Imagination in the Workplace

Imagination:  What is It?

Imagination is the ability to form new images in your mind.  It’s the ability to create something new, something that is unreal, but has the potential of becoming real.  Imagination deals with new ideas and new thoughts.

Imagination:  Why is it important?

Imagination is, in its truest sense, creativity: when we use our imaginations we are creating new thoughts and ideas. It is easy to see its utility in creative industries, but what about for managers? It is, after all, essential to good problem solving. If you can’t imagine a solution, how are you going to choose an appropriate one? Without imagination, how can you think up new, innovative services that will meet your users’ needs? Without it, how can we be empathetic? Empathy, as we know, is an important part of emotional intelligence, one of the biggest predictors of on-the-job success. JK Rowling spoke about the importance of imagination when she gave the 2011 commencement address at Harvard.

Imagination:  How can you cultivate it?

There are two ways when we might want to cultivate our imagination. One is in emergency situations, when we are faced with the need to problem solve or otherwise get creative. The other is a general improvement in our imagination.

Lateral Action offers a great step-by-step guide to getting more creative when you have a specific task you are stuck on. To improve your creativity generally, it’s important to play. It’s important to tinker. Perhaps this is why maker spaces have become so popular. Many adults have lost their instinct and ability to play. So what can we do? Here’s a very basic list to get you started (in no particular order):

  • Draw a picture
  • Build with blocks or Lego
  • Take an art, drama, writing or improv class,
  • Knit, crochet or sew
  • Read a novel or short story and think mindfully about the characters’ personalities and motivation.
  • Make something out of wood
  • Think about how something broken could be repaired
  • Ask yourself “what if”
  • Plant a garden
  • Go bird watching or foraging

The more we insert our imagination into our daily lives the stronger it will be. And the stronger our imagination is the better we will be at innovating, problem solving and empathizing in the workplace.

I’d love to hear from you about how you weave creativity into your daily life. How do you cultivate your imagination? How has this helped you on the job?

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Unexpected Hiatus


I’m back to blogging after an unintended hiatus. It’s been six weeks since my last post because all of my bandwidth has been channeled towards other work. Namely, I have been pulling together a keynote address for the MOBIUS conference.  Now that I have delivered the talk I am now free to work on other projects, including a presentation for Spark 2015 before I start my summer sabbatical.

I have been reading, thinking, participating in Twitter chats and attending conferences, so I have a nice long list of potential blog topics.  Now my hiatus is over and I have some time for writing, too, so I intend to be back to a once per week posting schedule.  Meantime, here  is the keynote I did for MOBIUS.


Library Leadership

Library leadership is something I approach passionately.  Why is library leadership important?  It is the path to truly excellent library service. Without strong leadership libraries can’t succeed.  In order for libraries to succeed, they need effective leaders and in order for leaders to be effective they need to be prepared.

Library Leadership: Not Just at the Top

What are leaders?  Leaders are influencers. Leaders innovate and develop.  Leaders keep the long range perspective in mind.  They exhibit new ideas and challenge the status quo. Leaders focus on and develop people. Leaders continually question.  And leaders aren’t just the people at the top of an organization.  Committee chairs, working group leaders and well trusted colleagues all hold important leadership roles in an organization.

Preparing for Library Leadership

So, if a librarian is interested in a leadership role how do they prepare?  If a librarian finds themselves in a leadership role, how do they get up to speed? Certain concepts come up again and again in the literature related to leadership skills.  They are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Understanding the Bigger Picture
  • Professional Comportment
  • Change Facilitation
  • Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Innovation

My first piece of advice to anyone moving into library leadership is to get familiar with these notions.  But don’t just take my word for it, research what others say about essential skills for library leaders and familiarize yourself with the concepts they list.

First Steps for improving Library Leadership Skills

Here are 10 easy-to-implement actions for improving your leadership skills.  They are in no particular order and are applicable to people in any field, not just library leadership:

  1. Find a mentor (formal or informal).
  2. Form a “Community of Practice” or “Mastermind Group” of other developing leaders to share your experiences and learn from one another.
  3. Create a daily reading list (including the campus or local newspaper, Chronicle of Higher Education or other industry publication, blogs, twitter, etc.). Map out time on your schedule to accomplish this.
  4. Conduct a skills assessment–where do you most need to grow?
  5. Apply to a leadership development program (ALA’s Emerging Leaders, Harvard’s Leadership Institute, Educause/CLIR Leading Change Institute, etc.).
  6. Learn your organization’s mission(s), vision(s) and values.
  7. Write a personal mission, vision and values statement.
  8. Schedule “thinking time” and “reading time” on your calendar.  You may not always honor it but you will honor it more often than if you don’t schedule it!
  9. Adopt an innovator’s approach to your work.
  10. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Are you transitioning to library leadership?  I would love to hear about your triumphs and challenges.  Have you learned your own leadership lessons?  Share your wisdom!

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Find Your Passion & Put It To Work

Something awesome happened to me last year–I figured out a way to work related to my passion.  I didn’t even know how awesome it was at the time but recently got some perspective on it.  A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend whom I hadn’t seen since before that time.  I explained where I was professionally right now and he was shocked.  The last time we spoke I was…adrift.  I had relocated abroad, leaving a career I loved behind.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to find professional fulfillment in my new environment.  I had lost my focus, my mojo, my spark–Then BAM!  Things changed. Since he was looking to reignite his own professional spark, he asked me.  I didn’t have a ready answer.  How did it happen? Here are some factors:

1.  Know your passion

I am really lucky that I have always known my passion: I want libraries to be excellent and for that to happen excellent people have to work in them.  For some people it’s not so easy to know exactly what their passion is.  How do you begin to discover it?  Ask yourself what is important to you– important enough to work for. Then try to narrow down to the most important thing for you. Think about your skills and ways that you have contributed in the past that have given you personal fulfillment.

2.  Get some perspective

Once you know your passion it’s important to create the mental space to really consider the “how” of executing this important work. My thinking took place on holiday but it’s not necessary to take a trip.  I think getting outside of your normal routine can help with this kind of soul searching but it could just be going for a walk or sitting quietly for a few minutes.

3.  Ask, “How can I make my passion work?”

I knew what was important to me, I just didn’t know how to make it work with my life circumstances.  I began to wonder how I could engage in meaningful work related to my passion.  Even when I was a practicing librarian I was occasionally retained as a consultant and  always dreamed of making that my full time job. Now I had the opportunity to do just that.  I asked myself, “what would have to be in place for me to be successful?”  and thought about what was already in place that would allow me to do this important work. I thought about what I wanted to do and how I could get there.

For me in order to create the professional fulfillment I want I had to do a few things.  I knew I had to stick with the target audience I know–North American research libraries.  That means I would have to accept zone differences and some degree of professional travel, even with a young child.  Once I got myself OK with that, I thought about what I needed to do to start working at my passion. For me the answer was to make time.  Rather than thinking about work as something I slotted in when I had the time I decided to make the time.  By dedicating actual work hours I created a business plan.  I wrote a social media strategy. I look for new prospects and leads.  I use the precious commodity of time to pursue my passion. I read.  I blog. I have ideas for new services I can provide to help libraries and librarians be excellent.

Have you found a way to make your passion work?  I’d love to hear about it.

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Focus Groups

What are Focus Groups?

Focus groups are a great way to gain insight into the needs and opinions of the people you serve.  Generally they are a group of 6-10 similar people who are willing to meet for 45-90 minutes to provide feedback on your services within the context of their own needs. Your library or organization may use surveys and other assessment tools to measure your effectiveness.  Focus groups are a great way to follow up with specific details and action items to improve service.

Focus Groups:  The Pre Work

Focus groups are one of those things that are easy to run well if you do some behind-the-scenes work up front.  There are three essential things to do before hand

  1. Identify a list of 8-10 questions that will keep discussion focused.  What are the things you want information on from this group?
  2. Determine who you will invite, how to invite them, location for meetings and compensation. You don’t need to provide a huge amount of compensation, but it’s nice to have an answer for the question, “what will I get out of this” (even if that answer is simply, “improved service.”  It is even nicer to provide them with a small token or snacks during the focus group.
  3. Find two people not connected to your organization to run the focus groups.  Why not connected to your organization? You want the focus groups to be open, honest and not defensive.  With someone outside of your organization participants may feel more free to be honest.  With someone outside of your organization you can protect against the focus group becoming a session someone explaining why certain choices have been made.  Why two people?  One person facilitates the group and the other records what is said.  It is best to make an actual recording of the session to transcribe later but if this is not possible notes are essential.  Don’t have funds to hire a consultant?  You can ask someone from a separate department or better yet offer to run focus groups for a local colleague if he or she will do the same for you.

Focus Groups: The Work

During each focus group meeting the facilitator encourages and manages the discussion with the goal of generating the maximum number of ideas from the largest variety of people.  I like to take notes on a flip chart to supplement the recording.

Your participants should be “heterogeneous strangers.”  This means that the people should be similar in terms of the people you serve (“senior citizens” or “graduate students” or “faculty” should be grouped together) but they shouldn’t be people who know each other well.  For that reason it is usually a good idea to avoid pre-formed groups.  Keep in mind that you will run groups until you stop hearing new ideas which usually means scheduling 3-5 groups.  So this means you will need to invite 30-60 people to 3-5 specific sessions.  This will improve your chances of having groups of a useful size.

The facilitator keeps the conversation going.  They keep it neutral, not commenting on suggestions but merely taking them on board.  The types of questions that are most useful are ones that fully get at a challenge or pain point for the user.  Then the experts at your organization can determine how best to address those issues.

Focus Groups:  The Post Work

After the focus groups are over the real work begins.  The data collected in the sessions needs to be collected in a usable way.  Generally this involves “coding” the responses (tagging the responses into categories) and  ranking the most common responses to the questions by type of user and answer. Then your organization can begin to make an action plan based on the information learned.

Focus groups are fairly simple to run and can help you to learn a lot about how to best serve your users.  More information can be found in a great 13 page report on how to run focus groups published by Duke University.

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Taking a Break

Taking a Break

I am taking a break from blogging. Just a short hiatus to take care of some personal business. Not sharpening the saw this time, but taking two weeks off to move house. I have accomplished a massive decluttering in the past two weeks (well, as massive as a decluttering can be when you’ve only lived somewhere for two years!) and now it’s time to pack up and manage some small renovations at the new place.

Occasional Breaks are Necessary

Sometimes it’s important to give focus to what becomes temporarily important. I do this each summer when focusing on my family and personal well being takes the forefront. Right now I simply need to focus my attention on the move. I have found it difficult to provide the quality of work I expect to deliver while dealing with this major life transition so it makes sense to simply take a little time off. There was a time in my life when I did not do this.  Instead I just powered through work without taking a break. I handled it all. Did my work suffer?  Maybe, but I never got any clear feedback that it did. Did my personal well-being suffer?  You bet it did. My older, wiser self makes different choices. So I’m taking a break.

After the Break

Thanks to the magic of scheduling my Twitter feed (@sweetcoachcons) continues during this time. And I will focus on some upcoming speaking engagements I have in the limited work time that’s available over the next two weeks. After all, I’ll need a break from the move!  When I return to regular blogging I plan to write about meetings, workplace accountability and coaching. If there are any topics you’d like to read about please contact me.

Library Service & the Culture of Haste

Library Service Expectations

Library Service expectations, like service expectations in any sector, have changed dramatically over the past decade.  We live in a culture of instant gratification.  Libraries used to have few if any competitors.  Now they have innumerable online service providers who can provide content quickly and conveniently, albeit for a fee.  Our library users are the same consumers who have gotten used to streaming movies from Netflix downloading kindle books from Amazon.  I see this as a good thing.  It makes libraries raise their game in terms of service.

The Culture of Haste and Library Service Expectations

A good friend of mine, I’ll call her Sarah, runs the public service department of a large academic library.  She’s the kind of librarian who likes to provide good library service to the students and faculty.  These days good library service means fast library service.  Interlibary loan is an area of library service that has received a lot of attention over the past decade.  Once a slow process, a lot of work has gone into streamlining the delivery chain, improving the tools and generally making it a timely service that meets the needs of today’s researchers.  This process has been achieved because of people like Sarah who work hard to ensure that items in their library collections are loaned quickly and efficiently to researchers elsewhere who need them.

Library Service and the Culture of Haste

Are We Racing to Meet Library Service Expectations?

One day not too long ago Sarah was speaking to the staff in the interlibrary lending department and explaining that for each item they were working on there was an actual researcher waiting for the book.  One of the lending staff took exception to this and said that Sarah was “buying in to the culture of haste.”

What’s Wrong With the Culture of Haste

OK, I get it.  Yes, we live in a society full of instant gratification.  The rushing can be too much at times.  Stress related illness is at an all time high. We need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses.  Every time I’m on the road someone is rushing in a way that puts other lives at risk.  Sometimes rushing isn’t necessary.  And often it can have negative consequences.  Sometimes rushing means a decline in quality, but it doesn’t have to.

What’s Right With the Culture of Haste

Librarians like Sarah have it right. It is important to Sarah to provide good library service to all researchers, not just the ones at her own institution. She also wants to provide good library service to researchers at other colleges and universities who need to use items from her library’s collection.  Her colleague accused her of buying in to the culture of haste as if it were a bad thing.  When it comes to library service, it’s not.  It is simply providing good library service in an environment of ever increasing expectations.  Where we have the tools and staffing to provide fast service, why not?

How Can We Help Our Colleagues Embrace the Culture of Haste?

Many of us are able to see the value in providing super-timely library service yet work with people who don’t get it.  So what can we do? I think Sarah had a good idea.  She explained the context to her colleague.  Unfortunately her colleague didn’t get it.  This time.  Perhaps with repeated explanations the expectation will begin to sink in.  Perhaps by explaining in in a context meaningful to the colleague it would help.  Obviously this is going to differ from person to person but everyone has been in a situation in which they didn’t like waiting.  Rather than getting frustrated at colleagues who don’t understand the changing nature of library service expectations we need to continually have the conversation on why faster library service is important.

What are your experiences dealing with colleagues who have different views on library service expectations?

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How to Get Unstuck: 3 Easy Strategies

How to Get Unstuck

Stuck.  We have all been there.  Maybe it’s writer’s block.  Maybe you just can’t get started. Maybe there’s a deadline looming and you can’t seem to figure out the next right thing to do.  When you are stuck you need easy, concrete actions to take to get yourself moving again.  Here are three strategies to help you get unstuck.

How to Get Unstuck Strategy #1:  Go for a Walk

Ever notice how you get your most creative ideas when you aren’t trying to be creative? One of the reasons I love to attend conferences is that as I sit listening to others talk about their work I get great ideas about my work.  Sometimes they are related, more often they are not.  Maybe you get these ideas in the shower, or as you are falling asleep or at the gym.  I recently read that people became more creative after reading the phone book.  Whatever you do, do something different.  Getting outside and going for a walk can be enough to disengage your brain from stuck mode and get you going again.

How to Get Unstuck Strategy #2:  Set a Timer

Don’t know how to get unstuck?  One word:  Pomodoro.  This is hands-down my favorite anti-procrastination/time management/productivity/getting unstuck technique.  I love it for its simplicity, elegance and easy.  Anyone can do it!  I wrote a short post on Pomodoro last fall.  It includes the basic steps and a handy video from the official Pomodoro website.

How to Get Unstuck Strategy #3:  Make a Mental Map


I recently figured out that getting stuck is part of my creative process.  I am not proud of this but it certainly gives me a lot of opportunities to practice how to get unstuck!  One I recently tried was making a mental map.  The process was quite simple:  I just wrote the topic in the center of a piece of paper and then created a graphical representation of all the aspects of the topic I thought were important.  Not an artist? As you can see by what I produced neither am I!  But the product served as a nice outline and before I knew it my writing was back on track.

Go Get Unstuck!

There is an old joke that goes, “How do you eat a whale?”  The answer is, “one bite at a time.”  Sometimes how to get unstuck is as simple as asking what the one next right step is and doing it.  It is easy to become paralyzed by the big picture.  Keep your thinking small and just do the next right thing.  So the next time you are feeling stuck try one of these strategies to get yourself going again.  Got some other strategies that help you get unstuck?  I’d love to hear about them.

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Workplace Expectations for Today’s Library

Ever feel like you walked into work one day and no longer knew the workplace expectations?  Sure, you do your best to be great at your job, but what helps a librarian be a leader in today’s job market?

Workplace Expectation #1:  Change

When you think about libraries over the past 20, 10, 5 or even 2 years, a tremendous amount has changed.  The same is true for the way we work: workplace expectations have changed.

People approach change differently.  Some people are innovators or early adopters at the vanguard of change. Others are laggards who resist change.  Most of us fall in the middle.  Change can be stressful and scary for some.


Workplace Expecations: Understand that people approach change differently.

Today’s workforce is expected to understand change.  We all need to think about change and how it effects us.  We need to learn about the change process and how it might effect our colleagues.  One model of the change process that I find particularly useful is the Transtheoretical Model, which lays out several stages of change.

Workplace Expectation #2:  Collaboration

Today’s workplace is full of experts and true innovation occurs across functional lines. This means that an essential workplace expectation is collaboration–working together with people who have different expertise.  This means that you have to know your stuff.  You may be the only person on a given project who knows what you know.  It also means you have to know how to communicate and work well with others.

Workplace Expectation #3:  Communication

Because of the high degree of collaboration in today’s workplace we are all expected to communicate well.  This extends to nonverbal communication and active listening.  It also extends to communicating with people of different genders, backgrounds and generations.  Because of the fast pace of work output it also means we need to master several different communication modes–email, IM, report writing, telephone etiquette, presentations, meetings–and stop and think before we decide which is the best choice.  Once we have made communication choices we have to carefully craft and execute our communication.

Workplace Expectation #4:  Multidirectional management

We are expected to be able to manage ourselves, our colleagues and our bosses.  By manage I mean take responsibility.  We need to control ourselves, and enable ourselves and our colleagues to do our very best.  We need to continually inform our bosses of what they need to know and occasionally suggest what they should do next.  And we need to do this according to the “platinum rule.”  While the “golden rule” states, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” the “platinum rule” states, “do unto others as others would have you do unto them.”  This is where the essential skills of communication and emotional intelligence come in.

Workplace Expectation #5:  Emotional Intelligence

Mastering emotional intelligence will probably help you get further than any of the other workplace expectations I describe.  That is because it is comprised of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  All of these elements help you to work effectively with colleagues.

Workplace Expectations:  Conclusion

The good news is that while some of these traits are hard-wired for some people, they are not impossible to learn.  With study and practice, all of these essential workplace expectations can be improved, even mastered.

I would love to hear your thoughts on workplace expectations and how you have worked on mastering them.

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Personal Mission Statement–What’s Yours?

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

A personal mission statement is a succinct declaration of what is important to you and how you bring that to action.  We have all heard it before:  success is preparation met with opportunity.  One way to prepare for opportunities is to know yourself.  Knowing what is important to you helps to make decisions that feel right.  By knowing what your capabilities are you can make decisions that suit your talents.

How to Write Your Personal Mission Statement:

Fast Company recently published an article on using businesses strategies in planning to create a personal life plan.  To create the direction needed to fulfill your life’s purpose, here are four questions to answer.  The answers you provide will help to form your personal mission statement:

  1. What makes life meaningful to you?
  2. What are you truly passionate about?
  3. What are your talents?
  4. What are your core values?

By sitting down for a quiet hour, thinking about these questions and recording your thoughts you will be on your way to developing your personal mission statement.

Benefits of a Personal Mission Statement:

Once you have identified what is important to you and what you are good at your mission then informs your life strategy.  Everything from choosing where to live to choosing a job to deciding where to go on vacation is an easier choice because you have a model for making that choice.

I would love to hear what you uncover when you ask yourself these questions.

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