Refresh Recap: The Luxury of Contemplation

Beck Tench, Director for Innovation and Digital? Engagement at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, spoke to a full house at Refresh the Triangle at the Viget South office this week. Her presentation, "The Luxury of Contemplation: Why We Owe Ourselves Time To Reflect On Our Work" brought out developers, designers, and everyone inbetween - including a few new faces. Beck is a well known name here in Durham so I was excited to finally met her and hear what she had to say.

Her talk started with an introduction to her job at the Museum of Life and Science - one that many of us can envy. As she puts it in her Slideshare bio, she "studies and experiments with how visitors and staff use technology to? plan, enhance and share their everyday lives.?" Part of her job is to evaluate what impact various technologies have on the Museum - for example, how much traffic a mommy blogger tweet might bring to the website or what type of blog post generates the most comments. She is given ample time and freedom to explore these questions, and has found it both rewarding and insightful. The process she uses to analyze her work follows six basic steps. They were:

  • Ask a question.
  • Identify resources to help you dig for the answer.
  • Use tools you like to help you with the task. Make sure you enjoy it.
  • Play to your strengths. Use the skills you are good at to make something tangible.
  • Share your work with the world. Educate and get feedback & insights from others.
  • Keep going - revise, compare, etc.

Beck walked us through four examples of her data mining and showed how each step helped her to get a better grasp on what the impact and outcome of her work really was. She emphasized how having this real, tangible data has helped her organization understand and embrace the importance of web technologies. Not only was her presentation beautifully illustrated, it was also unique and thought-provoking. We had some great discussions afterward. One point that struck a chord me was her encouragement to get over our fears of sharing rough or raw ideas. Most of the negativity we imagine (I don't have anything valuable to say, I'm not creative enough, People will see right through me) is self-created and will not come to pass. We should be ok with failure and at times even welcome it. Failing means we're experimenting, something that is essential for our industry.


A question she posed to the group was a quote from Richard Hamming, an American Mathemetician who worked on the Manhatten Project and later for Bell Labs. In the article "You and Your Research" he asks: What are the most important problems in your field? Are you working on one of them? Why not?

It's a tough question to answer, and I think we're all still thinking about what the big problems in our community really are. Once we begin to identify them, we can help solve them and in doing so advance our field. Lots to think about!

I really enjoyed Beck's talk and the conversations that followed us all the way to The Pinhook. If you're in the Durham area, you should come to the next Refresh meeting in March!

You can check out Beck's slides on Slideshare, and I suggest you do - it was one of the most visually interesting presentations I've seen in a while:

Mindy is a managing art director in our Durham, NC, office. She emphasizes clarity, communication, and connection for client such as The Nature Conservancy.

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