Unexpected Hiatus

Aside

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.

 

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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How to Survive Failure

How to Survive Failure

How do you feel about failure? When I ask what emotion is associated with failure, too often in our society the answer is shame.  Failure is inevitable–so what if we uncoupled it from such a negative, unproductive emotion?  What if we embraced our failures as opportunities to learn and improve?

How to Survive Failure Step 1:  Accept It

The first step toward embracing failure is acknowledging that it can and does happen. But while failure is inevitable it is also temporary.  People don’t fail, things fail–projects, presentations, meetings.  By exploring your relationship with failure you can begin to work more creatively and truly spark innovation.  The more you consider failure part of life the more free you will be to take more innovative risks in the future.

How to Survive Failure Step 2:  Neutralize It

The next step to survive failure is to decouple failure from emotion. James Clear calls this treating failure like a scientist.  When a scientist runs an experiment he or she simply gets data points.  These data points are infused with judgement–they simply contribute to learning.  If you think of your endeavor as your lab where sometimes the unexpected happens and provides you with new data you can begin to learn from failure. A nice side bonus is that you will also become more tolerant of risk in general.  My former boss had a sign in her office saying, “only mediocre people are always at their best.”  No one likes to fail, but If we focus on learning then failure can be a helpful, positive experience.  If we don’t welcome failure, we are welcoming mediocrity.  Welcomed failure brings learning, improvement and innovation.  Shamed failure just brings shame.

How to Survive Failure Step 3:  Practice It

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”  Like anything else, the more you fail the more you will learn that you can fail and survive–even thrive.  So how do you practice failure? By taking small risks or trying something new.  By exposing yourself to small risks you can experience small failures from time to time in a safe, controlled way.

How to Survive Failure Step 4:  Learn From It

Think about the decisions you make in your daily life.  They aren’t all perfect, are they?   When you experience failure poke at what went wrong.  Don’t blame, but see how things can be improved for next time. Focus on the learning as opposed to the failure.  One way to do this is by conducting an after action review.

How to Survive Failure Step 5:  Know That You are In Good Company

Thomas Edison’s success had to do with his relationship to failure.  He once said “I know several thousand things that won’t work.”  Even today if you walk down the sidewalks in major cities in the U.S.you are walking on cement made by Edison.  He developed a successful process to make cement sidewalks—but at the time he was trying to develop a process to remove iron ore from rocks!  By keeping an open mind about failure Edison was able to turn his failures into successes.  No wonder he is also credited as saying, “I failed my way to success.”

How have you used failure as a way to learn and grow? I’d love to hear about it.  You can contact me directly or follow the instructions below to leave a comment.

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