Monthly Archives: July 2015

Managing Innovative Personalities for Successful Library Innovation

I have spent the past seven years working to lead an organization into a new culture of innovation.  Saying it has, at times, been a struggle is tantamount to saying that Everest is a bit steep.  Whenever I find challenges, I always look inward as much as at the environment to find any potential challenges to success or meeting my goals.  As a result, I have spent much of those seven years learning to hone my management and leadership style into one that creates, or if not ‘creates’ then at least ‘allows for’ or ‘encourages’ an environment where Innovation will flourish.  I have come to understand that the primary component in this effort is the cultivating and managing of innovative people.  Unless you intend to be a one-person show (which I seriously discourage as it will ultimately be unsuccessful in an organization/team setting and just plain leave you exhausted) you must surround yourself with other personalities, minds and skill sets that will hopefully meld into a force that creates and drives Innovation.

During my years of honing, I have discovered that all too often it is not being able to find these innovative minds, or not being an organization culture that does not allow them to create, explore and innovate that is the difficulty.  The challenge comes in reigning these necessarily strong, independent and creative minds into a productive and strategic focus.  If not handled careful, a manager/leader can frustrate their innovative thinkers into giving up, becoming a destructive rather than productive force, or ultimately leaving your organization all together!  This management/leadership dance is a delicate and intricate one that I have never found to play out the same way twice. It is simply a dance you learn through experience that allows you, hopefully, to manage your creative people using a precarious balance of the specific elements/factors of their situation. This makes crafting a management formula or disseminating my hard-won experience into translatable models for fellow Library managers/leaders extremely difficult.

I recently discovered an excellent article that provides some fascinating insights into managing those Innovative spirits among us!!

Harvard Business Review “The Inescapable Paradox of Managing Creativity”

When facing the challenge of unleashing organizational innovation, many leaders fail. Some attempt to help their teams flourish by granting almost unlimited freedoms, only to discover that they have created chaos, not high performance. Others try to force their employees’ creativity through prescribed programs and activities, which usually yields humdrum results at best.

After studying proven masters at fostering organizational innovation for over ten years, we have identified the heart of the difficulty. At the core of leading innovation lies a fundamental tension, or paradox, inherent in the leader’s role: leaders need to unleash individuals’ talents, yet also harness all those diverse talents to yield a useful and cohesive result.

So well stated!!

It’s easy to think of many new ideas, but it’s much more difficult to convert those ideas into something new that actually solves a problem.

So true!!

As a leader, you must constantly ask yourself, “How will I:

  • Affirm each person’s need for individual recognition and identity yet also tend to the needs of the collective?
  • Encourage team members to support one another while simultaneously challenging and provoking each other through robust debate?
  • Foster experimentation, continuous learning and high performance?
  • Determine how much structure — rules, hierarchy, planning and the like — provide sufficient constraints without stifling improvisation?
  • Mix patience and a sense of urgency?
  • Balance bottom-up initiatives and top-down interventions?”

The “right” position at any moment will depend on specific current circumstances. The goal will always be to take whatever positions enable the collaboration, experimentation, and integration necessary for innovation.

And we must continue to hone our leadership and managerial skill!!

This kind of leadership is not easy, especially for leaders who hold conventional notions of top-down leadership, or who find conflict or loss of control uncomfortable. Even skilled leaders of innovation find it hard not to favor one side of the paradox scales over the other. The task of creating new and useful things requires leaders to continually recalibrate the needs of their organizations and to modify their behavior accordingly. They must develop the capacity to lead from the right place on each scale for the moment and situation.

And such a lovely conclusion…

Many leaders need to rethink what they do if they want a more innovative organization. It takes a powerful leader to unleash and harness innovation. This power resides in managing paradox rather than controlling destiny.

So may we all become Managers of Paradox!! Continue reading


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Trump Style Librarianship

This is not a post about politics! This is a post about librarianship!

Having said that, I want to make an analogy to librarianship by using Donald Trump’s bid for presidential candidate in 2016. Many commentators have criticized him as being a “joke” as a candidate, and point out what they view as many other unflattering characteristics. One said his best day would be the day he announced, but then retracted that assessment when Trump later placed second in a recent poll of registered voters.

Trump has clearly and repeatedly stated that he is not a “politician” and he knows how to “return America to greatness.” He cites his business success and experience working with politicians as evidence he is a viable candidate, but he is not a politician. He believes that is a good thing, and electing someone who is not a politician would be good for America, since politicians are the ones who have created the situation America is in today.

The comments of one commentator are the reason I decided to write this post, because I believe the mindset it demonstrates is the same mindset that exists among those who influence librarianship in this 21st Century environment. The commentator said, in essence, Trump can’t win because he’s not being “political.” I interpreted this as an assertion that only a “politician” can be elected President since politicians are, above all else, political, and that voters will only elect someone who is political.

So how does this analogy apply to librarianship? There are many in the profession and among library boards and government jurisdictions who don’t recognize that libraries can operate in nontraditional ways. The concept that libraries are the same now as they have always been is a mindset that prevents change and adaptation that provides 21st Century information and library services in this 21st Century environment.

Inability to put away the old stereotype librarianship, to think outside the box and develop new approaches to delivering library services will surely doom libraries to a status that libraries do not deserve. Libraries will suffer from lack of funding if librarians cannot develop that entrepreneurial spirit that enables libraries to deliver quality library services. Without quality library services communities are hard pressed to support their local libraries, with funding or attendance. Whether Donald Trump becomes President is irrelevant, but taking a few pages from his playbook about how to tackle the 21st Century environment and thrive is the most relevant thing librarians can do now and in the future.

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The art of saying YES!

Many years ago I was a young manager sitting in a meeting of other managers.  We were discussing various issues and one primary topic was the random and odd requests from patrons.  Those in public libraries will smile a little and perhaps chuckle…you know what I mean.  The conversation had taken a turn that was a bit…synical. “I get so tired of it.” “No you can’t hold a meeting in the silent room tomorrow night!” “Why do people keep asking for special treatment?!”  Our Director very thoughtfully said “I wish it was harder for all of you to say NO than YES.”  And she left the room.

That has never left me.  I have framed much of my management and customer service philosophy around the concept of saying Yes.  Embracing the unusual suggestion. Fostering the reality that the Library belongs to our patrons and community.  We are here to manage, improve, facilitate, guide and more.  Unfortunately, too often we translate that to a sense of ownership and control that often manifests in a proclivity to say NO to the unusual or out of the ordinary.  But we are smart folks! And we know that the unusual and new, while scary, is also where brilliant things occur!

I came across a TED Talk the other day that reminded me of this.  It is worth the 11 minutes!

Pam Sandlian Smith, Director of Anythink Libraries in Colorado presents a wonderful talk about what happens when we say YES!!


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