Innovating Human Systems

July 9, 2006 on 12:31 pm | In Human Systems | 11 Comments

Many innovations in the world relate to products and services. I would like to posit that we need to also attend to creating innovation in our human systems: our organizations (read libraries!), our society, our communities. What does this mean?

I believe we have the creative power to create human-centered systems that show positive belief in the abilities of people to get along, think together, work together, and live together. What it takes, I think, is getting out of our own way. As Darlene Fichter of the University of Saskatchewan has pointed out, we need radical trust — radical trust is trust in the community. (See:

What all organizations, societies, and communities need is a measure of radical trust. Instead of judging each other so harshly might we not find ways to adopt a different viewpoint for a moment in order to understand one another? In my work as an organizational consultant I have seen what the lack of radical trust and the lack of innovation in the human system can do to a group of well-meaning and smart people. Typically the unfortunate results stem from emotional responses to a perceived threat — I say perceived because often that perception is only that and not a reality.

Essentially this is about overhauling our abilities of communication — to find new ways to break through our own blocks when it comes to how we communicate. How can we engender compassion and empathy in organizations and communities where disparate viewpoints often give rise to conflict?

 I would like to hear from people who have tried to innovate the human systems at work or in their communities.


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  1. You’re quite right that the key to innovation is creating innovative organizations, and radical trust is certainly an aspect of that. But the issues surrounding what makes an innovative organization are not new — they’ve been studied and promoted and analyzed for years. For an example plucked almost at random, take a look at the Texas Center for Innovative Organizations ( One of my frustrations with my librarian colleagues is what I perceive to be a lack of interest in studying the management literature that comes out of business schools. The principles are clear. Applying them is always difficult — I’ve spent over fifteen years as a library director working on the issues of trust and communication within an organization that make it alive and vibrant and innovative. It takes constant attention and energy and patience. I’ve been at my current library for going on eleven years, and I would say that for the last five we’ve had what I would call an innovative organization. We’re not nearly as far along as I hope we’ll be eventually, but that’s fine — there’s always further to go. Librarians who want to learn more about managing change and fostering innovation within their organizations have nearly a half-century of work to draw from, if only they would take the time to study it.

    Comment by T Scott — July 9, 2006 #

  2. T.Scott — thanks for your comment. We are entirely on the same wavelength re: the need for librarians to really dig into and translate and utilize the management/leadership literature in order to create more dynamic library organizations. Excellent libraries don’t just happen and they aren’t only due to good collections and good staff — they are due to stellar management and leadership. This is not something we really spend much time learning. I think your comment on the time it takes to work on making an organization effective is exactly why we don’t have more of them. Unfortunately people try “cosmetic” managerial actions (such as creating an incentive program, creating teams without team development, etc.) and then wonder why it doesn’t make a difference! It takes a very long time to develop an organization and to redevelop it along intentional lines. There is a wealth of helpful literature on this and good case studies such as your library and some others where the time has been taken to really thoughtfully create the systems that will allow a great library to emerge.

    Comment by deissk — July 9, 2006 #

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  4. Very useful blog.

    Comment by estetik — December 3, 2007 #

  5. Thank you esteik – I’m going to get back to it – I had many other priorities in the past year but am getting ready to work on this again in the coming year.

    Comment by deissk — December 3, 2007 #

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