Thursday, April 30, 2015

LARC: Creating Sparks that Light Our Profession

Today (April 30) I gave the keynote address for the Library Association of Rockland County (NY) bi-annual conference in Suffern, NY.  Below is the description of my talk and my written text.  While I didn't give the talk exactly as written (in fact, I rearanged it!), I promised Tracy Allen (president of LARC) to post this, so she could share it with others.

Description:  That spark that lights our profession is innovation and, without it, our profession will become irrelevant.   With innovation, we will continue to meet the needs of our communities.  Our innovation needs to occur continuously, yet we know that constant change can be uncomfortable. During her keynote, Jill will discuss how we can create a culture of innovation without burning out our staff or our communities, and she will give us tips for being innovative.  (45 minutes)

LARC Bi-annual Conference

Text:  I want you to take a moment and look at your hands.  Hold them up in front of your face.  Look at the top and bottom.  As a child, these are hands that used to build dirt and mud structures.  These are the hands that piled up blocks and other materials to create something  new... and something that would not fall over.  These are the hands that have unclogged copiers and kept equipment running, when others failed.  These hands have worked magic in the  kitchen...and...with short and long-term hobby projects.  You have been innovative...your hands know it.  However, we often lose that spark as we focus more on what is possible and as we forget how to play.

I worked in a multimedia office in grad school, which had one of "the" copiers in the building.  The copier received a lot of use and would sometimes overheat.  We - the student workers - learned how to operate the copier with the doors open, so we could keep working AND keep the copier cool.  I keep that memory because it reminds me that innovation takes different forms and that we all can do it.

In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey suggest that we "Start with the end in mind."  He sees this as what we need to do to spark our imagination.  We must look at the result which we want to achieve, and then work to achieve it.  Our goals should stretch us and our organizations.  Our goals shouldn't be easy.  And they should spark us to be innovative.

In reality, we often see those big goals and decide early that they cannot be done.  For example:
  • We set a goal of exploring a new technology each week, knowing that we need to stay current.  Then we decide that we really don't have time for that. 
  • We might decide to go out into our communities and talk to perspective users of our services, but decide against it because the weather is too unpredictable.
  • We might decide to offer a cool new service for teenagers, and stop when we can't easily figure out how to attract them.
When we decide early that something isn't possible, we limit ourselves and what we're able to provide to our communities.  We fall back - in terms of goals - to what is safe and easy.  Safe and easy are akin to doing the same thing that we did yesterday and today.  Safe and easy limit our growth as individuals and institutions.  Safe and easy do not stretch our imagination or stretch what is available to our communities. 

Imagine if our profession has played it safe and easy, what would our libraries be like? Well...we wouldn't be doing computer training, circulating ebooks, offering database content, providing music downloads, giving our community access to the Internet, launching community gardens, circulating bake ware, or re-invigorating our bookmobile services...or in my library career...finding new ways of marketing the library's services and building a robust research service.  We don't play it safe and easy, but we also don't innovate as often as our communities want us to.

So let's spend the next 40 minutes talking about how to be "sparks" by creating a culture of innovation.

Let's first recognize that a culture is defined by its behaviors and beliefs.  

Beliefs are those opinions or convictions that we hold to be true.  We have our personal beliefs as well as the beliefs of our institutions.  By the way, I hope that your personal beliefs and those of your institution - your library - overlap, or you won't like going to work every day.  Our shared beliefs help to create our culture.  For example, libraries have a belief of serving all members of the communities.  That belief greatly defines our culture and permeates everything that we do.

A culture of innovation requires that we have beliefs - opinions or convictions - that support it.  

For example:
  • We must believe that innovation is important and necessary. 
  • We must believe that we - people who work in libraries - are called to be innovative.
  • We must also believe that our libraries are called to be innovative.
  • We must believe that innovation is something that we do everyday.  e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y.
Some of you may already believe in innovation. For those of you who don't, let me suggest that you make a conscious decision to believe in being innovative for the next 45 days or until Flag Day on June 14.  Until June 14, I'm not asking that you do anything except voice belief in being innovative.  Yes...I do mean that you need to say to yourself and others that you believe in being innovative.  You might set a goal of saying it once a day and saying it as if it is a heartfelt belief.

Okay...I know you have doubt that just saying that you believe in being innovative will do anything. Likely you've heard of doing affirmations.  When we go through rough spells in our lives, we often use affirmations to help change our mindset.  That is what I'm asking you to do.  Use  - I believe in being innovative - as an affirmation that will change your mindset.  

We also have heard rules about how long you need to do something before it becomes a part of you.  A colleague has suggested 45 days and, based on my own experiences,  I think he's correct.

I believe in being innovative.  We often don't talk about our real beliefs.  When we talk about beliefs, we are often talking about assumptions.  For example, I believe it will rain tomorrow.  When I say that I believe in being innovative, I'm talking about something I hold in my heart to be true.  Can you hold it in your heart as being true?

Besides beliefs, a culture is also defined by its behaviors.  Our behaviors are observable activities that we repeatedly do.  Some of our behaviors are conscious, meaning that we're aware of them. You might have the conscious behavior of wiping off the top of a soda can before opening it, or of always sitting so you are facing the entrance, or placing items on your desk in particular spots.  It is likely that you also have unconscious behaviors, such as how you hold your coffee cup, how you check to see if you've locked your front door, or how you cross your legs.

Innovation needs to be both a conscious and unconscious behavior.  We need to consciously have habits that support innovation.  For example, we need to learn and consciously use brainstorming rules and brainstorming techniques. We innovate, we frequently brainstorm.  I'm going to talk about two brainstorming techniques later.  For now, I want to explore the seven rules used by IDEO...and these are different than what you learned in school.  IDEO is a design and innovation consulting firm that has won awards for its work.  The seven rules that they use are: (From The Ten Faces of Innovation)

  1. Defer judgment 
  2. Encourage wild ideas 
  3. Build on the ideas of others 
  4. Stay focused on the topic 
  5. One conversation at a time 
  6. Be visual 
  7. Go for quantity
Knowing the rules is good. Using the rules is better.  Using the rules is a conscious decision.  We can't be innovative, for example, if we're judging ideas as soon as they are spoken. We can't be innovative if we adopt the first idea spoken, which likely is something that has been thought of and done before, and is perhaps not very innovative at all. We can't be innovative if we're not listening to our colleagues and to our communities.

Conscious habits become unconscious habits through repetition.  For example, asking colleagues to be a part of brainstorming activities becomes an unconscious habit if you consciously do it all the time.  And yes, we need our colleagues - our fellow staff members and our volunteers or interns - to be part of our brainstorming and idea generation activities.  We need their ideas. We also need their buy-in.  And it would it be wonderful if we asked our community to brainstorm with us.  Let's not just ask them to hear the ideas that we've generated; let's ask them to join us in our ideation.

Let's dig deeper into the beliefs and behaviors that we need to create sparks of innovation in our libraries.

Do you remember when you learned that some things aren't possible? Do you remember when you stopped day dreaming about living in the wild west or traveling across country in a van with your friends?  At some point, we began to limit our vision and limit what we believe is possible.  Those people, who dream up those wildly creative products and solutions, have not yet learned that some things aren't possible.  For them, everything is possible...although some things are easier to do then others!

We limit innovation when we immediately say "no" to something. can't do that. No...we did that once and... No...we don't have the money for that.

By the way...let me say that using a lack of funds as an excuse means that you're not willing to think innovatively.  For example, libraries have started lending tools and bake ware by asking community members to donate their spares. Yes, funding is important and the lack of funds might slow you down, but it should not stop you from being innovative.

When was the last time you asked someone for a solution to a problem, and tried whatever they said? Perhaps you asked how to get more youth into your library or how to better arrange a specific section?  Did you act on the answer that you were given or did you say "no, that won't work"?  

Being innovative means saying "yes."  It means recognizing that everything is possible...with some planning, ingenuity and time.  Yes, you must plan whatever it is that you want to do.  If it is developing a new service, then create a project plan for it. You need to figure out all of the details.  Once you have the details, then your ingenuity can work on how you can make it all happen within your budget and using the resources that you have on hand.  Time is important because awesome doesn't happen over night!  

I've talked about having a culture of innovation, which means we need both beliefs and behaviors.   I've talked about how we limit ourselves.  Now I'd like to give you two brainstorming techniques to go along with those seven rules of brainstorming.  The two techniques are mind storming and the long list. Why these two?  Well...mind storming is the basis for every other brainstorming technique. The long list is what we frequently try to do and frequently don't do well.  

We brainstorm with ourselves every day, whether it is generating ideas about what to eat for lunch, how to teach about mobile devices, or how to explain ourselves to someone who just doesn't get libraries.  When we brainstorm with ourselves that is mind storming.  

When it is important to  mind storm well, I want you to focus on the following techniques:
  1. Set a timer and give yourself several minutes - perhaps 10 minutes - to generate ideas.
  2. Challenge yourself to come with as many ideas as possible in that time.  In other words, don't just generate 1-2 ideas.  Instead generate dozens of ideas.  Dozens.
  3. Don't judge your ideas as you're generating them.  Instead, just write the idea down.  Once you have hit your time limit, THEN review the ideas and make judgments.  
  4. Don't eliminate an idea just because it seems hard to do.  Eliminate an idea because it does not do what's needed.
The long list is a similar activity that you do with other people. With those people, you want to aim to generate a long list of ideas and I think you should aim for 100.  
  1. Define - really define - what you're brainstorming on.
  2. Generate ideas quickly and without judging them.
  3. Number the ideas as you go, so you can keep track of how many you've generated.  This also will be helpful later when you're sorting through the ideas.
  4. Keep going until you reach 100!
With your culture of innovation in place and good practice around generating innovative ideas, the final piece is to say "yes" to the opportunities that develop.  I worked for a boss years ago who believed in saying "yes".
  • Yes...that is a great idea.  Now what do we need to do to implement it?
  • Yes, let's do that and let's start by doing this...
  • Yes and I can help you by...
Jill Hurst-Wahl and Tracy Allen
Jill Hurst-Wahl and Tracy Allen
Think is terms of "yes...and" not "yes...but".  "Yes...but" limits the idea.  It actually says that the idea wasn't really that good or do-able.  "Yes...and" expands on the idea.  it helps the idea become a reality.  If an idea changes along the way, that can be a good thing.  That can mean that a more do-able solution has been created.  If an idea dies along the way, recognize that everyone was changed in some way by hearing and working on the idea.  It could be that the idea's time has not yet come and that it will re-surface in the future, and be bolstered by the seeds that had already been sown.

In my life, I had ideas come to fruition from seeds that I didn't realize that had been planted.  I've witnessed innovations that seemed to have appeared from thin air, yet upon inspection, I can see their roots in the past.

My life has a been a series of saying "yes" to wild and innovative ideas, that I and others have generated. Those yeses have generated many sparks. May your culture of innovate generate the sparks that you need and the yeses to go with them.

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