Why Nations Fail

My mother, who knows about the work I do in libraries around culture change to produce vibrant organizations, sent me an article from the New York Times Magazine online called “Why Some Countries Go Bust” (http://tinyurl.com/79vylps). The article reviews a new book by Turkish M.I.T. professor Daron Acemoglu and his collaborator James Robinson called “Why Nations Fail,” What seems obvious to me is that the principles they present apply not only to nations but to organizations, as well. As the author of the NY Times article says,

 “Their great contribution has been a series of clever historical studies that persuasively argue that the cheesiest of slogans is actually correct: the true value of a nation is its people. If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”

 I say “hooray” for these guys. Yes, the true value of an organization is its people. As cheesy as it may sound as a solution, improving communication skills throughout the organization and involving all staff in determining the library’s future just may be the answer to keeping libraries relevant. Since we’re not likely to get a large influx of money soon, why not consider a solution that’s right in our own backyard?  For starters, how about a staff day run as “open space” or using the world cafe method or as a facilitated meeting .  Those would all be a step in the right direction and can be done with almost any number of participants.  If all staff get empowered to contribute to making themselves and their communities “richer,” who knows what can happen!

What Does it Mean to Have an Organizational Culture of “Yes”

In my last blog post, I asked the question  “What would happen if your organizational culture was one of “yes”?  I imagined that some people reading the post thought something like “She’s crazy!  If we say “yes” to anything more, we’ll explode.”  Indeed, libraries already do so many things for so many people that adding more, probably won’t work.  I’d like to clarify what I mean by creating a culture of “yes.”

When answering a yes or no question such as, “Would you like to go to the beach?”  a “yes” answer expresses affirmation.  People like to hear “yes.” It feels better (a clue as to the value of “yes” in bringing people together).

When talking about creating an organizational culture of “yes”, it’s important to understand that “yes” does not necessarily mean agreement. It means “I hear you and accept your offer and will look for the possibilities” as opposed to “here are all the reasons your crazy, misguided idea won’t work.”

A culture of “yes” is one where people are committed to listening for possibilities, to putting their internal critic on hold, and to appreciating all contributions.

In a culture of “yes”, people feel safe to suggest, to give feedback and to experiment because they know people will listen for what’s good and useful.

In a culture of “yes”, people will learn that it’s safe to ask for clarification when they don’t understand.  They will learn that “mistakes” should be mined for information instead of being grounds for punishment.

Once you build this kind of trust in your organization, all staff will feel empowered to help find solutions and create new services.  So, consider starting to create a culture of “yes” in your organization because with everything the libraries are trying to provide these days, we need all the yessing we can get!


A great idea on a shoestring

One of the 2009 Eureka! Leadership Institute fellows, Thomas Vose from Riverside County Library System, put an idea from the Institute into action. I’ll let one of his mentors from the Institute, Kathy Gould, tell the story:

Last fall I had the privilege of serving as a mentor for the Eureka Leadership Program for emerging California library leaders. During the residential leadership institute that kicks off the program participants work in small teams to build leadership skills through action learning, exercises, and case studies. During one of the exercises the team that I was working with came up with an idea for a mobile library cart to enable library services to be delivered and promoted at locations throughout a community.

Today our Eureka team got an email from team member Thomas Vose, the Manager of the Lake Elsinore Public Library in the Riverside County Library System. Thomas had taken that idea of a mobile library cart and turned it into a reality …

Thomas reported that people were able to sign up for library cards and check out materials, and that he plans to take the cart to the local Senior Center and park, and to an upcoming Children’s Fair in the community.

Read more about it on Kathy’s blog.

Stacey Aldrich, Libraries, and Planning for the Future

Acting State Librarian of the California State Library Stacey Aldrich will be helping current and prospective library leaders use current tools to explore the future in her Infopeople workshop, “Building Leadership Skills: Planning for the Future,” scheduled in libraries throughout California in June 2009.

“We’ll be looking at what kinds of sources you should be scanning for clues to the future and why; what kinds of triggers you should be looking for; and how you ask the right questions about the future,” she said during a conversation earlier this week. “The key here is that the more tools that you have for thinking about the future, the more proactive you can be about creating the future. This workshop is an opportunity to learn and practice some future-thinking tools and then spend some time thinking about the future so you can find opportunities.”

Included in the curriculum are explorations of scenario planning, a concept explored by futurist in his book The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World; environmental scanning; and top trends which library leaders need to watch.

“We need to look outside of libraries for the forces and trends that are changing people’s expectations about information, technology, and community,” Aldrich says. “If we’re asking the right questions about our future, we can keep developing services that meet the needs of the people we serve.”

Among the sources she cites are the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conferences with talks which are archived at Ted.com; the Pop!Tech conferences with similarly archived materials at Pop!Tech.org; and trendwatching.com, which offers a variety of resources including free monthly “trend briefings.”

Using these tools will help library leaders engage in more effective environmental scanning and scenario thinking. Environmental scanning, she suggests, is “taking an interest in observing the world around you…reading and observing things you may never do,” and scenario building, “in its simplest terms, is creating stories about the future to help your library think about possible futures, and then build strategies that will help you thrive in each of them, and to help your library create its preferred future.”

The workshop is the latest offering in Infopeople’s multi-stage Eureka! Leadership Program with its “Building Leadership Skills” series, and it will remain available as a contract workshop through Infopeople for those who are not able to attend the currently scheduled sessions. Registration ($75 per person) for “Building Leadership Skills: Planning for the Future” and other “Building Leadership Skills” sessions is continuing on the Infopeople website; instructors for other sessions in the series include Marie Radford and Steve Albrecht.

Sessions of “Building Leadership Skills: Planning for the Future” are currently scheduled for Buena Park Library District (6/4/2009); San Diego County Library Headquarters (6/5/2009); San Francisco Public Library – Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room (6/11/2009); Belle Cooledge Library in Sacramento (6/12/2009); Fresno – Woodward Park (6/16/2009); and San Jose Martin Luther King, Jr. Library (6/23/2009).

Suzanne Merritt, Creativity, and Solving Workplace Problems

Overcoming challenges in the library workplace involves a mixture of creativity and fun, Suzanne Merritt suggests in her new full-day Infopeople “Building Leadership Skills: Stimulating Creativity” workshop sessions being offered in libraries throughout California from April 10-24, 2009.

“I think the important thing that people will come away with is a boost in their own confidence, in their creative abilities, and that they can apply that in any area of leadership,” she predicted in a conversation earlier this week. “I feel it is important for anyone in a leadership role not only to have a boost in their own creative confidence, but to pass that along and encourage to those they lead to believe in their creative abilities as well. Together they can solve any problem that comes along.”

Merritt is no stranger to the topic of how creativity helps improve the workplace and produce results. Through the work she does through her own company, Ideas With Merritt, she provides participants with tools and skills which translate inspiration into workplace innovation on a daily basis. These skills are divided into three interrelated elements: collecting experiences, connecting those experiences to the workplace, and creating growth by generating, judging, and refining ideas.

“Every human being is creative,” she notes. “Our creative contributions matter. As leaders, part of our job is to bring out our own creative potential and bring that out in the people that work with us. When we do that, people have fun…When people have fun, they are creative. Everything’s so serious right now; it’s a great time to revitalize your own creative energy.”

Material presented during the Infopeople workshop is designed to help library leaders and others—including library business managers, public information officers, systems staff, facilities managers, and volunteers—find creative solutions for handling the increasing workload they face, attracting new audiences and funding sources, and restructuring existing services.

She will introduce participants to her own model, the C.U.R.I.O.S.I.T.Y. model, in which each letter in the term “stands for something specific that people can look for in the world around them to look for sources of inspiration.”

“I don’t want to be listed as one of those ‘these are dire times’ speakers. This is about possibility and positive energy, and having some fun while you do your work,” she concluded.

The workshop is the latest offering in Infopeople’s multi-stage Eureka! Leadership Program with its “Building Leadership Skills” series, and it will remain available as a contract workshop through Infopeople for those who are not able to attend the currently scheduled sessions. Registration ($75 per person) for all remaining “Building Leadership Skills” sessions is continuing on the Infopeople website. Instructors include Stacey Aldrich and Marie Radford.

Sessions of “Building Leadership Skills: Stimulating Creativity” are currently scheduled for Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento (4/10/2009); San Diego County Library Headquarters (4/13/2009); Buena Park Library District (4/16/2009); Fresno–Woodward Park (4/20/2009); San Jose Martin Luther King, Jr. Library (4/22/2009); and San Francisco Public Library—Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room (4/24/2009).