Get Inspired To Innovate: Ignore What You Know

In a fairly well-known library journal I came across a column advising librarians on keeping up. There I found suggestions for how to stay on top of what’s happening in the library profession. At least that was the author’s intent. What left me disappointed was the narrowness of the scope of the suggested resources. It was mostly a collection of the same old “popular” librarian blogs. Several of those listed would hardly even help if your real intent was staying abreast of the latest developments in the profession. My other issue with this column’s advice is that it neglects to point librarians in the right direction for keeping up with content that will inspire them with creative new ideas for innovation. That’s why my advice is for librarians to always look beyond librarianship for greater inspiration. That’s where you’ll find the ideas that could be applied to library practice waiting to be discovered.

You’ll find similar advice in Bill Taylor’s blog post Don’t Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine. He reminds us that it’s important that we not let our experience – and all that we know about our industry and what we read about it – limit our capacity to come up with new ways of looking at things. He says we need to have “vuja de” :

The most effective leaders demonstrate a capacity for vuja dé. We’ve all experienced déjà vu Looking at an unfamiliar situation and feeling like you’ve seen it before. Vuja dé is the flip side of that — looking at a familiar situation (a field you’ve worked in for decades, products you’ve worked on for years) as if you’ve never seen it before, and, with that fresh line of sight, developing a distinctive point of view on the future. If you believe, as I do, that what you see shapes how you change, then the question for change-minded leaders becomes: How do you look at your organization and your field as if you are seeing them for the first time?

He uses Commerce Bank as his primary example. You can read more of the specifics in his column, but what captured my attention is that Commerce refused to benchmark itself against other banks. Think about how often we do this in our libraries. We look to see what the other libraries are doing. We develop “comparison” lists so we know which libraries we need to follow. True, it’s a good idea to occasionally ask colleagues in similar libraries how they handle a specific problem (e.g., I recently asked for advice on a particular policy issue), but just following what other libraries do, according to Taylor, is unlikely to lead to any significant innovation in your library.

Commerce’s leaders ignored what other banks did, especially when the talk turned to “best practices”. Instead it looked at totally different industries. So instead of studying Citibank and BankAmerica, they followed what was happening at Target, Starbucks and Best Buy. Taylor concludes by reminding us:

You can’t let what you know limit what you can imagine. As you try to do something special, exciting, important in your work, as you work hard to devise creative solutions to stubborn problems, don’t just look to other organizations in your field (or to your past successes) for ideas and practices. Look to great organizations in all sorts of unrelated fields to see what works for them — and how you can apply their ideas to your problems.

By all means, follow the library literature that helps you to become a better librarian, and that keeps you alert to what’s happening in the world of librarianship. That’s a path to continuing professional development that will help you to keep growing and improving your professional practice. But don’t stop there. When it comes to keeping up, go beyond those traditional library magazines and blogs. Don’t place those limits on your powers of creativity and innovation. If you need some suggestions for resources beyond the library literature, you’ll find some at my Keeping Up Website. In the new year, choose to be more intentional about ignoring what you know in order to discover new ways to design a better library experience for your community members.

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