Originally posted on Ken Haycock’s Library Leadership Blog on Monday, 27 February 2012
Innovation has been a buzzword in library circles for the past few months – Ken Haycock has written about it, and it was the theme of the Ontario Library Association’s recent conference.
You’ll be hearing more about innovation, I’m sure. And it’s not just in libraries; it’s everywhere, all around us, and it’s showing the way to the future.
Consider that Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity, was recently in British Columbia to talk about innovation to educators. Before keynoting at the BC School Superintendents Association conference, Leadbeater stopped by the Ministry of Education to speak with staff and a few guests. The Ministry recently launched a public engagement site to discuss the new BC Education Plan; “innovation” is topical in every sector!
As we’re gazing towards a potentially bookless future for libraries, thinking through wholesale innovation – a reinvention – of libraries is essential. The ability to innovate is a skill set that we may not have learned in library school, but we need to master as a profession. With that in mind, allow me to share some of Leadbeater’s basic teachings about innovation. These ideas matter to all of us – whether we run libraries or shelve books. Innovation is key to what we all do.
Innovation doesn’t happen without challenging conventional wisdom. Be prepared to challenge what we are doing and how we are doing it. Create a culture where challenge is normalized, not penalized. Why are we doing what we do? Are we sure that we’re doing what we need to do? Are we doing it in the right way? What new things should we be doing?
Leadbeater says that three ingredients are needed for innovation to occur:
1. “New ideas, new recipes.” We have ingredients. Other people, groups, institutions and libraries have different ingredients. What new recipe can we concoct for our public’s enjoyment and nourishment?
2. “How to scale the innovation.” This is usually misunderstood, not treated as a skill, not given enough respect. What scale is appropriate? What is the right scale? How do we test scale? Determine whether to go big-scale, or nurture a number of smaller scale innovations.
3. “Get rid of old things that stand in the way of new things.” How to reduce the energy we spend on something so we can reinvest our energy in newer things.
Here, thanks to Leadbeater, are the Cs of Innovation to guide us through the process:
CRISIS (or at least a narrative of discontent): generates focus, urgency, sharing, new models.
CURIOSITY: space to explore, where do you have your best ideas? Leadbeater says his best ideas come in the 30 minutes after a run when his head becomes clear. He suggests we get out of the office when we need to think – “walk a detour where you don’t know the destination”.
COMBINATION: most new ideas are combined – finding new mixes and recipes often of old ideas – just play with that.
CONNECTION: look sideways, even backwards, and borrow ideas – resurrect an old idea in a new form.
CONVERSATION: most places where innovation happens have at their heart conversations – think about where you have your best conversations and who with – probably involves food/wine and no fixed agenda – if all creative conversations are scheduled to happen in a work setting, they won’t be creative – it’s important to get outside of the work structure.
CHALLENGE: stupid questions are useful deviants, they support the future – to make it feel less risky, make challenge a norm – creative challenge comes peer to peer, not top down – find ways to ask stupid questions.
COMMITMENT: you don’t learn to swim on the side of the pool – who learns how to swim with a swimming consultant, or with a PowerPoint? We have to get in the water and learn how to swim in the water – this takes personal commitment and time – you’ll have setbacks – need to be relentless and don’t give up – give it time.
CO-CREATION: innovate “for”, but also “with” and “by” customers – the most important people are the adopters/followers – remember that innovation is a collaborative activity and involves everyone.
Libraries have always adapted and changed in an evolutionary way, in the face of ever-changing economic and technical environments. Libraries are now facing a more complex, changing, and challenging landscape. We need to think radically differently about our libraries and their role in communities.
What particularly resonated for me was Leadbeater’s statement that: “Innovation comes from a creative community with a cause – a community with a diversity of people with talents and resources”. Sounds like the jumping off point for a library conversation to me!