Are You a Workplace Curator?

by Jennifer Miller on November 1, 2011

in Communication, Personal Effectiveness

I recently attended a local art competition called ArtPrize.  The free event is billed as “radically open”, meaning any artist, venue and citizen can participate. The openness creates a pretty random experience: grab a map, walk around downtown and check out the art. One of my favorite venues featured 25 artists in the Women’s City Club. Why was it my favorite? It wasn’t that I loved all the artwork. I’m still scratching my head over the artist who covered different types of phones with crocheted needlework.

The positive vibe was due to something else.  The art was arranged cohesively, with artist’s statements that provided context. There was a flow that allowed me to consider each piece of art separately, yet also as a whole exhibit. As I left the venue, I noticed a sign saying that the exhibit was curated by faculty member at the Kendall College of Art and Design. That’s it! A curator pulled it all together.

My experience with this art venue had me wondering: does curation have a role in the workplace?

Normally, we don’t think of the word “curator” and “workplace” in the same sentence. A “curator” is traditionally a person in charge of taking care of an organization’s, art, history or collectible items.

The word curator is derived from the Latin word cura meaning “care”.  So in essence a curator is a caretaker. Think about it— in your job, you are most likely a “caretaker” of sorts. If you work in human resources for example, you are a caretaker of employee concerns. If you work in facilities management, you are a caretaker of your organization’s physical space.  

Now, you may be wondering, “Isn’t curating just a fancy term for filtering information?” 

Not exactly. As I see it, when it comes to workplace communication, there are actually three levels to the way information is transferred:

Sharing. This is the simple act of forwarding information, with no attention paid to the receiver’s level of interest or knowledge. For example: I’m sure we all have friends who forward humorous emails to their entire email contact list, whether those friends are interested or not.

Filtering is a higher level of information transfer, where the person doing the filtering sorts the content a bit, paying attention to what parts should be left out. An example of this might be a colleague who writes up a quick synopsis of a phone conference he attended and shares it at a department meeting.

Curating. This is the highest level of information movement, where the person transferring the information takes care in what information makes the most sense for the recipient to have.  Ever been to a really great company presentation? (Yeah, I know, they’re rare.) If you have, then you’ve witnessed an example of effective workplace curation—the content was relevant, interesting and motivational.

Thinking you might want to add “curator” to your skill set? Here are five tips to help you become an effective workplace curator:


Decide who needs to hear your message. Is it absolutely necessary to copy everyone on this email? Keep in mind that people are flooded with data.

Determine the best way to communicate. Is it a highly volatile situation? Email won’t cut it.

Get clear about outcomes. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to do after reading/hearing this information?” That will help you know the types of information to include.

Look for possible areas for misunderstanding. Enlist a proofreader; ask him or her which areas might cause confusion.

Think about your timing. Even the best message can be messed up if the timing is off. When at all possible, consider time zones, workloads and the recipients’ general state of mind.

In the digital age, we all struggle with the torrential flood of the data stream. Professionals who learn to effectively curate their content will be a valuable asset—both for their teams and for their personal credibility.

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