Startup Mindset for Libraries

What is the Startup Mindset?

Simply put, the startup mindset is creative, flexible thinking.  Forbes.com has a great piece on this.  The article details 5 core philosophies of the startup mindset.  By adopting these, libraries and other organizations can bring useful services and efficient practices onboard more quickly than through traditional library thinking.  These philosophies are:

  1. Curiosity – Ask “why” and “what if” and “why not” and always seek to understand and find a better way.
  2.  Focus on Possibilities – Focus on what could be, rather than focusing on what is.
  3. Disregard for Status Quo – Work like you have nothing to loose, and forget about those sacred cows!
  4. Conquer Fear – Be brave in the face of change and risk.
  5. Speed – Get those services and improvements into production quickly and tweak them while they are live.

The Benefits of the Startup Mindset

One benefit of the startup mindset is clear:  it makes the workplace more interesting.  About six years ago my professional life was transformed simply by thinking differently about my job:  I began to look at my workplace as a lab in which I was to experiment with improving user services. I stopped worrying so much about what was not working and began thinking more objectively about how work differently to achieve my vision of what service could be.  Some things worked, others were chalked up as learning experiences.  But overall the benefits were clear: not only did service improve, but so did the workplace.  Suddenly it was all a lot more interesting.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was running my department like a startup.

A recent episode of the Coaching for Leaders podcast focuses on knowing when it is time to move on professionally.  It reports that “moving on” doesn’t necessarily mean finding a new job.  It may mean reinventing your current job.  Adopting the start up mindset is one way to do this.

Learn More About the Startup Mindset

Want to learn more about the startup mindset and how it applies to libraries?  Read Brian Matthews’ 2012, “Think Like a Startup:  A White Paper to Inspire Library Entrepreneurialism.” Seriously, READ IT! It is inspirational, well written and only 13 pages (including notes).  In my opinion it’s a half-hour well spent. What do you think?

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Disruptive Innovation Rethought

Rethinking Disruptive Innovation

Last spring I wrote a series of blog posts on disruptive innovation as applied to libraries.  In it I discussed ways in which ways in which certain business thinking can be applied to the mission driven sector.  While I still stand by those ideas, I just read a New Yorker article that really made me think. The article questions the value of disruption in business by questioning the research on which disruptive innovation is based, namely the research of Clay Christenson, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Disruptive Innovation:  The Market is not Always Ready

The author makes some thought-provoking points, among them that disruptive innovation is not always successful because sometimes the market isn’t ready for a truly disruptive product.  This reminded me of the introduction of the ISO ILL standard in the late 1990s.  The marketplace (libraries) simply was not ready, and in an industry based on sharing a core group of partners had to be there in order to carry out the fundamental mission.

Disruptive Innovation and Failure

What I couldn’t fully grasp is if the author was arguing for an incremental model of innovation.  Does that still work in today’s world?  She argues that the “Logic of disruptive innovation is the logic of start ups”.  And as a point of fact, most start-ups fail.   “Disruptive innovation is a theory of why businesses fail.”  OK, I will buy that, but perhaps the focus should be less on success or failure and more on creativity?  Disruption is a process as opposed to a result–what if we think of it as simply casting side all preconceived notions and assumptions and looking at something in a completely new way? Certainly it can also lead to failure, but comfort with failure is the necessary flip side of innovation, and the possibility of failure needs to be embraced if we are to strive for true change.  And if one is trying to think in new ways about a problem does that not increase the likelihood that a solution will be found?

What Do Others Say About Disruptive Innovation?

This is indeed a provocative article, and there have been a number of responses to it.   Clay Christensen  himself responded in Businessweek; and others have responded in Slate, Forbes and The Boston Globe, to name a few.  As I work through my thoughts on this I would love to hear what others think about disruptive innovation.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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The TEDx Talk Every Librarian Should Watch

I often say libraries are not innovative, and when I say this I do so very hesitantly.  As much as I don’t wish to offend those who share my passion for libraries, I also feel very strongly that libraries need to step up their game in the face of competition from companies like Amazon and Google.  This is what entrepreneur Andrew Roskill is saying–much more eloquently than I ever have– in his talk recorded at TEDx Charleston a couple of months ago.  This is a “call to arms” for libraries to provide a niche service based on what they do well, and to do so in a way that’s “easy, elegant and engaging”–like a business.  Watch this talk!  It’s 10 minutes well spent.

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