Maybe We ARE On To Something At DBL

While I truly believe that understanding design thinking and developing a culture of design in a library organization can aid in the design of a better library experience for the user, I occasionally wonder if we are possibly buying into a passing fad. Are we just caught up in it or are we onto something here. Well, maybe its the latter and not the former.

Though not strong evidence, I offer as an indicator something I just recently came across in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (March 2007). This is a special issue that the editor describes as exploring “the significance and potential that the design sciences and the approaches that underpin them may have for organizational development.” The stated goal is to get the design sciences onto the readers’ agenda for further consideration of the fresh perspectives offered through the concepts, methods and practices of this field.

The issue is an interesting mix of articles by practitioners of organizational development and practicing designers. The addition of designers to the issue serves to provide the opportunity to communicate what the thinking and doing of design involves. So the questions remains, what exactly do the design sciences relate to, and is that the same as design thinking? In this issue the attention is paid primarily to the “design approach” which shares some elements of design thinking. Both focus on how things ought to be and not how things are. Disciplines such as architecture and engineering are identified as examples of design sciences. While the articles focus on the design approach there are similarities with design thinking in that both focus on identifying and better understanding problems and creating an intervention or solution. But one article does discuss the process of “thinking like a designer” which involves:

    1. Reflection, Analysis, Diagnosis and Description 
    2. Imagination and Visualization
    3. Modeling, Planning and Prototyping
    4. Action and Implementation

These four steps are quite similar to the design thinking process with the possible lack of an evaluation step. This special issue offers a great deal to think about, and many new article citations to review. But the discovery that a non-design discipline finds enough value in the design approach to dedicate an entire issue to it, I think, speaks volumes about the potential for integrating design concepts and practices into fields when the practitioners have never before thought much about design.

Innovation And Getting To Where You Want To Go

I just wrote something about innovation over at ACRLog, and my basic point in that post is that there is a lot of talk about innovation in libraries (and as someone pointed out job ads always ask for “innovation” as a candidate quality), but that we might not always know what true innovation is or how to think about innovation as a way to achieve organizational outcomes. To gain better insight into this I recommend an article titled “Innovation, Growth, and Getting to Where You Want to Go” that appeared in Design Management Review. The article is authored by two employees of the IDEO design organization.

They suggest the main reason we should try to innovate is “to deliver experiences that make life better for people”. That sound like something we can get behind here at DBL. But while making life better is an admirable goal, the way we operationalize it is through a combination of new offerings and new users. If we can get new people to use the library by offering new services and products, we will grow as an organization and that will signify innovative change.

The authors also identify three types of innovation outcomes. Incremental innovation reaches existing users with existing offerings. Evolutionary innovation either provides new offerings to existing users or provides existing offerings to new users. Revolutionary innovation provides new users with new offerings. In libraries we are good at incremental innovation, occasionally achieve evolutionary innovation, and rarely achieve revolutionary innovation.

“Ways to Grow” is a method the authors recommend for identifying innovation goals. Where I think it will help me is by recognizing (revolutionary) innovation as a new product or service that reaches someone new. As I wrote in the post at ACRLog, something new is not necessarily something innovative. However you wish to define innovation and whatever serves as innovation in our libraries, the effort put into it should provide a clear understanding of how it will help the library grow – and deliver an experience that makes life better for people.

LAMSTAIH and Other Creativity Insights from Play

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by creative coach Tim Leonard of the Richmond-based creativity consultancy firm, Play. Leonard described the models and approaches employed by Play to help clients reach their creative potential. His words were inspiring. He reaffirmed my belief that any employee or organization can capitalize on its innate ability to be creative. In addition, he offered concrete approaches to harnessing creativity – techniques that librarians can also learn and apply to create better user experiences. Here are the highlights of the talk and my commentary:


Play operates from a central tenet: LAMSTAIH (pronounced Lam-Stye), which stands for Look at More Stuff. Think about It Harder. These seemingly obvious statements are deceptively simple. Look at More Stuff, according to Play, “is the process of designing and experiencing an inspiration inventory to make observations and gain insights.” The mere act of looking, however, is more difficult than it may sound. Most of us, Leonard asserted, are trapped in what he calls a “to-do list mentality” that derails creative thinking. In this mindset, we’re focused on outcomes and on checking projects off of our lists. What’s more conducive to creativity is to focus on process and to actively observe the world around us for inspiration. (Leonard, not surprisingly, argued that a desk is a horrible place for doing this observational work). For better creative thinking, Leonard recommended stepping out from what’s familiar into new and strange environments to observe. These observations, in conjunction with particular methodologies that will be discussed later, can lead to insights that drive innovations. In essence, Leonard suggested pointing that “to-do list mentality” toward focused observation. In one example, Leonard pointed to Loggerhead Tools’ award-winning Bionic Wrench design, which was inspired by the shutter of a camera’s lens.

The Think About it Harder piece of LAMSTAIH “is the process in which specific tools and methodologies are applied to transform observations and insights into concrete ideas & concepts.” Though I don’t pretend to grasp the process fully at this point in time, it involves ditching preconceived notions of your objective, breaking the objective down into its core elements, and then focusing your observations on those core pieces. Play recommends first making “safe” observations on things closely related to those core pieces, and then widening the search to things that are only tangentially related so as to side-step your brain’s preconceived notions in order to make truly innovative discoveries.

The 5 M’s

Leonard discussed another model called the 5 M Model of Systemic Innovation. This model is used to understand innovation at the organizational level. The M’s in question are Mood, Mindset, Mechanisms, Measurement, and Momentum. Leonard discussed the first 3 M’s in detail.


Mood is fairly self-explanatory. It’s the climate for innovation and the mindspace where people work.


Leonard referred to Mindset as the intellectual foundation of creativity. It’s the personal traits and behaviors exhibited by members of the organization. There are 4 aspects of Mindset that people can control to foster creativity:

1. Change Perspective: Examine a problem from every angle and point of view. Leonard noted that most companies are very bad at this because the dominant point-of-view is established by the organizational leaders.

2. Confusion Tolerance: Confusion tolerance demands that organizations suspend the need to solve a problem in favor of generating a breadth of possible solutions.

3. Skinned Knees: A.K.A Taking Risks. Leonard mentioned that oftentimes that, for the sake of starting a conversation, people need to offer up ideas that may not be well-received. However, by taking a risk and throwing out an idea, people have something to react to to move beyond stagnant thinking.

4. Passion: Leonard emphasized the importance of bringing your personal passion to work with you. He said that there is often a discrepency between the “work self” and “real self” and that by bringing the two closer together, innovations are more likely to occur.


Mechanisms are the tools and processes of innovation, or “the how.” One mechanism Leonard mentioned was something called “worst idea.” If no one can think of a good idea, Leonard recommends that everyone offer up their worst idea. This technique gets people thinking and often leads to the best ideas. To demonstrate this, Leonard mentioned a project he worked on in which is team was charged with the monumental task of promoting wool clothing with a fresh take. The worse idea offered involved letting a herd of sheep loose in Manhattan. The idea that was actually executed was one in which models walked sheep around Manhattan.

At the end of his talk, I was not only inspired but I had generated countless questions about Play’s approaches and their potential application to libraries. Specifically, I began to more fully understand that creativity is the end result of a lot of hard work. One must consciously seek out unique experiences and insights while restraining one’s natural inclination to jump to conclusions. I then began thinking about current marketplace trends toward consumer empowerment and businesses’ desire to capitalize on innovations generated by customers. Is this deference toward customers as a source of innovation warranted? I asked Leonard his thoughts on this and mentioned how Apple purposefully doesn’t use focus groups as a source of ideas. He responded that Apple needs to be a few steps ahead of its customers to be competitive and that customers likely wouldn’t be able to articulate a vision like what Apple designers devise. I believe the same holds true in the library world. We can’t wait for great ideas to spontaneously sprout up from patrons or competitors. It’s a professional imperative that we librarians learn how to seek out and strategically develop innovative ideas. Creativity requires focused effort, not good luck. If we are to appeal to patrons’ imaginations and create real value for them, we must adopt an inquisitive and experimental attitude in which the world outside of our library walls is our laboratory. In fact, if Play’s philosophy holds true, our institutions are destined to stagnate or worse, become completely anachronistic, if we don’t look broadly for insights. We can and should invite our patrons in on this journey, but they too need the tools, guidance, opportunity, and incentives to discover new ideas. It’s our job to lead the way and we can’t delegate that responsibility, as doing so would be a disservice to our patrons and our communities. We should, however, be encouraged to know that creativity is something each and every one of us can learn to practice and apply.

To learn more about creativity from Play’s point-of-view, read their Red Papers, many of which I’ve linked to throughout this piece.

Designing Your Objectives – Part Two

In part one of this two-part post I introduced a method used by instructional designers to develop objectives. Sound objectives are in integral part of assessment, for without well-designed objectives we have no clear sense of what the outcome is and how we can measure whether or not the appropriate outcome was achieved. So let’s go back to our objective and apply the A-B-C-D method to it.

The students will complete an exercise in which they translate research topics into research questions. This will be completed as an assignment for review in class. Students should successfully convert 8 of 10 topic statements into acceptable research questions.

In this example the “A” (audience) part of the objective is the students. The audience is the individual(s) who will participate in the objective. The “B” (behavior) part of the objective is complete an exercise in which they translate research topics into research questions. The behavior is what we want or expect the audience to accomplish. The “C” (condition) part of the objective is review in class. The objective should describe where or under what conditions the learning needs to take place. Finally the “D” (degree) part of the objective is sucessfully convert 8 of 10 topic statements. It identifies just exactly what the learner must do to achieve competency, and helps to measure if the objective has been accomplished.

So if we were to conduct an exercise in an instruction session to test student ability to translate topics into research questions, it would be up to the instructor to devise an instruction method and choose an instruction medium, but the actual assessment of learning would be no different whatever methods were used. If the students are able to demonstrate they can successfully convert 8 of 10 topic statements, then the outcome was achieved.

I hope this example helps to illustrate how the A-B-C-D method can be used to write objectives. The difficulty in writing clear objectives is a frequent barrier in designing learning outcomes. If this method doesn’t work for you, an option may be the Web-Based Objectives Builder Tool. I have experimented with it a bit, and if you take the time to work through it can help to write or think through objectives. It can even help with working through the A-B-C-D method as it can recommend appropriate verbs for contructing objectives. It takes some practice, but some may find the Builder Tool works better. Those who need help developing and writing objectives can find more information in many instructional design texts. I recently found this article to be of some help.

So the next time you need to design an instruction session or instructional product for your user community consider starting with a set of objectives. It may save a good deal of time when conducting the assessment of the service or product.