Organizational Tension Between Innovation And Control

There is an inherent dualism within most organizations between the desire for innovative workers and the desire to control those same workers. Afterall, if everyone is off being innovative who’s going to be getting the work done? This seems to be a problem in the library world. I am reminded of a rant by David Lee King in which he claims that his presentation attendees almost unanimously agreed that if they tried to implement innovative Web 2.0 technologies in their libraries they’d hit a brick wall with their supervisors and library directors. Is it that some library directors are simply resistant to change or do they fear that their organization will suffer if workers spend a few hours here and there experimenting with new technology – the result of which could be an innovative service enhancement?

This problem is by no means unique to libraries. It’s a challenge for all types of organizations, and it’s a conundrum that must be addressed by the organizational leadership. The problem and potential solutions are explored in a new book by Gary Hamel titled “The Future of Management“. I recently read an excerpt in Fortune magazine. Though the book received just a fair review over at BusinessWeek, I think the excerpt offers some stimulating ideas, and I’ll want to see more of what it has to say about innovation. For example, Hamel writes:

When talking to senior executives about the need to encourage innovation, I often get the sense they’d like their employees to loosen up a bit, to think more radically and be more experimental, but they’re worried this might distract them from a laserlike focus on efficiency and execution…I’ve heard this concern expressed in a variety of ways: “Yeah, we want people to innovate, but we have to stay focused.” “Innovation’s well and good, but at the end of the day, we have to deliver.” “If everybody’s off innovating, who’s going to mind the store?” These sentiments reveal a persistent management orthodoxy: If you allow people the freedom to innovate, discipline will take a beating.

In other words, having more of one means less of the other. So what advice does Hamel have for organizations that would like to have their cake and eat it too? Hamel’s approach is to provide examples of companies that, in his words, have learned to “double dip” and have both innovation and worker discipline in the same setting (not just a separate innovation or design lab). His examples are Whole Foods Market, W.L. Gore and Google. One problem that most library managers might have with these examples is that they use some fairly radical organizational structures. This can include the use of small teams with with the power to make key decisions, highly flat structures where there are no titles and no supervisors, half-days off for “dabble time”, financial rewards for innovation and a host of other practices that may be indeed difficult to implement in traditional library hierarchies. In fact, this is a problem that the BusinessWeek reviewer had with the book. How many organizations can structure themselves like these three companies? Even Hamel acknowledges that there have to be mechanisms to “keep things in check.”

So while it’s unlikely library organizations are suddenly going to re-structure themselves to resemble Google, there are some libraries that have organized workers into teams, others that are allowing for more experimentation time and others yet may be trying techniques that allow workers a bit more freedom and a little less control. If you know of some good examples or you are making progress in this area at your library, please leave a comment to share your insights.

Design Thinking + Integrative Thinking = Better Library Decision Making

Roger Martin is the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the Unviersity of Toronto. He’s been mentioned previously at DBL, particularly for his writings on the need for B-Schools to incorporate more design thinking methods into the curriculum. By way of an article in the June 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review, I learned that Martin has a new book coming out titled The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking. In this HBR article, “How Successful Leaders Think”, Martin provides an overview of what it means to be an integrative thinker, and how it can lead to successful accomplishments. Based on my reading of the article I find commonalities between design thinking and integrative thinking. That’s no surprise given Martin’s past writings on design thinking. So I ask myself why he now uses the term “integrative thinking” rather than “design thinking.”

To some extent it may be that from a marketing position, the phrase “integrative thinking” be more effective at grasping a reader’s attention and sending a message about the book’s content. Design thinking could be perceived as being more esoteric, and clearly you’d want your book to reach a wide audience. Many experts have described the work of design thinkers as blending multiple disciplines. I came across this most recently in a chapter on creating a symphony, from Pink’s A Whole New Mind, in which he has a chapter on design. Hemple and McConnon, in a 2006 BusinessWeek article titled “The Talent Hunt”  described design thinkers as “hybrid professionals” because they combine multiple disciplinary skills into a single mind-set. To my way of thinking that could also describe an integrative thinker – and a blended librarian.

But Martin provides a slightly different perspective on what integrative thinking is, and it’s a bit more than just being a hybrid professional. He studied more than 50 business leaders to identify the characteristics of “how they think”, which Martin sees as being more essential to success than what they do.  What he discovered is that successful leaders all appear to have the ability to blend opposing ideas and to creatively resolve the tension between them. These leaders can take two very different and conflicting ideas and integrate them into a single new idea that is superior and contains elements of the two conflicting ideas – not an easy thing to do. So what can we learn from Martin’s research that could help us to add the power of integrative thinking to our design thinking?

According to Martin, integrative thinking is pretty rare. Why? Well, he says that it’s a process that requires dealing with complexity. He says “Most of us avoid complexity and ambiguity and seek out the comfort of simplicity and clarity…we simplify where we can.” While this seems to run counter to some basic design concepts, namely designing for simplicity, the problem with this according to to Martin is when it comes to decision making, and making great decisions is what makes great leaders great. To avoid complexity most decisions are reduced to a choice between right and wrong. Integrative thinkers develop more creative solutions. Martin then reviews the four stages through which integrative thinkers go on the way to making a decision. In short, integrative thinkers seek less obvious solutions keeping their eye on what is most salient, use nonlinear methods, see the totality of a given problem, and resolve the tension between opposing ideas.

And as some experts believe leadership can be learned, Martin likewise believes that integrative thinking can be learned and practiced. Unfortunately he doesn’t yield much information about how that happens, other than to say it involves developing a “habit of thought.” I suppose he wants to leave us with a reason to buy the book. I think that’s where it all comes back to design thinking. It’s about approaching challenging decisions with a different thought process, one that isn’t status quo for librarians.

Another Design Thinking Video

You’ll recall the short screencast-type video presentation that I created about design thinking. I hope you took a look at it, and that it helped you develop a better understanding of design thinking. BusinessWeek recently issued their own video about design thinking – just a little more professionally designed and developed than my own. What’s great about this video is that it features brief interview segments with some top design thinkers, such as Roger Martin. Their insights into design thinking – and about the people who use this technique – also help to provide a better understanding of what it means. Martin sumarizes this general vagueness of design thinking when he comments that business leaders know they need what designers bring to business, but that they don’t quite know what it is. If that tends to describe you as well, take a few minutes and watch the video.

And while I’m mentioning resources worth checking out, there a fairly new blog that examines innovation, creativity and design. Take a look at Campell on Branding and Innovation: Observations, insights and musing on marketing and design-centered thinking. Campbell is a design student with corporate experience. Looks like this blog is one worth following.

Fast Company’s “Masters Of Design” Issue

Perhaps as a sign of the growing interest in design within business, Fast Company’s October 2007 issue is largely devoted to design. Printed boldly on the cover is the title “Masters of Design” and the issue does indeed profile several prominent designers. Don’t expect too many insights on design thinking in this issue. It’s really focused more on how design in influencing industry, and the changing emphasis that is being placed on the value of design. As the introduction to the issue states “Studies have now shown the design-oriented firms in all kinds of industries outperform their more traditional peers – that design and innovation go hand-in-hand with financial success.”

But the insights that do come in the interviews, and the examples of great design (mostly industrial) are worth a look. Definitely take some time to check out this issue.

Can we ever really move beyond the self-centered library?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I have a good reason—I’ve started a new job. I’m still at Georgia Tech, but now I am the User Experience Librarian. I’ll get into what exactly that entails in a future post, but for now I wanted to share some thoughts on being “user” centered.

There has been a lot of talk about libraries becoming more “user” centered, even back in 2000 I recall seeing user-centered or user-focused in several job postings. With the emergence of all the Web 2.0 magic, this term has become even more prominent.

But are libraries really any different? Can patrons detect a difference? I think that those of us working in libraries have seen a change, but what about our users? Has any of our rhetoric translated into a noticeable change? Do they perceive us as being user-centered, or is it just us who perceive ourselves as being more user-centric?

Taking it a step further, can we ever break the boundaries of departmental self-interest? The Reference department has one perspective, while Circulation has another; Systems/IT has their agenda, while Cataloging has another—and so on. I’ve worked in several large academic libraries and this territorial thinking seems to be universal. If each department perceives the “user experience” differently than how can we ever truly be user-centered? That’s one of the challenges I face now since I am essentially floating without a department… but perhaps that is a good thing? I’m trying to take a more holistic approach.

The book Understanding Your Users provides a good illustration of this problem. When it comes to designing services, we each hear different things.
user centered design

So where do we go from here? Sure there are strategic plans, vision and mission statements, and maybe a library brand, but do these unify staff? Do we really hear what patrons are saying or are we only listening to ourselves?