The Power Of R-Directed Thinking

While we probably have a number of Blended Librarians among the folks who make up the regular readers of DBL, I’m going to assume that the majority of our readers have never heard of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community (on the Learning Times Network) or participated in a Blended Librarians Webcast event. If that assumption is correct then a good number of you would likely miss a post I recently made to the discussion board at the Community. So I’m going to share it here because I think it also has value for those who are interested in using design thinking to improve their libraries, develop better user experiences for the library user and to get ready for the Conceptual Age. What’s the Conceptual Age you ask. Well, that’s covered in the post. Read on…

A couple of weeks ago Lauren Pressley shared some thoughts on a book she was reading titled “Everything is Miscellaneous” and there was a fair amount of response to her post (if you don’t have time to read the book, I left a link to a video presentation by the author).

In the same spirit of sharing what you’ve been reading I wanted to post about the book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel Pink. He begins by explaining how the brain works. In essence the left hemisphere and right hemisphere control different areas of the body. You probably already knew that. But when it comes to thought processes, not just body control, the two sides are very different. The left side produces what Pink refers to as “L-Directed Thinking”. L-Directed Thinking is sequential, literal, functional, textual and analytical; not bad qualities for a traditional librarian – we certainly are text-oriented. The other approach is the “R-Directed Thinking” controlled by the right side of the brain. R-Directed Thinking is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual and synthetic. While L-Directed Thinking worked well for the knowledge age (think accountants, stockbrokers, computer programmers – and traditional librarians), Pink gives evidence that we are moving away from the knowledge age and into what he calls the “Conceptual Age.” Think of it like this. The coin of the realm in the knowledge age was an MBA. The new coin of the realm in the Conceptual Age is the MFA. To excel in the Conceptual Age, one must “become proficient in R-Directed Thinking and master aptitudes that are high concept and high touch”. After laying out this basic thesis Pink devotes a chapter to each of the specific aptitudes he says are necessary to be a success in the Conceptual Age – what he calls the “six senses”. They are: Design; Story; Symphony; Empathy; Play; and Meaning. [Note to DBL Readers – the chapter on design is inspiring but on a practical level there are a number of good ideas and resources at the end of the chapter for becoming more design oriented and thinking like a designer).

I commend you to read the book to learn more about each sense – particularly design because that’s an important skill for a Blended Librarian. But what really resonated with me when I read the book is how much of it reflected what being a Blended Librarian is all about. To my way of thinking, Pink could have subtitled his book “What You Need To Know To Be A Blended Librarian” – but then he probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies. For example, in the section on symphony, he talks about “boundary crossers”. A boundary crosser is someone who blends multiple skills into one profession. Pink says “while detailed knowledge of a single area (e.g., traditional librarianship) once guaranteed success, today the top rewards go to those who can operate with equal aplomb in starkly different realms.” Sounds to me like a good way to describe the importance of being a Blended Librarian.

So if you think of yourself as a Blended Librarian, and you really have been working to incorporate new skills from the areas of technology (computing, networking, software, teaching technology, etc) and design (instructional design, design thinking, etc.) into your traditional librarianship skill set, then you are probably also an R-Directed Thinker. You are probably ready for the Conceptual Age. But just to be on the safe side, pick up a copy of A Whole New Mind (well, the traditional librarian in me forced me to get a copy via ILL) and brush up on all six senses.

If you’ve read the book too – or when you do – please share some of your thoughts here.

I hope you enjoyed the mini-review of the book – obviously biased in some ways. But if you have in interest in Blended Librarianship you can learn more at the website (link in first paragraph). I would encourage you to join (no fee – and you can join by going to the Blended Librarians website) the Community and join us for the next Blended Librarians webcast (totally free) on Thursday Oct. 27 at 3:00 pm EST. John Shank and I will be giving a presentation on design thinking for librarians. To learn more and register (free – but you must register) join the Community and get more information on the “What’s New” page.

Playful Design

Last month’s ALA TechSource’s Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium (GLLS) transformed my thinking about library services and, in particular, my thinking about designing user experiences. During the conference, I was enthralled by speaker after speaker who described how games not only draw in hard-to-reach patrons, but how they inspire a greater level of engagement among those patrons. School children, for example, who resist cracking open textbooks eagerly consume lengthy, complicated gaming guides and spend endless hours trying to master new gaming skills. Why do they expend the extra effort? The answer, in part, is play.


According to James Paul Gee, GLLS speaker and author of the book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, marketers figured out something that teachers and librarians have yet to master: sound learning principles sell complexity. In the case of games, those principles have been applied to play so that learning, in effect, becomes fun. It follows that if librarians were to apply some or all of these learning principles to designing library experiences, patrons would enjoy using the library and even become more likely to take on the complicated aspects of using our services.


Using play to encourage deeper learning is not a new idea in library circles. In her article, Play Matters: The Academic Librarian’s Role in Fostering Historical Thinking, librarian-extraordinaire Lisa Norberg proposes creating digital sandboxes full of rich primary source materials that encourage students to explore and have fun with the resources. Then, if they want, they can continue to learn more about how to locate them using library search tools. In doing so, librarians can engage patrons on an emotional level before “leveling up” to more advanced techniques.


What, then are the key learning principles librarians should apply to their services? Gee mentioned 12 during his talk at the Symposium, which I’m paraphrasing liberally here:

  1. Lower the consequence of failure. In other words, make libraries risk-free zones.

  2. Put learning before competence. No one is born knowing how to use a library so patrons shouldn’t feel as though they’re expected to be experts on their first visit.

  3. Make players/patrons co-designers so that their actions matter and make a difference. This could mean inviting patrons to make design decisions from the earliest planning stages to implementation.

  4. Order challenges so that they become progressively more difficult (like levels in a game).

  5. Arrange challenges in cycles. Players/patrons are given the chance to test a skill, perfect it, then move on to another challenge where they can build on the skill.

  6. Test players/patrons to the outer edges of their abilities so that challenges are not too difficult or too easy.

  7. Ask players/patrons to consider situations and relationships, not just facts.

  8. Foster empathy for a complex system (the library?) by making players/patrons a part of it.

  9. Give verbal information just in time to be useful.

  10. “Situate” meanings by enabling patrons to associate the meanings of unknown words and symbols within proper contexts. (As an example, Gee mentioned how difficult it is for students to learn Geology terms because they’re given word definitions for phenomena they have never personally experienced or have a frame of reference for).

  11. Encourage “modding,” or allowing players/patrons to change what they don’t like about a situation to better fit their preferences.

  12. Give feedback and assessment. (The Ann Arbor District Library knows just how important rankings are among gamers, which is evident in their popular tournament leaderboards).

Maybe it seems unrealistic to incorporate every one of these principles into all of our services, but it is striking just how few of them we seem to apply. As Lisa Hinchliffe pointed out in her GLLS talk, the OPAC, for example, is not reaffirming for patrons because it doesn’t let them know whether or not they conducted a successful search. If we employ the above principles to our OPAC including giving assessment, allowing modding, providing needed information just in time, and so on, we could improve patron’s search skills while making research more enjoyable.


When designing library services, play is a serious consideration. Play enhances enjoyment, encourages people to develop skills, improves learning outcomes, and forges emotional bonds between patrons and libraries. Thinking about how these 12 principles can improve our services is a good place to start for more playful library designs.

Perhaps More Librarians Will Pay Attention To Design

Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article that received a good amount of buzz in the library community. It was a profile of the ethnographic research study of undergraduates conducted by the academic librarians at the University of Rochester. What probably caught the attention of the library community was the novelty of employing an anthropologist to study the research behavior of students. I’m sure this was a radical new idea for many academic librarians, but it shouldn’t have been. This research project was a topic of discussion more than a year ago at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. In the sping of 2006 the Community featured a webcast on the UR project and our guests were some of the same folks mentioned in the Chronicle article (sorry, there is no archived recording – we were not allowed to record). I’ve also blogged about the project at ACRLog at least two times in the last year. So it came as a bit of surprise to me that this was all so new to librarians when the word has been out there for some time now.

I’m not writing about this to chastise my fellow librarians for not doing a better job of keeping up with what I’ve been writing about at ACRLog and promoting at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. I know it’s hard to find the time. Actually I am hoping that this article will bring more attention to the topics that we’ve been discussing here at Designing Better Libraries. We’ve brought your attention to the value of anthropological approaches to study user communities, and identified sources for learning more about using ethnographic methods of research. In fact I just came across another good article that features an interview with a designer at Nokia who talks about the role of ethnographic research in the development of their products. I hope the Chronicle article will get more librarians excited about the possibilities of new methods for understanding our users – and then using what we learn to design better library user experiences.

It would be a shame if those who read the article see the ethnographic research method as an end in itself and not just the first stage in a broader project to design a library that does a better job of meeting end-users’ needs. I can only hope a few of those who got enthusiastic about the article will find their way over to this blog where we are continuing the discussion and exploring how these methods are being used to create great library user experiences.

A Graphic Representation Of Creating Experiences

Though it can be a bit difficult to read you may find this of “approach to creating experiences map” of interest. It was developed by David Armano of Logic+Emotion. In fact, he recently offered a gallery of his favorite graphics and you may find something there that is also useful for better understanding design and user experience concepts.

For librarians that ask how they can organize themselves to create an experience for their users, the graphic gives five steps for moving through the experience development process as a team. The key things I like here…”start with the customer” and “teams must experience it for themselves” are steps in the process that strike me as being essential to understanding the users and how they experience the library. Once we grasp that, then we may begin to develop a better user experience for them.

Feed Your Hunger For Innovation Inspiration

Innovation doesn’t always come easy. What if there were some ways to get the creative juices flowing to help stimulate innovation? You could take advantage of the occasional tips and suggestions that experts are sharing to promote the innovation process within individuals and/or their libraries. There are several innovation blogs and websites that can be just the thing you need. Here are some blogs worth exploring:

Ideas 108 – This blog is dedicated to providing you with a steady stream of creative problem-solving tips and techniques.

The Innovator’s Digest – Gerald Haman’s new weblog, which appears to be focused on helping to promote his new Innovation Tool of the Month Club. But it also contains weekly “question banks” that can help you to come up with creative ideas to help solve the challenges you face, and various posts on the value of creative problem-solving tools and techniques. It’s good to see you in the blogosphere, Gerald!

Think Differently – The catchphrase for this blog speaks volumes to me. It says “get ahead by doing something different — not what everybody else is doing or what you’d always be doing.” That seems like a great way to express what innovation is about, and to make things better this blog actually has a category for Design Thinking.

Innovation Weblog – a meta-index of the latest innovation trends, news, technology, resources and viewpoints. It covers topics including innovation research and best practices and strategies, innovation management, business use of Weblogs for ideation and collaboration, and much more!

Though I did a bit of browsing through innovation related blogs, these seem to be among the best. There are others. You can find more by checking the blogrolls of innovation blogs you discover. Of course, you may know of one not mentioned here. If so, share your innovation blog recommendation in a comment to this post.

Now you have no excuse not to raise your IQ (innovation quotient).