Finding Your Innovation Orientation

Understanding creativity and innovation is one area of concern for librarians, but so too is figuring out how to foster an environment conducive to producing innovations. The latter issue is the subject of an article entitled, Developing an Innovation Orientation in Financial Services Organisations by Dr. Christopher Brooke Dobni. This paper offers an innovation model for financial services firms, and one that I suspect can be applied successfully to libraries with some modifications given the relatively close relationship between the two areas of professional service.

According to Dobni, innovation is important because it allows companies to create substantive customer value within a highly competitive environment. In fact, he asserts that innovative organizations wield innovation to take advantage of opportunities when they arise and outpace their competitors in the process. Dobni writes that innovative organizations share 4 common characteristics:

  1. Employees recognize that innovation is a group effort
  2. The organizational cultures are marked by creativity, excitement, and desire to succeed.
  3. Competition drives companies to learn and do more.
  4. Organizations purposely weave innovation into their daily operations.

If you don’t recognize these characteristics in your own library, you’re not alone. Dobni cites research that finds that many organizations want to be innovative, but very few report that they have achieved that status.

Dobni’s innovation model has 3 main components: 1. Context – What management does to support innovation; 2. Culture – Employees’ collective thoughts and actions; and 3. Execution – Making innovation happen. Each component has sub-parts, but for simplicity’s sake, I will outline the major points from each category.


Organizations must be willing and able to make substantial, fundamental changes to their cultures and operations. Without a commitment to do so from the top down, innovation has little chance of taking root. In fact, Dobni states the organizations may have to change up to half of their current processes to promote innovation. Furthermore, organizations have to be able to grab hold of emergent opportunities and be on the lookout for those opportunities at all times. Doing so is extremely difficult to achieve since a company is, in effect, allocating resources for actions that have yet to be defined, which entails a great deal of risk. Finally, organizations must be learning organizations. Organizations must provide educational opportunities, including education about innovation, for employees and also learn from employees.


In order to achieve and maintain an innovative organization, all employees must participate, not just a few “creative-types.” Also, employees who share common goals should generate and share useful information with one another, such as information about competitors and customers. Lastly, employees should be prompted to seek opportunities by exploring previously un-explored areas. Dobni refers to this criteria as “cluster enactment,” whereby employees study relevant business clusters (emerging technology, the industry, competitors, etc.) and are encouraged to go beyond those clusters or into new clusters.


This is where the rubber meets the road and where strategy is applied. One important element of execution is empowerment. Employees should feel empowered to make independent choices with the confidence that they have the capabilities to do so. Second, is risk-taking. As Dobni states, “[B]eing innovative involves a heightened risk propensity and it is inevitable that there will be false starts and failed attempts. The very essence of innovation is to get employees to think differently, to become adventurous, and to take managed risks…Tradition, however, is the crutch holding many organisations back” (175-176). Importantly, employees must be permitted to learn from failed attempts. Also important, successful, innovative organizations are those that can continually realign themselves with the competitive environment.

Granted, Dobni’s research pertains to an industry outside of our own, but I certainly detected commonalities between the two and believe it’s not unreasonable to adopt some of these ideas. What’s perhaps most striking to me in this article is the relationship between innovation and competition. In this piece, competition is something to be embraced to advance one’s own organization. We cannot always predict how the competitive environment will shape up, however, and so it is imperative that libraries allow themselves some latitude in terms for their short- and long-term plans. Perhaps more important than reaching Goal X is creating a culture that is responsive to the environment it’s part of and has the tools to respond appropriately in order to create real value for patrons. Librarians, as I see it, should make it a point to seek out competition even before it finds us, which will help make us sharper and more relevant to our user communities.

Please share your thoughts on this piece if you have an opportunity to read it.

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