Over the weekend, I helped to team teach a course for our new iSchool graduate students. Part of the focus (direct/indirect) of the course was to get students out of the comfort zone and to get them to think differently...even innovatively. Innovate thinking occurred most in what they presented and how they presented. Along the way, though, there was at least one new product idea, and that was very cool!
Every cultural heritage organization wants to do things differently, yet many find their roots grounded in a way that inhibits innovation. Those roots might be how the finances are done, how performance reviews are given, or just how success is measured. Every boss - and every agency that gives a grant - wants to see success. Success allows for fist pumping, chest bumping, and a line on your resume.
I remember hearing Chris Hughes speak, who was one of the co-founders of Facebook. They had known success and everything they were touching was turning to gold. Recently, Facebook has run into some challenges. The company issued stock and that stock price hasn't done so well. Suddenly Facebook is tasting what must feel like to fail (even a little). Failing now must feel quite odd. You mean everything touched doesn't turn to gold? Now what do they do?
Being innovative requires taking risks. While you can take calculated risks - and try to mitigate the effect of a risk - when you risk, you take a chance on failure and we don't like to fail. Not only don't we like it, we don't all know how to learn from our failures. More importantly, we don't know how to reward people for failing. Yes, reward.
When was the last time you rewarded an employee or coworker for trying something new or different, and failing? Did you criticize the failure or praise the person for trying something new? Did you look at it as an opportunity to learn or an opportunity to sweep someone aside? Did you allow that person to spread his/her wings again or did you clip that person's wings?
On September 8, I'm heading to Colorado to a library conference focused on being more innovative. The Risk and Reward Conference (or R-Squared) has attracted several hundred people who are interested in thinking differently. Imagine going to a conference not to learn how to do what you already do better, but to learn how to change your mindset, your paradigm, your ability to take risk. That's what we're doing.
From what I've experienced in the past, risk taking doesn't actually require learning lots of new things. Instead it means saying "yes" more. It means looking for the possibility in every idea. And it means not mourning success that never comes, but reveling in knowing that you have learned. And remember - "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." I know there is more to being a risk taker and being innovative, so I'm looking forward to three days immersed at R-Squared.
As I look at my students, I see people who want to succeed. As they think abut what success is, I hope they will consider the life of fictitious librarian Emily Skinner (video below), who risked and lived a full life. She learned new technology, tried new sports and hobbies, acquired new academic degrees, and continued to love. You don't see her failures or her struggles, but you know that she must have. There were surely tears and times of sorrow. What you see, though, is clearly that she continued to risk and that there were rewards.