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Last week I attended the 2012 conference for LAUNC-CH, the Librarians’ Association of UNC-Chapel Hill. This year’s theme was “Engage, Innovate, Assess: Doing More With Less.” The keynote address, “Doing More With Less,” was given by Dick Blackburn, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at UNC-CH’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. In his frequently humorous presentation, Blackburn discussed how innovation and creativity can help an organization do more with less. He outlined a cyclical creative/innovative process in six steps, which I will quote here:
1)Motivation – You really gotta wanna.
2)Preparation – Making the strange familiar (that is, learning about what materials/ideas you are working with).
3)Manipulation – Making the familiar strange (taking materials/ideas and putting them together in a new way).
4)Incubation – The occasional need for disruption, distraction, distancing, and/or disengagement from the idea process.
5)Illumination – The “Aha!” experience.
6)Verification/Evaluation – Testing the acceptability of the creative idea.
…and this process can then feed back to motivation.
After outlining this process, Blackburn argued that organizations should not only reward innovation that succeeds, but should also reward innovation that fails, so long as it is “smart failure,” that is, failure that you can learn from. If you punish failure, you stifle creativity. As long as an idea is planned out well and the risk taken is not too enormous (the phrase he used was “below the waterline,” meaning that it can sink the organization), the risk taker should be rewarded for trying. If anything, organizations should punish inaction, not failure. To that end, Blackburn encouraged the development of divergent thinking that takes risks.
I also attended a very interesting session called “Can the Past Be Prologue? What We Can Learn from How the UNC Library Weathered the Great Depression” by Eileen McGrath and Linda Jacobson. They discussed a number of useful lessons that could be drawn from UNC’s experience during the Depression and that were applicable in the current tough economic climate. First, the importance of cooperation. During the Depression, UNC and Duke developed the first cooperative collection development agreements between the two universities, sharing the load for buying expensive, rare, and little used materials. Duke library staff who attended library school classes at UNC would carry loaned books back and forth between the libraries. In order to further cooperative loaning, the library at UNC developed the first union catalog for the state. The second lesson McGrath and Jacobson drew was the importance of supporting and recognizing staff. During the Depression, library staff at UNC suffered a 30% pay cut. The library began a newsletter during this period, in which staff accomplishments were recognized. More effort was made by the library administration to congratulate staff and to encourage and reward initiative at work. The third lesson was to find new ways to develop the collection rather than purchasing materials. UNC was very successful at this task during the Depression. From 1929 to 1930, 70% of new materials were purchased, but from 1934 to 1935, only 32% of new materials were purchased. Also, during this period, the collection actually grew, and so did the rate of growth. This was accomplished by seeking out private donors, gifts, and exchanges. Also, in 1933, a new law required that the state government deposit 25 copies of every state document at UNC. Perhaps the most innovative approach was the work of history professor J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, who pioneered the collection of manuscripts and family papers throughout the South. Hamilton was so successful in this endeavor that he was nicknamed “Ransack,” and there are stories that he was actually banned from entering some of our neighboring states because he was stripping the cultural heritage from our neighbors. The fourth major lesson from McGrath and Jacobson was that false economies catch up with you. Don’t try to do things on the cheap, because you will eventually pay and often much more than you would have. The Wilson Library was built during the Depression, but to save money, they cut the original useable stack space from 450,000 volumes to 300,000 volumes. They soon hit storage problems far sooner than projected. Similarly, they tried to be cheap with lighting in the public areas of the library. The students launched a very vocal campaign for better lighting, including editorials, petitions and protests that eventually resulted in new lighting being purchased. Sometimes it’s better to just pay the costs upfront.