Taking The Slow But Steady Path To That “Aha” Moment

One of my favorite moments in The Deep Dive, the 1999 Nightline segment on IDEO and their design thinking process, is when they discuss the myth of the lone creative genius. Though we often imagine that great ideas and innovations come from a sole, highly creative person who gets his or her ideas in flashes of brillance, that is rarely how innovation happens.  That’s why this article, “Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work“, captured my attention. It echoes this theme of innovation, not as a magic moment, but rather the end product of a team of creative workers putting in many hours to finally reach the point where a form of innovation occurs. The author, Janet Rae-Depree writes:

As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us. Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time.

What librarians trying to design better libraries need to take away from this article is that there are no quick fixes or overnight solutions to perplexing problems. It’s possible, but highly unlikely that a librarian will suddently devise a great solution that offers a new innovation. Instead we need to put into place a process that will accumulate the needed information and ideas so that library workers work towards change, be it innovative or otherwise. To support this process library administrators should consider allowing library workers a segment of weekly time to get “Kept-Up” by reading magazines, listening to podcasts watching great lectures on YouTube. Some time away from e-mail, IM and tweets can allow us to collect our thoughts and reflect on understanding the depth of our problems. Those may be the best moments for organizational innovation. In fact, this article discusses the negative impact that e-mail overload, and other electronic distractions, can have on creativity.

It is possible to achieve good results by taking time to be thoughtful. Steve Erhmann, of the TLT Group, recently wrote about “ the idea of “Watching the Donut, Not the Hole”” in which he speaks to the merits of avoiding the fast technology solution, opting instead for the slower but better designed implementation process. He writes:

Our approaches to faculty support and course improvement, to cost modeling and time-saving, and to formative evaluation all focus on helping educators and institutions improve teaching/learning activities over time: small steps and, ultimately, larger changes.

I find that one of the key character traits of a good librarian is patience. Whether answering a reference question, connecting with students in an instruction session or working one’s way through a complex cataloging assignment, our work requires us to thoughtfully work through problems and situations in order to find the right solution. We need to realize there are no quick fixes in our profession, and that those “Aha” moments are often the result of many hours of thought and reflection. That’s where our patience may prove a powerful asset. That said I know that some newer to the profession librarians would like to make their mark and be discovered quickly. I’ve advocated the slow but steady approach before. Seems like Rae-Dupree’s article provides some support to my way of thinking.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

1 thought on “Taking The Slow But Steady Path To That “Aha” Moment”

  1. Thanks for pointing out the critical need for planning – from researching trends in our communities and libraries, to taking time to discover and find out what might be out there, to sitting down and fitting it all together, rather than just grabbing at the next great idea and implementing it completely out of context. If we want to keep our funders from throwing our budgets on the chopping block, we need to use their methods and their language to make the case that we’re spending hard-earned tax dollars responsibly.

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