This blog was written in July 2019 and posted on August 12, 2019. Since then, there has been an upheaval at The Media Lab, and director Joi Ito has resigned. I have been a friend of the Lab for many years and admired much of what Joi Ito has accomplished there. But I was also cognizant of how fragile institutions can be and, accordingly, in the third to last paragraph of the blog, I pointed out that institutions can be undermined by sexual, financial, or ethical scandals. Alas, The Media Lab has been shaken by events and allegations that seem to involve, either directly or indirectly, all three of these elements. Since I believe in the mission of The Media Lab, and what it has accomplished over the last forty years, I hope that it can negotiate this difficult period thoughtfully and responsibly and continue its important work. And I hope that Joi Ito can find the proper channels for his undoubted gifts.
Some institutions are special, and it is worthwhile to keep them well-functioning, even when the original leadership and members are no longer on the scene. Such survival—and occasional rebirth—is worth considering and worth understanding. I have suggested here some possible factors: the attraction of capable successors to the founding leaders; willingness to pursue new directions without sacrificing core values and robust norms; alertness to shifting funding landscapes; honoring norms as well as regulations; and nurturing talent and providing a comfortable base of operation.