The THINK Exhibit

Topic: Technology

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Jeffrey O'Brien

Published on October 10, 2013

  • Museum: IBM Focus: Science

  • Collaborating Organization(s): Mirada, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, SY Partners

  • My role: I developed the core idea/theory, did the on-camera interviewing, consulted on the screenplay, wrote a book based on the core idea, and oversaw the copywriting/editing.

  • Description and goals

    The goal of the THINK Exhibit was the demonstrate that societal/system progress has followed an identifiable pattern over the last 100 years. We were trying to inspire high-school kids (and older) to follow a well-worn pathway toward solving seemingly intractable problems. We gathered hundreds of case studies, produced a film, and did a series of extended video interviews with great innovators and scientists.

  • Development process and challenges

    IBM had a vague inkling that they wanted and exhibit but no idea for what the core theme would be. Did they want a “World of IBM” that celebrated the company? Ultimately, we all decided that it should be a gift of knowledge, in keeping with IBM’s heritage. The THINK Exhibit would be sponsored by IBM, but not about IBM. This was a visionary stance, but wasn’t always easy to maintain in the face of conspiring forces to make it more IBM-centric.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    The THINK Exhibit nearly died probably a dozen times before we flipped the switch. There were a ton of people involved (and many more take credit for it today). The biggest lesson we learned was the importance of having a powerful idea at the core. There were many times everyone was tempted to follow some cool technological development or to deploy some other attention-getting tactic. But the core idea always kept us rooted. It was that idea that the client fell in love with and which eventually allowed the Exhibit to see the light of day. (The exhibit was unveiled in Lincoln Center in conjunction with IBM’s Centennial celebration. It’s now part of MoMa’s permanent collection, in Disney’s Epcot center, and traveling to smaller science museums worldwide.)

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