Change and Tradition: Lessons from Las Vegas

A Reflection on Values

In the past few months I’ve been through Las Vegas, Nevada a couple of times. Those visits inspired me to reflect on the values of change and tradition.

I’ve always had nostalgia for the classic Las Vegas, or at least my romanticized notion of Vegas. It goes along nicely with my love of mid-century modern architecture and tiki bars…(I realize the reality of that time had a lot of problematic issues societally, but I’ll set that aside for now to focus on design). My design aesthetic is inspired by the past. However, as one who considers “Change” a core value, I don’t often think of myself as traditional or stuck in the past. In that way, my viewpoint is a bit paradoxical.

I think Vegas also personifies the paradoxical marriage of change and tradition. One of the constants about Vegas has been rapid and massive change. New and different and bigger and “better” always have to be on offer to stay competitive and bring in gamblers and other tourists. And yet, many things about Vegas represent tradition too, including neon signs that advertise casinos or other attractions.

I’m usually in Vegas for business without a lot of extra time on my hands. But if I am there for leisure, it’s not to gamble. Not being a big gambler, at least in the literal sense of the word, I like to find other interesting things to do in town.

Because of the nostalgic side of me, I had wanted to visit The Neon Museum in Vegas for ages. The museum is a boneyard of old Las Vegas signs, mostly from demolished casinos. I love neon signs. Couple that with the classic Vegas tradition it represents, and I’m hooked. On one of my recent trips, I finally was able to make the visit.

A non-traditional approach to restoration

Most of the signs at the museum are unrestored. Restoration is a complex and very expensive process. The non-profit that runs the museum doesn’t have the funds to restore many signs. Instead, they got creative and took a totally different approach to bringing some of the signs back to life. One part of the boneyard has been transformed, through the power of modern technology, into an amazing space with a show called Brilliant.

Brilliant takes old, unrestored signs and breathes new life into them. Through complex digital mapping process, they are able to project images on to the old signs to make them look as if they are alive again. It’s quite difficult to describe how magical it is. Combined with music and other historic video, it’s a sensory experience not to be missed. Honestly, I’m not too proud to admit it brought me to tears.

Contrasting Values

The museum and the Brilliant show made me think a lot about the contrasting values of Change and Tradition. The business people who owned the properties believed that change was necessary to maximize profits. As they moved on to new things, they discarded the old neon signs, often with little fanfare.

And yet people are nostalgic and yearn for that classic Las Vegas. The Neon Museum tours often sell out way in advance. Visitors at The Neon Museum weren’t just olden-timers yearning for yesteryear…many younger people were enthusiastic patrons. People seem to treasure the aesthetically beautiful and warm simplicity of an artfully designed neon sign as much as ever. Why do people cherish this and yet at the same time, tire of the “same ole same ole?” Could it have been possible to maintain a sense of the past (preserving the signs rather than discarding them) while improving for the future? When does something have to be destroyed in order to create something new?

Overcoming obstacles through creativity

It also made me consider how constraints, such as the museum’s budget, require you to creatively solve problems. In this situation, the museum embraced change and honored tradition simultaneously. They used technology to do an end-run around the traditional restoration route, and made something even more spectacular than the original.

Opposing values can be divisive if held on to too literally or staunchly. Your own core values may have opposite qualities that can exist in harmony. In your organization or group, you can transcend conflict by seeing where peoples’ values can complement each other. Even The PEAK Fleet’s Values of Persistence, Empathy, Authenticity, and Kindness can be in tension with one another, and have to be balanced out. How would our world improve if you took a different perspective and considered how opposing values can be balanced in harmony?

PEAK Values Atom

Jen Coyne

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