Category Archives: Articles

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.”‘

Finding Your Innovation Orientation

Understanding creativity and innovation is one area of concern for librarians, but so too is figuring out how to foster an environment conducive to producing innovations. The latter issue is the subject of an article entitled, Developing an Innovation Orientation in Financial Services Organisations by Dr. Christopher Brooke Dobni. This paper offers an innovation model for financial services firms, and one that I suspect can be applied successfully to libraries with some modifications given the relatively close relationship between the two areas of professional service.

According to Dobni, innovation is important because it allows companies to create substantive customer value within a highly competitive environment. In fact, he asserts that innovative organizations wield innovation to take advantage of opportunities when they arise and outpace their competitors in the process. Dobni writes that innovative organizations share 4 common characteristics:

  1. Employees recognize that innovation is a group effort
  2. The organizational cultures are marked by creativity, excitement, and desire to succeed.
  3. Competition drives companies to learn and do more.
  4. Organizations purposely weave innovation into their daily operations.

If you don’t recognize these characteristics in your own library, you’re not alone. Dobni cites research that finds that many organizations want to be innovative, but very few report that they have achieved that status.

Dobni’s innovation model has 3 main components: 1. Context – What management does to support innovation; 2. Culture – Employees’ collective thoughts and actions; and 3. Execution – Making innovation happen. Each component has sub-parts, but for simplicity’s sake, I will outline the major points from each category.


Organizations must be willing and able to make substantial, fundamental changes to their cultures and operations. Without a commitment to do so from the top down, innovation has little chance of taking root. In fact, Dobni states the organizations may have to change up to half of their current processes to promote innovation. Furthermore, organizations have to be able to grab hold of emergent opportunities and be on the lookout for those opportunities at all times. Doing so is extremely difficult to achieve since a company is, in effect, allocating resources for actions that have yet to be defined, which entails a great deal of risk. Finally, organizations must be learning organizations. Organizations must provide educational opportunities, including education about innovation, for employees and also learn from employees.


In order to achieve and maintain an innovative organization, all employees must participate, not just a few “creative-types.” Also, employees who share common goals should generate and share useful information with one another, such as information about competitors and customers. Lastly, employees should be prompted to seek opportunities by exploring previously un-explored areas. Dobni refers to this criteria as “cluster enactment,” whereby employees study relevant business clusters (emerging technology, the industry, competitors, etc.) and are encouraged to go beyond those clusters or into new clusters.


This is where the rubber meets the road and where strategy is applied. One important element of execution is empowerment. Employees should feel empowered to make independent choices with the confidence that they have the capabilities to do so. Second, is risk-taking. As Dobni states, “[B]eing innovative involves a heightened risk propensity and it is inevitable that there will be false starts and failed attempts. The very essence of innovation is to get employees to think differently, to become adventurous, and to take managed risks…Tradition, however, is the crutch holding many organisations back” (175-176). Importantly, employees must be permitted to learn from failed attempts. Also important, successful, innovative organizations are those that can continually realign themselves with the competitive environment.

Granted, Dobni’s research pertains to an industry outside of our own, but I certainly detected commonalities between the two and believe it’s not unreasonable to adopt some of these ideas. What’s perhaps most striking to me in this article is the relationship between innovation and competition. In this piece, competition is something to be embraced to advance one’s own organization. We cannot always predict how the competitive environment will shape up, however, and so it is imperative that libraries allow themselves some latitude in terms for their short- and long-term plans. Perhaps more important than reaching Goal X is creating a culture that is responsive to the environment it’s part of and has the tools to respond appropriately in order to create real value for patrons. Librarians, as I see it, should make it a point to seek out competition even before it finds us, which will help make us sharper and more relevant to our user communities.

Please share your thoughts on this piece if you have an opportunity to read it.