Latest “Inside Innovation” Now Available Online

In my last post I mentioned that BusinessWeek offers a really good quarterly supplement that focuses on design, innovation, creativity – and other issues we like to read about. The latest one is now available online. It includes articles on the greatest innovations of all time, an innovation case study focusing on GE, a slide show on the state of social networking, and more. My favorite is the article about the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm that is using design thinking to improve social conditions for those in poverty around the world. As one member of the firm said:

“We’re creating an overall design for how you provide goods and services to poor people,” she says. Observing customers to uncover their unmet needs, creating prototypes of new products and services for them, iterating and improving those until they work, looking for new business models—these are all the critical fundamentals of design that Acumen uses in its work.”

It sometimes concerns me, that when I talk about design thinking, librarians will assume this concept is primarily business driven and therefore will not apply to libraries. It is true that design thinking is certainly more a business concept than it is a humanities or social science philosophy, but this article clearly shows us that design thinking need not be used only in business settings or situations. As Tim Brown of IDEO is quoted in the article:

“It’s all about innovation,” says Brown. He explains that using the methodology of design can solve social, as well as business, problems. “We’re pretty good at taking a bunch of disparate components and figuring out the solution.”

I’ve said in the past that just because something works in a business environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for libraries. But design thinking is a way of identifying problems and developing solutions. It’s not the same as saying, “Hey look, libraries should be emailing books to patrons and letting them keep them as long as they want with no fines because that’s what Netflix does and look at how successful they are.”  It may work for some libraries, but not all. It depends on the culture and community. But I would argue that design thinking is, as Brown points out, a “methodology of design” and not simply a business model that others should emulate.

At some point I will probably no longer feel the need to write posts that try to convince you that design thinking has powerful possibilities for librarians, but will assume you already have come to that conclusion. But feel free to argue the case if you see it another way. Good discourse on the topic will only serve to heighten our understanding.

Moving Beyond Experience To Identity

While I’m in between parts one and two of a discussion of the age of user experience I thought I’d point out one of the better sources of information for those interested in following trends and developments in the world of design. One of the things DBL hope to achieve is to create more passion for design and design thinking among its readers. One of the ways for that to happen is to keep reading. A particularly good blog is NussbaumOnDesign. Bruce Nussbaum is a technology editor at BusinessWeek, and he produces consistently good blog posts on the intersection of innovatin and design. The blog is connected to a quarterly (I believe) supplement in BusinessWeek called InDesign (or it might be nDesign). I highly recommend the reading of this supplement for getting even more insight into design issues. I believe that Nussbaum said in his blog the other day that a new supplement should be out soon – so now is the time to take a look at your library’s next few issues of BusinessWeek so you can discover InDesign.

And since we were on the subject of the user experience, take a look at what Nussbaum had to say. He believes that experience may suggest something that is too passive in nature to be memorable. An experience is something that happens to you. Identity, on the other hand, is all about the individual. Individuals want to interact with their environments. And where identify seems to be particularly important is within social networks. Those who use them do so by creating identies for themselves. So it may be that in social networks, creating an identity is a significant experience in and of itself.

The Age Of The User Experience – Part One

In case you didn’t know it we are now in the Age of the User Experience. As a result, we will all be reading and hearing much more about the user experience. It is all the rage in this new age to talk about developing organizations and services that provide great user experiences. But does anyone really know what the heck that means. If you go to a store to buy something and you get what you want without a hassle did you have a good experience? Or does something really different and special have to happen for it to be a good experience? Or do you just have to pay extra money to enjoy a unique atmosphere that is part of the purchase in order to have a true user experience? It reminds me of a Ziggy cartoon in which he is ordering lunch. The sign promoting the daily special lists two items. One is “Chili – $3.95”. The other item is “The Chili Experience – $4.95”. Those cynical about the concept of a user experience might indeed claim it’s nothing more than paying extra money for the same thing with a bit of heighted ambience. And you know what? According to some experts that might be right.

In Brian’s first post he discussed empathetic design and referenced an article in Harvard Business Review on the topic. I found a citation to that article in a book Brian suggested to me titled The Experience Economy. When I first heard the title I thought it must be a new book given the current trend in designing user experiences – which is what the book is primarily about. Turns out it was published in 1999 – way before the current infatuation with user experiences. According to this book a company or service provider “stages an experience whenever they engage the customers, connecting with them in a personal, memorable way.” Disneyworld is not just an entertainment or amusement park; it is a theme park experience. Starbucks does not sell coffee; it offers creative beverages in a unique atmosphere. That’s why consumers will go there and spend considerably more for coffee drinks than they would pay at Dunkin Donuts. What about libraries? Do they offer a user experience? Unfortunately, the vast majority do not. In fact, we are guilty of the greatest sin possible accroding to the book. We have allowed our services to be commoditized.

Commoditization is the other end of the user experience spectrum. There is no differentiation, and all that can be offered is a cheap product or service. The commodity in which we deal is information. Since we have put most of our organizational focus into obtaining information and making it accessible that is the commodity in which we trade. Consumers (or users) do not highly value the product or service, and they would likely be unwilling to pay more to obtain it. It’s likely most users come to our libraries because they have no other choices (college students, for example, cannot obtain many privileges at any other library but their own), and when they do have a choice, such as using a search engine, they typically will often choose that other information provider first. Libraries are no longer the only provider of this commodity, and hence we are losing our users to other providers that offer information that can be accessed more conveniently – if not cheaper. Despite our efforts to promote the quality of our information over the convenience of our competitors, it has failed to convince users to alter their information seeking behavior. You might argue that libraries also provide services, such as reference or interlibrary loan. But where we fail is in customizing our services to the needs of the individual.

Is it even possible for libraries to offer a user experience? Can we make using the library a memorable experience? Can we do for finding information and conducting research what Starbucks does for coffee? While we can’t have fireworks exploding everytime someone borrows a book  – that would certainly make for a memorable experience – there may be ways that we can do more to create a better user experience for a library user. Whatever that may be I believe it is going to differ somewhat from library to library, as the user experience could be customized to local needs and desires. Perhaps, initially, libraries need to concentrate on making sure things work well. Presently, too many libraries have too many things that are, quite simply, broken. We will be doing more exploration of the user experience concept here at DBL. We may yet discover practical, affordable, and user grabbing ways to, as the Experience Economy suggests, “ING the THING” – what is known as “experientializing” the commodity. Securing our relevance as we head into the future may depend upon it.

I’ll be writing more about the Age of the User Experience in part two of this post.


Jeff Trzeciak – My first post

I am a little behind my fellow contributors to this blog so this is simply an introduction to me and what I’ll be blogging about.

About me

I am currently the University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.   While I am in academia now I started my career (more than 20 years ago) in a public library and have worked over the years with special libraries, archives and museums.  For eight years I worked at Wayne State University in Detroit where they have an ALA-accredited MLS program.  My experience there gave me a glimpse into the changing nature of librarian education.

I have only been at McMaster since July but we have already made some significant changes.  We are going through a transformation process, which you can read about on my blog.

About my contributions

I am particularly interested in the application of new technologies within libraries.  Gaming (MMORPGs) and virtual worlds (Second Life) are of special interest to me.  Some of you may have seen my post “I want a gaming librarian” and may be interested in knowing that we are, in fact, hiring a gaming librarian.  This position will provide leadership in the development and implementation of innovative, highly engaging, habitable environments for teaching and learning.  Our forray into Second Life, where we now offer reference services, has been well received by the Hamilton community. How can these emerging and highly popular technologies be incorporated into libraries so that we can reach our users wherever they are?
I am also interested in new models for the organization.  I know there is some resistance to the “2.0” moniker but I’m going to use it anyway!  What is “leadership 2.0” or as one of my librarians recently asked what is “administration 2.0”?  Given the radical redefinition of library resources, services and facilities, how do we radically redefine our organizations as well?  What does that mean?  What will they look like?  More importantly, how do we redefine our organizations given the constraints of our parent organizations?  (universities, school districts, corporations, government agencies, boards, etc)

Finally, I will also, out of necessity, blog about changing space.  Our Science Engineering Library, a building straight out of the 70’s – left virtually unchanged since its construction – is on the university’s capital campaign for a $4 million dollar face lift.  What kind of space should it become?  How do we appeal to this generation of student?  What should it include?  What should be removed?  In particula, how do we strike a balance of “collections” (which are used less and less often) with “technology” and “collaboration space”?  This will be a major challenge for us over the next couple of years.

So, I will have a wide variety of topics to blog.  I’m looking forward to it – watch this space – it should be fun!

Creativity and Innovation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The words creativity and innovation are often expressed as if they’re one word, and subsequently, their individual meanings tend to blur. Creativity and innovation are in fact two distinct concepts that rely on one another. The Oxford English Dictionary defines creativity as the “ability to create.” Innovation is defined as, “the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms; a change made in the nature or fashion of anything; something newly introduced; a novel practice, method, etc.” These differences, while somewhat minor, are significant. Creativity suggests processes, or a set of conditions that are conducive to making things (objects, services, ideas, and so on). Innovation, on the other hand, implies that the “things” created are in some way unique or previously non-existent. What I will attempt to do on the DBL Blog is explore each of these concepts as well as how they overlap. What follows is my current thinking about the relationship between creativity, innovation, and library service design.

Contrary to popular perception, creativity is not a quality that a person is either born with or without. Creativity can be nurtured, or squashed, by environmental conditions, procedures, techniques, and interpersonal relationships. Librarians have it within their abilities to engineer workplaces that allow creativity to take root and flourish. On the flip side of creativity is innovation. Innovation is the outcome of creative processes. Making something that is considered new or novel is the result of a series of creations, some of which fail and some of which succeed, and all of which move the innovations forward. Innovations, as I see them, also foster creativity. By introducing a new element into the mix, innovation opens up new paths for creation.

Throughout this exploration, I will assume that both creativity and innovation are intrinsically beneficial for library services. Libraries exist in a marketplace that is more crowded with goods and services than ever before. People have a seemingly endless array of options for fulfilling their information and community needs. To thrive in this competitive environment, librarians must develop novel approaches to designing services and experiences so that they connect with the people they aim to serve, satisfy unmet needs, and achieve enough visibility to gain awareness. Furthermore, the pace of change is always accelerating. Creative and innovative libraries will be able to adapt to these changes, while libraries that don’t innovate their service designs on a routine basis will quickly lose traction. It’s true that not everything that’s new is by definition good. But since innovation feeds back into creativity, even innovative failures are useful in that they allow us to view problems in different lights and to create in different ways. This point leads to another core assumption I will make: creativity and innovation entail risk and risk is good for libraries. Librarians with low risk tolerances will not be able to sustain the environment necessary to support creativity or innovation. We must concede that if we want the benefits of creativity and innovation, we must accept the inevitable failures that result from trying something new and welcome them as learning experiences.

I hope this gives you a good sense of how I’m thinking about creativity and innovation as they apply to designing library services. I’m interested to know your thoughts and questions on these topics too so that I can address them as we move this conversation forward. My upcoming posts will focus on what the literature and case studies have to teach us about these topics, which I consider to be some of the most important in librarianship today.