These readings remind me of just how trendy it has become to embrace change—concepts like disruptive innovation and flat hierarchies are all the rage. Are they more than buzzwords? Buckland’s manifesto opens with the blazingly simple but often overlooked principal of making a distinction between means and ends. In essence: change for change’s sake is dumb. Surveys performed by Casey and Savastinuk found that employees are fed up and demoralized by this kind of reactive behavior fueled by “technolust”, as Michael Stephens so aptly puts it.
Mathews talks about this too. I think Mathews probably succeeds in getting most readers excited about innovation, but his bass note is clear: “Our focus can’t just be about adding features, but about redefining and realigning the role and identity of the [academic] library.” The message that most resonated with me from Mathews’ work was that we must “test and validate our assumptions.” What’s crucial about that concept is that we not only do the research (environmental scan, sound assessment) but also that we give new ideas a real go of it. Here Mathews takes it one step further than Buckland, who describes innovation as “selecting or rejecting available options.” Thinking like a CEO of a startup, Mathews urges us to actually implement…quickly and without fear. And then refine and re-implement indefinitely.
This is where his fail faster, fail smarter concept comes in, and where, I suspect, the whole thing comes crashing down. I think people will buy into this idea intellectually, but what will it look like in real life? People don’t like messy. Frontline workers certainly don’t like messy, and administrators like it even less. Implementing innovation (i.e., “crazy ideas”) on an organization-wide scale is a tall order. And don’t forget that you are also asking patrons to play along. This fail faster fail smarter concept probably represents the biggest leap of faith for all involved. And if you involve everyone, as you should, then it’s a gigantic leap.
Mathews writes, “The Roomba is a revolution! It’s a new way of thinking. It’s solving a problem in a different way.” Well, it also creates new problems, as identified in this video:
Still, we can’t stop progressing and trying new things for fear of unintended consequences. So, ultimately I’m with Mathews. I’m just not sure how we get everyone on the bandwagon on a meaningful timescale. It’s a matter of culture, and we all know about cultural lag. Gosh, what a downer I am! Easier to criticize than move productively forward, eh? Allow me to make an attitude adjustment:
We’re up against some sticky issues. Just to name a few:
- the shifting of authority structures in an increasingly participatory information culture;
- information overload and ‘ubiquitous computing’ (and the concomitant problem of teaching new information literacies);
- the breakneck pace of technological change
But there must be ways to leverage these problems into solutions. Certainly, we can begin by turning many of these ideas on their heads, re-framing them into something more palatable: collective intelligence sounds better than dumbing down (or, to reach way back to de Tocqueville: the Tyranny of the Majority); Big data is so much more optimistic than information overload, and the term innovation has a nice way of restoring the personal control that is so sorely absent from the word change.
See? I can be cheerful. This is all well and good from the comfort and safety of my little theoretical bubble, but how would I act on this in the workplace? What if my boss was a dud and sent suspected change-agents straight to the gallows? What if my boss was awesome but my co-workers lacked enthusiasm? What if our library lacked sufficient time, money, and expertise? None of these what-ifs are that far-fetched, except maybe the gallows bit.
How would I go about effecting well-targeted, warranted, meaningful change quickly and without fear in my workplace? The short answer is, I have no freaking idea. The more proactive-yet-still-totally-vague answer is that I would start at the end. What kind of impact is my library having on its end users (which, by the way, include people who do not actually use the library)? Starting at the end means recognizing that the real value-add of a library is not measured only by service-quality, user-satisfaction and efficiency, but also, crucially, by what it can do in its community-at-large. I’m thinking partnerships forged, novel ideas enabled, safe social spaces created.
Maybe I could use Twitter to get a dialog going between civic groups, library patrons, and local government that would help align library programs more closely with public policy goals, which would in turn help justify budget requests. That seems like something that could be done on the cheap, instantaneously without too much disruption. Oh, and I dig that commenting-on-a-card-catalog idea they did at Ann Arbor District Library (Casey & Savastinuk p. 68-69). The point is, just ask. And then listen. And then do.
Buckland, Michael. Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto. Retrieved from http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Library/Redesigning/html.html
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today. (Provided by the instructor.)
Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup [White paper]. Retrieved from http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1