My slides for a short talk on creating a culture of innovation in Libraries delivered at the ARL Membership Meeting in Washington, DC (Oct 8, 2014). Observations fall into three categories: Platforms, People and Practice - with a dash of Persistence. Note: I'm not sure if the slides will make sense on their own!
Title Slide Creating a Culture of Innovation M.J. D’Elia, University of Guelph ARL Membership Meeting, Fall 2014
Library and College of Business and Economics I oversee most of the academic support we provide to students through the Learning Commons at the University of Guelph (research, writing, studying, etc.) The University of Guelph is one of the smaller institutions within ARL - but we’re scrappy! I also happen to teach the Introductory Entrepreneurship course for our College of Business and Economics I’m delighted to have this opportunity to present to you today
5 Years Ago To set a bit of context for the talk I want to go back in time about five years Our Library was doing a major organizational restructuring We were moving from a liaison service model to functional team model This an opportunity to look at the entire organization including our mission, vision, and core values
Innovation = Core Value Innovation was listed as one of our core values (no doubt it is mentioned in many of your organizations too) Unfortunately, I didn’t see much around me that would pass for innovation in my book
Innovation = 1980s When I asked around people pointed to stories of innovation from the 1980s When I was in grade school We have been innovative in the past It seemed to me that we were essentially living on innovation fumes and reputation
Core value not Core Practice It would seem that our cherished core value was not a core practice Listing something in your core values or your vision statement doesn’t make it happen in real life (sad, but true)
Nagging questions I just couldn’t get the issue out of my mind How might we internalize a core value so it becomes a core practice? Where is the tipping point? Can you accelerate this journey for an organization? Are our organizations too big or too traditional to embrace this concept? Is it better if it’s grassroots, or top-down? Do you need both to meet in the middle?
Learning = doing I read a lot about this stuff, my pleasure reading is business books on creativity I talk a lot about this stuff in casual conversations and more formal settings (like this one) But I learn most about this stuff by doing At the end of the day the only way to know is to try Starting is half the battle – just start experimenting
Designed staff development workshops on creative thinking (Innovation Boot Camp) Ran some workshops for Startup Library Helped organize a Startup Weekend event in Toronto specifically for Libraries Played with metaphors, developed scenarios, simulations, changed room configurations, did role playing, added improv and even ran a juggling workshop
Still chasing I’m still chasing the moment when innovation so normal for our organization that it seems like it is simply “in the water” Where working at Guelph means that you take risks, fail occasionally, and enjoy the ride I’m not an expert, I’m still learning, but I’m happy to share a few reflections
Platform, people & practice To make things a little easier I’m going to put my observations in three simple buckets: platform, people, & practice The three P’s if you will...
Alternative title That seemed a little better than my original title: “Thoughts on creating a culture of innovation from a middle manager at some university up in Canada” Let’s get started
Platform: Sub-section One of the first things you need is to provide the platform You need to cultivate the right environment The right culture where ideas can germinate, take root and thrive To be completely honest, these are the things that you probably have the most influence over
Platform: Examples The organizational systems and procedures that contribute to healthy platforms are everywhere They might be in formal systems and procedures (e.g. budget and resource allocation, strategic planning, project approvals or oversight, performance reviews, compensation, training opportunities, etc.) They might be in informal approaches that help shift culture (e.g. fail camps, communities of practice, speaker series, basic recognition, stories, etc.)
Plans v. Models I use a distinction between business plans and business models to help my students understand how entrepreneurial thinking is different than what they’re accustomed to In broad strokes it works here too
Poor Planning When plans are done poorly they’re built on assumptions Someone has gone out to collect all of the secondary data and made it sound relevant to the problem The problem is once the plan is written the assumptions are treated as facts Facts aren’t challenged or altered – they’re in the plan after all The plan ends up being static – no one tries to rewrite it – can’t waver from the playbook Here’s the real problem: the plan serves the company’s needs It’s company centric (it’s the company telling the world what will work)
Plans and Productivity Productivity is measured against the plan Did you get the tasks done? Did you finish on time? Did you finish on budget?
First Contact Steve Blank a well-known voice in entrepreneurship circles has a famous quote to explain why planning in isolation never works No plan survives first contact with its customers
Models Instead, Steve proposes that we use models instead of plans Instead of making assumptions we build on primary data The assumptions that are put forward are acknowledged Nothing is fixed in stone – if new information is discovered, we change our assumptions The model continues to be rewritten – it’s dynamic and responsive (not static) The key is we’re adjusting the model based on the customer We’re responsive to the customer feedback
Models and Productivity In this case productivity is actually measured by the organization’s ongoing performance Do people use the product/service? Are they coming back for more? Do we see measurable results?
Predict v. Build Plans are about trying to predict the future Models are about trying to build the future
Mini-Example: Innovation Fund One of the things we’ve done at Guelph is start an Innovation Fund The results have been mixed Staff were excited because we were opening up the budget for new ideas – BUT we didn’t fully flesh out the rest of the platform We didn’t recognize the time requirements needed for new innovation We set too many hoops to jump through The result was a lot of requests for new technology because technology is innovative right? At best we achieved incremental improvements and bought some technology that probably should have just purchased anyway Good news is we’re revisiting it – we’re thinking of running an X-prize style competition where the senior team sets a lofty future-focused objective and people pitch ideas that will help us get there
Provoking Questions How might you remove some of the barriers to innovation? Where is the unnecessary friction? How do good ideas rise to the surface in your organization? If you asked your frontline employees would they say the same thing? How might you bring innovative activities into the library that are already happening on campus? Grow your platform for innovation by partnering with others For example, we hosted a Startup Weekend event in the summer where people coded and designed new apps – none of the ideas were library-related but we have a great space for a business hackathon
People: Sub-section It probably seems obvious here but after you’ve built a platform you need to put people on top of that platform who have a natural inclination for innovation It doesn’t matter Innovation, startup thinking, design thinking - whatever the buzzword, they all have one thing in common - they’re about people - you’re trying to make the world better
People: Examples For me the people component is two fold First, do you have the innovative staff with the skills that you need? Can you attract and keep talent? Are they motivated to help achieve the vision? Second, do you truly understand the people you’re trying to reach Are their voices heard at every turn? Do you do UX studies and ethnographic research? Is it infused throughout your organization?
Product v. Problem Perhaps it’s helpful to make a distinction here: testing the product vs. testing the problem Too often we get caught in “test the product mode” We implement a new catalog, or change our website and we ask people if they like it We buy and off-the-shelf product and test to see whether it works with our systems The focus is on us and whether the product works for us But we forget to get to the root problem that our users face Truly innovative approaches look at what the user is trying to do first They dive deep into the problem with empathy and then design a solution that suits
Problem-Solution Fit For new startup companies this initial investigation is called looking for a problem-solution fit You don’t want to create a solution for something that isn’t a problem You don’t want a solution that doesn’t match the original problem
Get Outside Another famous quote from Steve Blank is to get outside the building Don’t wait for people to come to you with their problems, go understand their problems in the real world
Mini-Example: The Listening Project One of the projects we’re just starting is a faculty outreach initiative called The Listening Project We want to talk to faculty – not to market our services, but to understand their unique challenges We’re looking for pain points and if we see some themes we might be able to design something new and different that suits At this point it is all exploratory – we don’t know what we’ll learn
Provoking Questions How might you enhance creative confidence in your organization? How intentionally have you tried to develop this competency in your staff? How might you better capture what your people already know? How closely do you know your core users? Do your staff members think it is part of their job to know?
ctice: Sub-section The focus of practice is about encouraging the right processes and creative habits This is time when you pull it out of the core values and actually do things differently The small tangible elements of an innovative organization
Practice: Examples In this case it doesn’t actually have to be that radical It might mean experimenting with your meetings or rooms Something as simple as covering your meeting room table with butcher paper and brainstorming by writing on the table It might mean setting up a regular speaker series or lunch and learn It might mean moving to action a little more quickly than expected so that you can fail faster
Pilot Projects vs. Iterative Design If your library is like my library than you love the pilot project But the problem with the pilot project is that it’s really a fully developed idea that we’ll fund for a short amount of time – and measuring success in that short time is difficult Contrast that with the iterative design process, where instead of launching a fully featured pilot, you launch a barebones service to see if there is any interest Then you take what you learn and improve it as you go, iterating to a better finished product
Build-Measure-Learn In lean thinking circles this is known as Build-Measure-Learn You build something, measure it, learn something and then start over
Learn Faster The quicker you can cycle through the Build-Measure-Learn loop, the faster you learn The faster you learn, the better your chance at winning
Mini-Example: Research Help Desk The research help desk at our place has changed significantly for each of the past three years We’re iterating that service as we go – we’ve had a lemonade stand, a penalty box, hotel wickets This might seem strange, but there is a method to the madness – we’re learning with each iteration
Provoking Questions I know as I’m talking that you can think of experiments that are happening at your place too How might you celebrate the experiments happening across your organization? How might you encourage your people to experiment with new processes and methodologies? How might you build a community of practice that rails against the status quo?
Platform, People, & Practice There you have it the three areas that can help foster a culture of innovation
Persistence By way of conclusion I think I’ll throw in one other one: persistence I feel it’s my duty to manage expectations - cultivating a culture of innovation takes time Importance of failure to growth and discovery
Researchers As I wrap up here I want you to think of the researchers that your library serves Think about how they approach their research
Researchers: Scientific Method I’m not a scientist but I remember the basic elements of the scientific method Observing phenomena, trying to guess why it happens Designing an experiment, controlling for variables Measuring what you’ve learned, drawing conclusions
Researchers: Repeat And then those darn researchers do it all over again based on new observations Really, this is not that different than the kind of innovative culture I’ve just described to you
Library as Lab What would happen if you viewed your library more like a lab? What if it became your responsibility to understand how your library worked? What if people were given permission to explore their curiousities? What would you learn?
Thank You M.J. D’Elia
Creating a Culture of Innovation (in Libraries)
Creating a Culture of Innovation: M.J. D’Elia
University of Guelph
ARL Membership Meeting Fall 2014
Learning Commons & College of Business and
5 years ago > Restructuring
5 years ago > restructuring
Innovation = Core value
innovation = core value