We know that nothing is new under the sun. We currently live in a world of collage, where we pick and choose, remix, re-sort and re-arrange according to new observations about shifts in who our customers are and what they really want. Pattern finding and sense-making is critical to the innovation process in a marketplace that requires creativity to stand out.
The value of curation was confirmed for me back in September when I participated in a private 'backstage' tour and discussion of the Virginia Woolf exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London. We learned about the intricacies, politics and economics of curating this art exhibit from Sandy Nairne, executive director of the NPG in London. Sandy defines curation as "an ordered approach to selecting and laying out material for public engagement. It should be an open process, ready for challenge and discussion".
His point about "challenge and discussion" is a wonderful one, because it alludes to the value of having an advisory board of provocateurs on hand to keep you sharp. (See Valerie Jacobs', vice-president of trends at LPK, perspective on provocateurs in her trends business.) That statement also references a level of co-creation between you and your customer in building your brand. Sandy Nairne notes that we see curating happening all over the place today: "There are stores being curated, fashion collections are being curated, journeys are being curated, even lives...!".
Daniel Stern founder and head chef of the hip Philadelphia restaurant R2L alluded to business innovation in these terms last Saturday at the UNconference sponsored by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. "I started a restaurant to support my cooking habit" he said slightly self-deprecatingly. Genius, really: what better way to do the work you love? With all the rage of sourcing food locally, and knowing from where your food comes, Dan pointed out that this way of eating is not new at all: "People used to eat this way because it was the only way to eat." For Dan, sourcing locally became about eating a better pork-loin: he waxed poetic about a pig farmer in Lancaster County, where the pork tasted "like nothing you've ever had!"
Creative entrepreneurs such as Daniel Stern behave as curators. They dip into the past, to understand why things work the way they do, and re-arrange their offering in imaginative ways that end up being more meaningful and authentic for the people buying their services and products.
More businesses today are adopting the verb "curate" into their way of developing their products and services and telling their brand story. Online fashion companies such as Of A Kind and Oh Joy! are essentially curators: their teams carefully research and select an assortment of products to tell a story of the designers and connect to the people who visit their websites. And they are doing it so well that advertising on these sites is non-existent. Arts non-profit organizations such as The Painted Bride Art Center consider the process of managing and producing live dance, music and theatrical productions as curation.
When you curate your business, you can invite a cast of collaborators who contribute to your offering in new and inventive ways, by using clear and simple principles to ensure that your products and services are better enjoyed. That is, after all, the point!