,” he said yesterday. “They’re unpredictable, sometimes attract perverts, and they’re fueled by accidents, just like my favorite contemporary art.”
Museum leaders initially indicated that the restrooms bearing Waters’ name would be the existing ones in the 1982 wing, just off the museum’s east lobby. But the ones that were unveiled yesterday are just-constructed restrooms near the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies and the Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, two new areas of the museum that are scheduled to open on Dec. 12. That date is also when the John Waters Restrooms will officially open. Museum officials say the 1982 restrooms may eventually be converted to all-gender restrooms, too, but they won’t be named after Waters.
As designed by Quinn Evans Architects, the four restrooms are essentially the same except that each has a different-colored accent wall – amber, gray, magenta and aqua. Their dimensions appear to meet requirements for accessibility by people in wheelchairs. The common area containing sinks and mirrors has white walls, bright lights and “touchless,” sensor-activated faucets.
Waters marveled at the size and privacy of the separate chambers.
“No urinal,” he said. “Everyone gets a full booth. It’s as big as an apartment. You can do anything.”
Waters said yesterday that he didn’t initially ask for all-gender restrooms when he requested that the museum name its restrooms after him. “My deal was just that the bathrooms would be named after me.”
He said the idea of also making the restrooms gender-neutral “just naturally evolved” after the initial announcement and coincided with construction of new restrooms near the Marder Center: “It was a plus.”
After her formal remarks at the reception, Coffey said the museum is setting a good example for others.
“As I said up there, there was a great deal of levity to this, and we’re all having fun. But there are people who still can’t go to the bathroom. There are still people who get attacked. There are still people who are murdered. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill up there, but it’s true.”
Museums, she said, are places of “culture and sophistication” that ought to welcome everyone in every way.
“People can come to the museum and they can enjoy the art. They can enjoy the gardens. They can enjoy the sculpture. Why on earth should they have any type of difficulty because they want to use the restroom?”
Trans people “don’t pose any kind of threat” to anyone in a public restroom, she said. “They just want to pee.”
Coffey gives Waters credit for setting an example, too, by sneaking in a solution rather than forcing it by fiat.
“As with most of John’s things, you have to look at the subtext,” she said. “He knew what he was doing. Even though — ha ha ha, let’s name the bathroom after me – he was getting the Baltimore Museum of Art to make gender-neutral bathrooms because he is in support of it, and that’s so important. I might be the figurehead, but he is the energy behind making it happen, and I think that’s extraordinary. He didn’t have to do it.”
Underneath the playfulness, “there is something very serious” and meaningful about what Waters did, she said.
“He supports inclusivity. He has never supported exclusivity…This is about John doing his part to make sure that people are included in a space where he has some control. And if we all did that, we could all make a difference.”
As COVID-19 approaches its two-year anniversary, security and risk management professionals would be wise to reflect on past failures in hopes of making our society antifragile to future global calamities.
Antifragility is the property of a system or organization that aims to increase its strength and resilience as the system encounters shocks, stressors, or volatility. The term was coined by Nassim Taleb, an academic who raised the alarm on COVID-19 months before it devastated North America.
To enable the security industry to better prepare for future events, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about risk, and Taleb has more lessons to share.
Before 2008, Nassim Nicholas Taleb was known within finance and statistics circles as an expert (a title he would likely bemoan) in risk, uncertainty, and probability. He made a fortune as an institutional trader during the market crash of 1987 and later added to his wealth by independently using financial derivatives to bet against the markets in the run-up to both the 2001 dotcom bubble bursting and the 2007-2008 housing and financial crisis. In 2001, he wrote Fooled by Randomness, part one of his five-volume philosophical essay on uncertainty—Incerto. Taleb would go on to write The Black Swan (2007), The Bed of Procrustes (2010), Antifragile (2012), and Skin in the Game (2019).
The Black Swan catapulted Taleb to international stardom, mostly resulting from his accurate prediction of the ensuing 2008 financial collapse. While the book offers a complex examination into epistemology, the failures of human cognition, and the inability to adequately measure and react to risk, the underlying concept is that most events in daily life are common, easily anticipated, and inconsequential. Nevertheless, certain extreme events (black swans) have major impacts on our world, often transforming the way we think about everything afterward.
The original use of the black swan concept significantly predates Taleb and describes events that were incredibly rare. Semantically, the black swan metaphor has its origins in the idea of empirical falsifiability; if someone were to make the statement that “only white swans exist,” one would need to either examine every white swan in the world (a tedious task) or, conversely, see a single black swan to falsify the original statement.
Taleb expanded the metaphor: a black swan event is one that has massive consequences and is unpredictable. However, when such an event occurs, it suddenly becomes retroactively explainable or predictable. Taleb’s theory helps explain how such rare events fall under the radar, so to speak, of even the greatest experts and powerful governments. It is also used to describe how psychological biases tend to blind people in their assessment of risk.
Some notable examples of black swan events—according to Taleb—are the 1987 market crash, the Russian financial default of 1998, the dotcom bubble of 2001, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Notice that COVID-19 was not listed with the other black swan examples above. On talk shows and webinars over the past two years, Taleb has repeatedly corrected hosts who call the pandemic a black swan event. Instead, he says, COVID-19 is a white swan.
While the COVID-19 outbreak was rare and continues to have massive consequences, the world has witnessed dozens of deadly pandemics over the past centuries. More importantly, the next large pandemic had been widely predicted by various experts and scholars. For instance, the tennis championships at Wimbledon paid $1.9 million per year for pandemic insurance over the past 17 years, which paid out $141 million in 2020, Forbes reported.
Despite COVID-19’s ineligibility to join the black swan club, Taleb’s work is still incredibly applicable. Nearly two years after the emergence of COVID-19, the quality of political and public discourse still sows confusion and doubt in the minds of many concerning what policy measures are right or wrong, trivial or consequential. Instead of trying to patch pre-existing problems with systems currently in place, we need to make our systems more robust to future shocks (antifragility).
An antifragile system is better off after a shock. The good news is that the world today is far more robust and prepared for future pandemics than we were one or two years ago. Some industries are also much stronger today as a result of the pandemic. Healthcare has become more antifragile by investing in supply chain management, home delivery services, and redesigning just-in-time system infrastructure to hold more inventory. These had been a huge risk management blind spot prior to COVID-19, despite the commercial savings that could have been associated with them.
The bad news is that there are still too many unknowns around economics and health to understand how the current pandemic will affect the ability to deal with future non-pandemic shocks. To better prepare for the shock to global norms, it behooves security professionals to go beyond black swans and discern some of Taleb's other valuable lessons.
The global effects of COVID-19 were preventable. Had countries shut everything down in January 2020, even for a limited time, the virus would not have spread the way it did. Subsidizing the financial loss of airlines back in January 2020 would have paled in comparison to the trillions lost around the world in subsequent months. In a mid-2020 interview with Bloomberg, Taleb said of governments and corporations: “They didn’t want to spend pennies, now they need to spend trillions.” In early 2020, many experts argued that there was little to no evidence that COVID-19 was harmful, but Taleb’s work reminds us that there is a difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence.
Prepare for the worst. Reacting early to something that turns out to be nothing is far less costly than reacting late to something that ends up being significant. According to Taleb, epidemics have some of the fattest tails of any type of event; in non-statistical parlance, this means that most epidemics will have a negligible effect on the overall human population, while a select few (say, one every 100 years) will become pandemics, have catastrophic effects, and be several orders of magnitude more powerful than any preceding epidemic.
Respond early. The idea of tradeoffs between harms caused to the economy due to lockdowns and deaths caused by COVID-19 is fallacious when talking about implementing lockdowns early; the earlier one reacts to the pandemic, the less overall damage the economy will suffer because of future policy decisions. Once countries fail to act early, tradeoffs become much more important, especially when infection and mortality rates become clearer.
Gear up. Early adoption of face masks (even non-medical grade cloth masks)—when implemented by many people—has a multiplicative effect on reducing transmission. This is caused by the nonlinearity associated with viral load transmission; a 50 percent reduction in viral load transmission by wearing a mask can easily lead to a 99 percent reduction in infection, because a certain threshold of viral load is needed to cause an infection, as mentioned by Taleb in a subsequent Bloomberg interview. This is why it was a dangerous policy for some governments and NGOs to originally mislead the public by stating that face masks didn’t protect against COVID-19, even if such pronouncements were made to reduce N95 mask hoarding and hospital shortages, he said.
If more medical professionals had been incapacitated by COVID-19 due to increased PPE shortages, this would have obviously placed additional strain on a system already overwhelmed by the virus. However, much of this hypothetical strain would become moot by an earlier adoption of masking policies. According to Taleb, it would have been much more effective to have everyone wear masks and shut down the economy to a lesser extent, instead focusing on super-spreader events and vulnerable groups.
Rationality is not scalable. In January 2020, Taleb co-wrote and published a paper warning about the pandemic, long before COVID-19 was top-of-mind worldwide. He urged policymakers to respond early by “killing [the virus] in the egg before [it] can hatch.” In other words, it was not rational to wear a mask, socially distance, or stock up on food back in February 2020; doing so would have been considered a paranoid act. But when the consequences of such paranoia are limited and the payoffs are hypothetically unlimited, acting irrationally—especially when considering the multiplicative effects of mask wearing—is the correct decision.
Beware the ludic fallacy. This fallacy involves being fooled by closed models or games and their misuse in modelling real-life situations. In The Black Swan,Taleb gave an example of a Las Vegas casino that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the most advanced technology to discover cheaters and card counters, as well as track whales who could jeopardize the casino’s bottom line with a few substantial lucky bets.
That very same casino—the MGM Mirage—failed to see various other risks not found in their modeling. First, they lost approximately $100 million in revenue when a tiger unexpectedly maimed Roy Horn from Siegfried and Roy, bringing an end to the duo’s illustrious Las Vegas show. The very same casino was also threatened by a disgruntled contractor’s unsuccessful attempt to dynamite the casino after being insulted by the casino’s settlement offer after he was injured on the job. Lastly, the casino was forced to pay a $5 million fine and nearly lost its gambling license when an incompetent employee decided to hide gambling profit forms requested by the IRS in a box under his desk for no specific reason.
Each of these scenarios represented far greater risk to the casino’s profitability and survivability, but alas, they were left out of the original risk assessment, leading to the casino’s decision to spend its entire budget on anti-cheating technology.
Be wary of some experts. Most people, including experts, are bad at evaluating their own knowledge. When given the opportunity to estimate the odds of some number of things or events taking place within a given range, people of all backgrounds usually overestimate their ability to correctly guess their rate of error for the range they choose themselves. It is important to note that this has nothing to do with their underlying knowledge, but instead reflects their hubris concerning their ability to gauge the accuracy of their knowledge.
Not all experts are created equal, Taleb warned. Experts in static or technical fields (such as plumbing, accounting, or neurosurgery) are not only highly desirable, but also useful. In other dynamic or forward-looking fields (such as economics, financial analysis, or clinical psychology), such expertise is much less desirable because it is dependent on the ability to predict future events, and it is often fraught with fraudulent and pseudointellectual behavior.
Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t pursue such careers, or that anyone involved in these fields is fraudulent; instead, one should simply acknowledge that a brain surgeon is far more capable of accurately identifying and removing a tumor from a patient than an economist or a financial analyst is able to predict how interest rates or oil prices will fluctuate over the next five years.
The field of epidemiology falls somewhere between a static and dynamic state, which helps explain why Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the U.S. president, has faced such a barrage of criticism throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. His field (medicine) is rooted in empiricism and technical know-how, but epidemics and pandemics offer relatively small amounts of data due to their rarity, while simultaneously embodying extremely high levels of dynamism.
You can’t predict black swans. That’s what makes them black swans. Taleb often gets irritated when a newscaster or interviewer calls him an oracle or says he can predict such events before they occur; instead, he simply insures himself and his clients against the unlikely event that they do occur at a financial rate that is both feasible and reasonable given all other variables at play. Taleb has said that “the policies we need to make decisions on should depend far more on the range of possible outcomes than on the expected final number.”
Out of more than 30 years of trading, Taleb states that he only had four profitable years, but that even one of these years more than covered all his cumulative losses. “Take all the risks you can, but make sure you’re here tomorrow.” This is the opposite of the culture of modern finance and public policy. In other words, instead of being conservative to daily small and medium-sized risks but completely oblivious to large or catastrophic risk, insure yourself against catastrophic risk (via tail-risk hedging) while taking more small and medium-sized risks to increase overall returns or, in the case of public policy, results.
As written in The Black Swan, Taleb’s work reminds us that “the wise one is the one who knows that he cannot see things far away.”
Reposted from The Harvard Business Review
Your company may pride itself on being a good employer. But even with the best of intentions, your company could be hurting employees’ health and well-being because of the way the work is organized. Working conditions and the demands of the work environment are a significant source of stress for many Americans, and research has found that the design of work can have substantial effects on employee well-being and health as well as health care expenses.
The good news for managers is that there are feasible ways to redesign work to support well-being and yield long-term benefits to the organization. For instance, recent research suggests that strategically changing workplace conditions to foster worker well-being not only improves worker health but can also bring about beneficial business outcomes such as improved job performance (including increased productivity) and lower levels of employee burnout.
It doesn’t have to be costly to redesign work to improve employees’ well-being. In fact, it can often be a good investment. For example, one work-redesign initiative at the IT division of a Fortune 500 firm generated a positive ROI for the company because it reduced turnover costs. Moreover, such strategies have the potential to improve overall organizational resilience.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we recently reviewed and synthesized research on the specific work conditions that affect employee well-being. We then developed a “work design for health” framework and toolkit that employers can use to revamp their work practices in ways that benefit both employees’ health and the organization. A good starting point is to consider adopting the following seven approaches:
Research indicates that having little discretion over how work gets done is associated not only with poorer mental health but also with higher rates of heart disease. What’s more, the combination of high work demands and low job control significantly increases the risks of diabetes and death from cardiovascular causes. Even relatively small changes in worker autonomy can make a difference in employee well-being. A study in a customer service call center, for example, found that giving its employees more training so they could take on new tasks and resolve more customer complaints on their own improved both the employees’ well-being and their performance on the job.
Several studies have found that giving workers more choice or control over their work schedules improves their mental health. This can involve simply permitting varied starting and stopping times and easier trading of shifts in jobs that must be done on-site. A more extensive work redesign at a Fortune 500 company — where IT employees were given control over when and where they did their work but still collaborated with their teammates to ensure needed coordination — resulted in physical and mental health improvements for employees as well as reduced turnover for the business.
Many retail and service companies today use “just in time” scheduling to try to match labor to fluctuating demand. But erratic, unpredictable schedules make it hard for frontline workers to manage their personal lives and family responsibilities. Research finds a range of negative outcomes occur for workers who have this kind of erratic work schedule — including poorer sleep quality and greater emotional distress.
Conversely, a study at Gap found that greater schedule stability can benefit both companies and employees. Increasing scheduling stability for workers led to a 7% rise in the participating stores’ median sales and a 5% increase in labor productivity. The added stability also improved sleep quality and reduced stress among employees with children.
Giving employees opportunities to participate in workplace improvements can be an effective approach to fostering their well-being. One study of doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners found that those who were invited to participate in a structured process of identifying and addressing problems in their workplace exhibited decreased rates of burnout and increases in job satisfaction. Employees who had had opportunities to problem solve together were also less likely to say they wanted to leave their jobs — a key benefit for organizations trying to retain valuable employees.
Research has found that high work demands — for instance, long hours or pressure to work very hard or fast — can take a substantial toll on employee health and well-being. In fact, numerous studies find that high demands coupled with low control create health risks, including higher rates of symptoms of depression, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Staffing up to spread out the demands may seem costly, but employers also pay a real price when exhausted or ill employees burn out, are absent, or quit. The solution may lie in changing staffing in a targeted way; for example, one study found improvements in efficiency and job satisfaction when doctors were provided with a medical scribe trained to take over some of their charting tasks.
Many employees are also caregivers for children or elderly parents, and they benefit from supervisors who are more supportive of the challenges they face in trying to balance their work and personal lives. A study in nursing homes found that employees whose managers were more accommodating of their family needs had fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease and also slept better. Studies in health care and grocery store settings have examined training programs for managers to increase family-supportive behaviors, with promising findings for work-life balance and health. Employers also benefited because workers whose managers had this training reported higher job satisfaction, better job performance, and less interest in leaving their jobs.
Creating a work culture in which employees can develop supportive relationships with their colleagues can be an important strategy for increasing worker well-being. Research has found that such relationships at work are associated with lower psychological distress, an indicator of poor mental health.
Fostering a sense of social belonging doesn’t have to be a complex or expensive proposition. One study of 911 dispatchers, who have highly stressful jobs and high rates of burnout and turnover, had supervisors send one email a week prompting dispatchers to provide support to one another by sharing affirming stories about their work. For instance, one email shared the story of a dispatcher who was able to save the life of someone who called 911 by connecting the caller to appropriate resources. Dispatchers who received the emails encouraging them to share such stories with one another reported a significant decrease in burnout and were 50% less likely to quit.
As these examples illustrate, many management practices that improve worker well-being also benefit employers. That shouldn’t be surprising. In the long run, companies that care about their employees’ health and well-being will be more likely to have employees who care about the company’s health and well-being too. And that’s an outcome all good leaders want.
As the Curator of Public Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, my professional focus has always been the MFA’s public spaces, performing arts venue, and gardens—not the collection galleries. Most of the museum programs I’ve overseen have been centered on exhibitions in one of our five rotating galleries, with our vast permanent collection serving only—for me, at least—as a scenic shortcut as I checked in on musicians, sound-checked a film, or readied a room for a lecture.
But as our collection galleries underwent a long-planned renovation during our pandemic-induced closure, I began to contemplate something new and exciting. In 2021, what would a museum opening its doors for the first time look like? Instead of using our collection as a backdrop to our programs, how could we use our programs to underscore our collection’s value, demonstrating to our neighbors, partners, and guests that art can be essential to their wellbeing and to the civic life of our city?
The result of this questioning is Picture of Health, the MFA’s innovative new wellness initiative that harnesses the power of our collection and gardens as places to enhance wellbeing and find healing and solace. Here’s a look at the trio of programs that comprise Picture of Health and their origins in the pandemic.
Waiting in the car line at doggy day care one morning, I saw a scrubs-clad woman in front of me grasp her dog in a deep hug, and something clicked. I thought, let’s eschew lessons both ingrained (no dogs near the art) and new (limiting people in the galleries), to see if we can bring therapy dogs into the museum for our frontline workers!
After working with our curatorial team on best practices, I began searching for therapy dogs. And there, too, it turned out, the pandemic had taken its toll. Therapy dogs and their caregivers, who once spent their days at hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, were all stuck at home with no opportunities to give comfort. We developed pre-vaccine safety protocols, reached out to area hospitals for insight and advice, and readied our shaded—and more importantly, outdoor—Membership Garden for use. We assembled canine care teams affiliated with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Project PUP. We purchased treats and water bowls, handed out doggie wipes, and created a pup-centric playlist.
When our Sit, Stay, Heal program launched, there were still numerous uncertainties around social gatherings. Despite our strong safety precautions, the anxiety of venturing out was a real challenge for our visitors and members. But six months later, as CDC recommendations shifted and COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, Sit, Stay, Heal has grown legs, and we now have an ever-expanding group of canine care teams and hospital staff who visit monthly. Due to demand, we have also expanded the program to include all museum visitors, as well as a therapy dog visit to our staff offices.
Witnessing the response to Sit, Stay, Heal allowed me to begin envisioning a suite of wellness programs. For inspiration, I turned to research and focus groups we conducted in 2018 in advance of a planned program to meet the needs of our memory care/dementia community. Surely, there were lessons to be learned in those findings, even though we were no longer able to safely accommodate such a vulnerable population. As I revisited our research and focus group findings, I was struck again by the overwhelming evidence that an emotions-based museum visit could facilitate health and wellness:
Thus, our Mood Tours were conceived! These tours look at art in our collections through a personal rather than art-historical lens, offer paths for intimate and meaningful art-viewing, and provide opportunities for both art-viewing and art-making. With the help of Jasmine Parker, an art therapist, and Mason Gehring, a recent graduate from the University of Florida’s highly respected Arts in Medicine graduate program, we developed tours of our galleries and artworks we thought visitors might connect to in one of six areas: Grief & Resilience, Joy & Celebration, Self-Reflection, Empowerment, Relationships, and Calm.
And in the end, the connections were made.
An audience favorite, Gathering at Church Entrance by Richard Hall, allowed us to place ourselves in the hierarchy of the townspeople in the painting.
One of our favorite pieces to watch people interact with became Big Blue by Leon Berkowitz, who had worked in art therapy as a psychologist in the US Army. At first glance, the emotional touchpoint isn’t apparent, but the longer you sit with his meditative work, the more completely you are drawn in.
Within each printed Mood Tour guide, we created an art activity designed to allow deeper engagement with the art and our visitors’ feelings. It was important for us to facilitate the connection to the artworks, but also provide an outlet to process those connections and emotions.
With group activities placed on hold for the foreseeable future, I turned my attention to a practice called “social prescribing,” which had long been on my wish list. Social prescribing is when physicians prescribe a visit to a museum to their patient, a practice based on compelling research into the health benefits of arts and cultural experiences. Studies have shown that art-viewing, art-making, and museum visits offer very real and tangible psychological and physiological benefits, including:
But the practice, while popular in Canada and parts of Europe, has yet to catch on in the US, which had stymied our efforts to experiment with it in the past. But since the pandemic began, the health care field (much like the museum world), had proven itself much nimbler and more adaptable than before, paving the way for us to try again.
Acting on the belief that physicians with a relationship to the museum would be more inclined to participate, we compiled a list of doctors and began our outreach efforts. Our goal: to start small and grow the program only after assessing its impact on the wellbeing of our visitors. We have started with a core group of five physicians who will participate for six months, and are now in the process of working with practitioners at our local Veterans Hospital. Afterward, we will assess the data and see if we should implement further adjustments.
Aiding in our assessment is the MFA’s “Tell Us How You Really Feel” questionnaire, which we adapted from the University College London Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit.
Each of these programs, in some way, addresses the findings from our own research, as well as museum programs increasingly occurring around the world. We also looked to last year’s Culture Track COVID-19 survey, which found that the public expected or wanted the following qualities in a post-COVID museum visit:
As we enter the autumn of 2021, our gallery renovations are complete, and visitors are cautiously returning to the museum. While much remains unclear, one thing is absolutely certain: we have, as a museum, created opportunities to meet the health concerns and emotional needs of our community in a uniquely twenty-first century manner.
By Margaret Murray, the Curator of Public Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. She fosters connection with the museum’s exhibitions and collection through the development of adult programming, such as literature and culinary events, lectures, musical performances, film screenings, and special community events at the MFA.
Reposted from The Art Newspaper
Beirut National Museum has reopened—with expert assistance from the Louvre—following the double explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital on 4 August last year. The blast destroyed the museum’s windows and doors and caused serious damage to the security system. At least 200 people were killed and over 6,000 were injured in the aftermath of the explosions while countless buildings were pulled down.
The Directorate General of Antiquities within Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture drew up a plan of action to rebuild the museum, located 3km south of the port, in the days following the explosion. Teams from the Louvre’s Department of Near Eastern Antiquities and Department of Architectural Heritage and Gardens helped map out a recovery plan, beginning “emergency interventions” on 31 August last year.
This involved securing the building and the collections as quickly as possible by repairing the doors, windows and security system; the team of specialists also helped repair damage in the museum’s administrative quarters and archaeological storerooms.
A Louvre spokesman says that the museum partly reopened mid-July for visitors such as tourists and Lebanese expatriates. “However the work is still in progress and should be completed in the next few days; 95% of the work has been done,” he says.
The restoration work has been funded by the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (Aliph), which provided $175,000. Aliph has supported 18 projects costing $2.3m, financing emergency measures to stabilise more than 30 historical houses in Beirut and restore monuments, religious buildings, and cultural institutions including the Sursock Museum($500,000).
"In the context of the crisis that Lebanon is going through, carrying out this work in such a short period of time constitutes a remarkable success," says Sarkis el-Khoury, the Lebanese director general of antiquities in a statement, adding that the joint project is "an important step in the collective work that we are carrying out jointly with the Louvre museum and the Aliph foundation”. New virtual tours of the collection have also been rolled out online.
But further funding is needed to carry out essential maintenance during phase two of the overhaul. “Major repairs valued at nearly $800,000 will be necessary to ensure the long-term balance of the entire museum, whose air conditioning is only operating at 30% of its capacity,” a Louvre statement says. Certain areas, such as the gallery displaying 13th-century mummies, are ventilated by backup systems.
The National Museum of Beirut, which displays over 1,800 objects on three floors dating from prehistoric times to the Ottoman period and originally opened in 1942, has undergone significant upheaval over the years. During the civil war that began in 1975, it was damaged by bombs and occupied by fighters from various armed groups.
The Louvre is also lending expertise to other key heritage projects in Lebanon. In the past three years, the Directorate General of Antiquities and Louvre’s Department of Near Eastern Antiquities have jointly carried out extensive archaeological research at the coastal town of Byblos where 20th-century excavations yielded works now housed at the Beirut National Museum.
Deaths worldwide from the COVID-19 pandemic have surpassed 5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. As of 1 November, there have been more than 246 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide in the two-year history of the disease, and nearly 7 billion vaccine doses have been administered. The United States has had the most deaths from COVID-19—745,837.
The tally is almost certainly an underestimation, experts said, since many cases—especially early in the pandemic—were not tested and confirmed. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the death toll “a devastating milestone” and a clear warning to the world not to let down its guard.
Despite rising vaccination numbers, some health officials are seeing signs of another coronavirus surge, particularly as some nations are loosening international travel restrictions, NPR reported.
In October, Europe experienced an 18 percent surge in new COVID-19 cases, and Southeast Asia reported a 13 percent increase in new COVID-19 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Nearly 34,000 people were locked into Shanghai’s Disneyland on Sunday to be tested for COVID-19 after a single confirmed case was linked to the park. Visitors all tested negative, but will be required to test again over the next two weeks. The park also announced it would be closed for two days after the incident, according to the BBC.
In the face of rapidly climbing infection rates, Russian officials launched a 10-day lockdown that suspended work and travel. Officials ordered all unvaccinated residents more than 60 years in age—as well as unvaccinated people who may have chronic diseases or preexisting conditions—to remain at home for four months, CNN reported.
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