An Interview with Dennie Heye on Creativity

Information scientist Dennie Heye is author of the book Characteristics of the Successful 21st Century Information Professional. In it, Heye has a chapter on creativity, an expanded version of which is available in the article, “Creativity and Innovation.” The article offers a number of tips and ideas for developing this important competency. I was especially interested in Heye’s notion that librarians can become “creativity facilitators” for their users by offering appropriate spaces, classes, community connections, and readings to support creative ambitions. I e-mailed Heye to learn more about his views on creativity. The following are my questions and his responses. I recommend reading the full article to learn more about techniques that will enhance your creativity.

1. You argue that creativity is a critical tool in the modern librarian’s repertoire. Why is creativity so important in today’s environment and what’s the relationship between creativity and change?

Creativity is key in my view because it helps us deal with constant change and should help us drive the change we want. By being creative, people feel more motivated and get a sense of achievement – we used our skills (creativity) to improve a situation, tool or service. You don’t get a wow-feeling from filling out a template or just going through the motions, but we do get that feeling when we have a great idea!

2. Interestingly, you argue that information professionals should support creativity within their organizations/campuses/communities and you also offer some examples of how to do this. What’s the benefit for librarians and users in doing so and do you see this as an increasingly important role for librarians?

“Libraries have always been the space to absorb knowledge from others and build upon that with new ideas. Think about how many ideas were generated in libraries when someone had a “Eureka!” moment after reading a journal or browsing a book. It is only natural that we build upon that role now, and I think we have the skills to do so. It will put us closer to the heart of our organisation and puts us in a key role.”

3. You mention that you cannot force creativity or innovation on demand (I completely agree with this by the way, based on my own experience!). Given this, how can librarians accommodate creative thinking in work environments characterized by multiple simultaneous projects and tight deadlines? Are there changes that must be made at the organizational level to facilitate creativity?

“In an ideal world the organisation would change to adopt a more creative and innovative way of working. But we all know that this is very unlikely to happen. So I would say, go for a grass roots approach. There is always room for creativity and innovative thinking – for example, every project has a brain storming phase to kick [it] off. I also work within a project-driven department, but we have Game Changer projects to facilitatie new ideas. If someone has a great idea [of] how to improve a process or has a promising solution, a project is set up to investigate with time and budget for that person. On a smaller scale, an “idea box” would be a great start, as long as management commits to taking every idea suggestion seriously.”

4. You describe a number of techniques for generating creative ideas. Which tip is your favorite and why?

“Being curious – as a kid I was always asking questions about the why and how, which I now see reflected in my 4 year old daughter (and now I know how it can drive parents crazy 😉 ). Sometimes I wish I could look at the world through the eyes of a 4 year old, they don’t just accept what you tell them but they keep asking “why” or “how” until they get it. That is something I feel we should use more often, to really understand something… For instance, this is a nice technique to challenge current ways of working: Why do you do it? Why do YOU do it? Why is it done the way it is done?”

5. Risk is a necessary implication of creativity. What suggestions do you have for information professionals working in risk-aversive organizations who want to flex their creative muscle?

“Start small – don’t try to change everything at once and provide mitigations for the identified risks. Make clear that you want to improve to better meet the goals of your organisation instead of going through the motions. If you can demonstrate that small changes have made a difference and that the risks were mitigated, this will be noticed.”

6. What else would you like to share about creativity and innovation?

“I have always like Bill Gates’ quote: “Nothing is a powerful as an innovative idea.”‘

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