The Possibility of Success

July 18, 2006 on 8:35 pm | In Human Systems | No Comments

In a previous post I mentioned “Cirque du Soleil The Spark,” a tale about a sports agent who, having lost his focus and his orignal driving passion, enters the world of the circus and rediscovers his creativity and inspiration.

One short passage has the protagonist, Frank Castle, being taught how to manage jumping up to a trapeze while on bungee cords — at some height. He is very apprehensive and this apprehension actually keeps him from accomplishing the task for a while. Of course when he lets go of his fears he is able to reach the trapeze bar. He reflects internally:

“It’s amazing how much we fear the unknown — even though the unknown carries with it the possibility of success. We are so determined to stick to our comfort zones that we learn to live with disappointment, as long as it’s familiar and safe….Our fears hold us back, make us fall short of our goals. Only by taking risks can we hope to accomplish the extraordinary.”

Librarians I know are extraordinary people. Yet whole organizations of these wonderful people settle for “pretty good” and sometimes mediocre due, I believe, to this fear of possible success. What would happen if we were wildly successful? What kinds of decisions and choices would we make?

I believe there are many extraordinary libraries but something about the fear of success fable in The Spark made me think of the many times I’ve heard librarians say “what if we can’t handle the success of xyz service?”  Certainly we don’t want to live with disappointment in ourselves and our institutions.

What might be some ways of connecting with risk that allow us to actually take advantage of our natural passions for excellence?

The Inspired User

July 18, 2006 on 4:04 pm | In Human Systems | No Comments

Every user has her/his own reasons for seeking out libraries and library resources. All users are motivated by something — very often something exciting to them. So perhaps they enter the library inspired but then become somewhat daunted by unfamiliar surroundings, rules, practices, and mysteries. Some are further motivated to understand all these thngs that lie between them and the object of their interest but most feel like they are slogging through quick-sand to get to their stuff. The Mercurial wings on their feet vanish as they encounter obstacles -whether physical, virtual, or in the policy realm.

Cirque du Soleil The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire That Lives within Us All,” a book about the Montreal circus Cirque du Soleil contains a few nuggets that caused some recognition in my mind of things libraries and librarians could be thinking about. The first little riff for me was triggered by the following comment:
“Every new layer of management, every new rule or form gets in the way. They deaden the magic — cut off the electicity of inspiration. If there are too many restrictions, you stop thinking about what you can do and start thinking about what you cannot do.”

That last phrase: thinking about what one cannot do really got me thinking about whether this might not be the biggest challenge facing libraries in their attempt to invite users into their virtual and physical spaces and into the conversations that create those spaces.

How can we best preserve the users’ ability to stay in their “zone” — to stay with their inspiration or motivation and not ask them to stop thinking about what they can do because they have to think about the things they cannot do in our spaces? Their passion is what carries them forward into the mysteries they will spend much time unravelling. These tantalizing mysteries should not be related to how to access what they are passionate about but about the very thing that motivated them to enter library spaces in the first place.

How do we recognize an inspired user and how do we recognize an inspired user who has been blocked by having to think about what they cannot do?

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: http://library.usask.ca/~fichter/blog_on_the_side/2006/04/web-2.html)

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.

Hunting Intersections

July 1, 2006 on 4:21 pm | In Stimulated by the Literature | 3 Comments

One of the more interesting and provocative books on innovation is Frans Johannson’s book The Medici Effect. In this book, Johannson describes two types of innovation: directional innovation and intersectional innovation.

Directional innovation is that which develops within a field and which is a progression or evolution of the practices and combination of ideas in that field. Directional innovation improves a field.

Intersectional innovation is that which is created when ideas combine at the intersection of fields. At that crossroads, Johannson contends, is the most powerful potential for innovation. He points to the many intersectional discoveries of the Rennaisance (thus the title of his book) brought about by such overlapping disciplines as art and science, mathematics and music and so on. At the intersection ideas combine exponentially to create thousands of possibilities unknown in any one field. It is this quantity that leads to a new kind of quality. Intersectional innovation transforms a field and allows for unexpected leaps along new paths.

In thinking about these two types of innovation it occurs to me that libraries at this point in time must seek the intersectional in order to utilize the explosive power of today’s technologies and changes in human communication patterns. Innovations often are tied to the creation of new knowledge, the offering and teaching of knowledge, and the broadening of privliege. Libraries have historically held society’s most powerful role when it comes to knowledge and the broadening of privilege and human rights. What other fields might we meet up with to maximize our innovative potential? What do we need to do to put ourselves in the way of that possible meet up?

We need to engage our associative powers and abilities. It is quite possible that our associative abilities are the main thing that separates us from other animals on this planet. We can make associative leaps of thought that allow us to create new thoughts and to come up with ideas. So we need to lower the barriers to associative thought.

Johannson suggests that, to lower associative barriers, we need to do three things:

  • learn differently — he says, “Expertise, for all its strengths, can make it more difficult to break out of established patterns of thought.” He suggests self-education is a powerful way to learn differently — following threads outside of our normal pathways
  • reverse assumptions — actively look for the opposite of your assumption and challenge yourself to consider a different point of view
  • try on new perspectives — as Leonardo daVinci noted one needs to view something from at least three different perspectives to fully understand it

We need to purposefully make efforts to uncover unusual concept combinations and find unexpected partners in order to find new intersections. Intersectional innovation will help us transform our profession as it has so many other professions in the past.

However, Johannson notes that “The major difference between a directional innovation and an intersectional one is that we know where we are going with the former. Unfortunately, the intersection is a place where our understanding of what to do and how to do it is opaque, at best. An intersectional idea can go any number of directions.” So, it would appear that if we truly want to transform our profession and our libraries we must be willing to not know where we are going and how we are going to get there. Discomfort indeed!

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