Innovation, Not Information Overload, May Be What 2008 Is All About

Information overload isn’t just for librarians anymore. As long as I’ve been in this profession, and especially in the past few years, having more information than I can possibly cope with is name of the game. Now everyone else is catching onto the challenges of capturing the most important information, applying it for decision making, and then storing it for future use. While some may think that the new year will be all about dealing with information overload, I think we’ll be focusing more of our attention and energy on stimulating our own innovation. Here are some signs.

First, even the New York Times is providing insight into if not outright advice on how to improve individual and organizational innovation. In a recent article the Times observed that “As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.” This exact point was made in my post about Thinkertoys – that our expertise can blind us to possible solutions and innovative ideas because we are unable to see things from different perspectives.

Second, I recently discovered two excellent pieces about innovation. If you are looking for ideas on how to create an innovation culture in your organization, begin your reading with an Innovation Labs white paper titled “Creating the Innovation Culture: Geniuses, Champions, and Leaders.” According to author Langdon Morris an innvoation culture is one in which innovation happens, and does so consistently over time. He says organizations with innovation cultures have individuals who fill three essential roles:

1) The creative genius whose insights develop into ideas and then into value-adding innovations.
2) The innovation champion who supports innovation by helping creative people to overcome the obstacles that otherwise hamper innovation.
3) The innovation leader who define’s the organization’s expectations and policies so they favor innovation.

After discussing each of these three roles in greater depth, and supporting it with examples from the world of busines, Morris concludes by explaining (via his Innovation Culture Table) that most business practices exist to maintain stability and standardization while extending the status quo. Does that sound like a library for which you’ve worked? If an organization is able to start its innovation culture by bringing together these three roles, then it should begin to remove the obstacles that inhibit the growth of the innovation culture.

Though its scholarly approach (and length) makes for more challenging reading, the article “Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking” is worthwhile for its attempt to better understand the innovation process by blending ideas about design and learning – two skills set that are of increasing importance to the work of librarians. The article was published in the fall 2007 issue of California Management Review (available on Ebsco). This blending results in a model that explains the innovation process as a set of four stages: 1) observation (contexts); (2) frameworks (insights); (3) imperatives (ideas) and (4) solutions (experiences). The authors, Sara Beckman and Michael Barry, focus more on the work of teams in this article. The learning styles intersect with design within the innovation team itself. The most effective teams include a leader with a concrete experience style, an artist with reflective observation style, a writer with abstract conceptualization style, and a speaker with active experimentation style. These are somewhat foreign sounding learning styles and the authors don’t do much to explain them, but there are a few good case studies which help to clarify things a bit. This is the sort of article that will demand a few more readings.

Perhaps what one can take away from all these articles on innovation is that good innovators are good information managers. They have methods that make the best of information received, and they are good at identifying worthwhile resources, applying appropriate filters to channel the most appropriate information to themselves, then screening the incoming news to identify the most salient information, and ultimately disseminating that information to their colleagues or team members. So for all the talk about 2008 being the year of information overload, I’m going with 2008 as the year of innovation. 

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