Extraordinary Machines and Lizard Brains

I’m a big believer in motivational music to get you in the right mindset. Boxers listening to “Eye of the Tiger.” Sharks listening to the theme from Jaws.

Musical motifs – anthems – get you focused and remind you of what you’re doing and why. In all of my museum work, my philosophy centers around change. I don’t subscribe to change for change’s sake, but I do believe in being open and willing to continually examine who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Deliberate change is often the response to that process.

So what’s my anthem of museum change? As a musical child of the late 90s (who is resisting choosing a Backstreet Boys song – you’re welcome), my museum motif is Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.” Take a listen.

“Extraordinary Machine”

I certainly haven’t been shopping for any new shoes
I certainly haven’t been spreading myself around
I still only travel by foot and by foot, it’s a slow climb,
But I’m good at being uncomfortable, so
I can’t stop changing all the time

I notice that my opponent is always on the go
Won’t go slow, so’s not to focus, and I notice
He’ll hitch a ride with any guide, as long as
They go fast from whence he came
– But he’s no good at being uncomfortable, so
He can’t stop staying exactly the same

As silly as it might seem, I believe one of the biggest barriers to change in museums is the fear of being uncomfortable. “That’s not how we’ve done things…,” “We don’t know that audience…,” “We’ll look foolish…” After all, we’re supposed to be pantheons of knowledge that have all the answers. If we’re uncomfortable with who we are and what we’re doing, then who are we?

In Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about quieting our lizard brains – that basic, ancient part of the brain stem responsible for survival and, in us, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of being uncomfortable.

Whenever my lizard brain starts talking too loudly, I drown it out with Fiona.* Feeling uncomfortable is a small price to pay for the chance to affect good change.

*However, I don’t listen to Fiona when it comes to label writing. After all, this is the woman who once held the record for the world’s longest album title.

Do you have a motivational museum song?

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