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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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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7 Brain Biases and How to Minimize the Impact on our Work

Forbes.com recently published an article about our mental biases and how they effect your investment choices.  As I read this I couldn’t help but think about how these biases also impact our work.

  1. Recency is short term memory winning out over the long term.  Is it really time to find a new job, or are you just having a bad stretch?
  2. The Sunk-Cost Fallacy is kind of the opposite of Recency; it is the notion that you have already invested the time so you may as well stick around so that invested time isn’t a waste.  It is the notion that you can’t “cut your losses”–but usually you can!
  3. Overconfidence is seeing only the positive. At work this could be fear of failure or perhaps the “halo effect” that can happen during personnel evaluations.
  4. Confirmation Bias is the basic human trait of thinking you are always right.  People naturally go to great lengths to seek out information to uphold our preconceived notions. this could include opinions on people you hired or projects you ran.  Are they really perfect?  There is always room for improvement.
  5. Status Quo Bias is sticking with what you know.  Over time this can weaken an organization as they hire more of the same type of person, leading to a lack of diverse thinking in an organization.
  6. Bandwagon Effect is going along with the crowd.  Does your organization offer services and products the same as everyone else’s or do you truly innovate?
  7. Negativity Bias is giving more credence to bad news than good news. At work this could translate to focusing on what your organization is doing wrong or failing to learn from failure.

So, if you can see some of yourself or your organization in the list above, what do you do about it?  the Forbes article lists some strategies that are worth taking a look at.  The coach in me says that simply being aware of these biases in your self or your organization can be a tremendous catalyst toward managing them.

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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Disrupting the Library, part 7

Disruptive Suggestion #6:  Be Utterly Transparent

Radically embrace the truth.  I love it, but can you think of anything more scary?  What is your library’s truth–maybe use has decreased significantly in the past decade?  Maybe you don’t know what your users want?  Maybe you have been slammed recently on Twitter?  Maybe the campus library is the laughing stock of the college?   If you are in denial about the relationship between your library and its user community things will never improve.  The only way to get out of whatever uncomfortable situation the library is in is to fully accept it and commit to improving it.  Or maybe you don’t even know what your user community thinks of you, in which case it is time to find out.

Ever shop at Whole Foods?  Every Whole Foods I have been in posts comments and questions from their suggestion box on a public bulletin board with responses from the manager.  This would be a great approach for a library.  Done a large scale user survey with scary results?  Make the results public, along with the improvement plan.  Launch a service that missed the mark?  Own it.  And either scrap it or improve it so it does help your users.

I hope this series was helpful not only helping you to see how libraries can be disrupted–radically transformed into better service outlets–but also in showing you that the breadth of business literature can be applied to improving libraries and other mission driven organizations.

 

This is the final installment of a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 6

Disruptive Suggestion #5:  Find Smarter Ways to Serve Your Customers

Are you sure you are giving your users what they need?  The example the article gives is Siri, the voice interaction service offered on Apple products.  Library users may not require or even desire voice command services, but what is it they do want?  Not what they are asking for, but where is the need?  Maybe users need library materials delivered to their home or office? Maybe faculty on the tenure track need communities of practice to support them?

The point is to listen to your users and find out what their needs are.  Then think, “how can these needs be met?” Then think some more.  Then plan, all the while talking to users and thinking.

This is the sixth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 7.

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 5

Disruptive Suggestion #4:  Make Stupid Objects Smart

The Forbes.com article explains, “A dumb product just sits there. It doesn’t talk to the network, doesn’t have a memory, doesn’t react to changing events around it. In contrast, a smart product acts intelligently.”  It goes on to describe several examples of “smart” objects:  The dumpster that alerts when it needs to be emptied; the light bulb that flashes before it burns out; the dog collar that monitors dog behavior.

Because of privacy concerns the notion of objects with a “memory” might not be the right fit at a library, but there are ways to “smarten-up” the library.  What about a system that tells users where the unoccupied study carrels are?  What about a circulation system that texts users when the material they have requested is available or warns of an approaching due date? And what if you could reply to the text to renew the items?

Be open to the idea of smart objects and aware of how this is being used both inside and beyond libraries.  Sure, some smart technologies are prohibitively expensive to most libraries but this will not always be the case, and even small, inexpensive changes can be transformative.

This is the fifth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 6.

 

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 4

Disruptive Suggestion #3: Cut Prices Dramatically

Prices? What could this possibly have to do with library services? Actually quite a bit.  Most libraries charge for value-added services. Perhaps interlibrary borrowing, printing, or borrowing an iPad costs the user a little extra.  Here in Europe where I currently live my public library not only charges for library membership, but also checking out DVDs and requesting books from other branches are also associated with a small transaction cost.  

But what about the most sacrosanct of all library prices, the overdue fine?  [Note to self:  anything described as “sacrosanct” is a potential area for disruptive improvements.] A few years back, while running the Access Services department of a large North American research library, I adjusted circulation policies including eliminating routine overdue fines on non-recalled general collection materials.  There is no question that this was a  disruptive change, but because of the careful study and planning that went into it, it was a change that was embraced by the library administration as well as library staff and users.  As a result these changes–including lengthening circulation periods and eliminating fines on routine overdues, interactions with library users were much more positive.  And while we did experience a drop in fine revenue income (which at that library was deposited directly into the collections budget) the loss was partially offset by increases of other overdue fines and fees which could be tweaked to fully offset the loss.

I am certainly not saying that every library needs to eliminate fines.  Rather, I’m inviting you to take a look at the sacred cows in your own workplace.  After some careful study and thinking, you may see some ways to improve the functioning of your library for users and staff alike.

This is the fourth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 5.