I am still learning.
These words have been attributed to Michelangelo and they came to mind when I contemplated this photograph I snapped back in March. It is an image of my grandmother Carrie only a few weeks before her 101st birthday. Her hands had never held an iPod. On a whim I placed it in her hands and brought up the Koi Pond app. Suddenly she held an experience that she could hardly fathom. I realized quickly that this thing I carry in my pocket each day was a thing of wonder. Seeing my grandmother’s 101 year old eyes light up as her fingers splashed the touch screen pond was a delicious moment. My grandmother spends her days quietly in her chair by the window reading the books and magazines people bring her. Now here she was moving this digitized water and the fish were responding to her touch. When I remember this moment a flood of ideas come to mind: how we take our little gadgets for granted, how the generations can find new territories for connection, and how the world quickly shifts for some but not all.
Only a few days ago I put this picture into a slidedeck for a presentation I’ll be doing soon. ALA conference attendees who will be participating in the “Punch it up with Pictures” preconference will hear me talk about how a picture can open up a world of stories. As you can guess, this will be an image I’ll be using for sometime to illustrate that point.
Columbus Metropolitan Library is showing that important matters should not be hidden. By placing this very obvious, shocking screen right out front before you can access their Web page, there is no denying that this library wants you to know what they (and most Ohio libraries) are facing. Is this an interruption to the library user? Absolutely. Does this speak volumes about the matter and how CML’s level of concern? Absolutely. Libraries can often be subtle. Now is not the time for subtlety. This very unsubtle statement is well worth applauding.
Today I was a part of the webinar The Future of the Library User Experience hosted by Urban Library Council. The webinar featured Nate Bolt, user experience leader with Bolt Peters. A key item that Nate suggested is that in order to be craft more significant user experiences for library customers in the future it’s important that we are aware of 3 Principles:
- Open Architecture Wins
- Build Small
- Behavior not opinions
The third point rang out for me very strongly. How important it is to see actual behavior–evidence–to drive our programs, design and decisions. Nate suggested that we never utter these words: “tell me what you think about our Web site.” This open ended request–used in many circumstances (replace ‘Web site’ with a choice of other offerings or services) can easily open up a can of unactionable input. Act upon behavior–not words. So, to drive home the idea of ‘Behavior not opinions,’ I offer up this quote from Michael Schrage, Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate:
Behavior change matters more than technological changes. The most intriguing perspectives don’t come from looking at what these new toys can do, but from using them to see how people and their organizations behave.
How about this: behavior. consideration. action.
I’ve been reading through Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future in preparation for a webinar later this week. This books triggers a general (and vast) interest I have in storytelling in its many forms. Pink includes a whole section on “story” and refers to a movement called “organizational storytelling” that is really quite fascinating. He briefly profiles the work that Steve Denning helped pioneer in this area.
…Denning discovered that he learned more from trading stories in the cafeteria than he did from reading the bank’s official documents and reports. An organization’s knowledge, he realized, is contained in its stories.
Stories have an incredible amount of power! Power to move people, ideas and organizations forward. This same power can keep us in the dark, living in flux or simply the past. Some of the big players are getting this concept and moving it forward into the fiber of their organizations. Pink mentions 3M, NASA and Xerox. Recently I attended a performance by Laurie Anderson and learned that only a few years ago NASA made her their artist in residence. What an incredible match!
How do we use these stories that float aroud us but perhaps never make the annual report? We know they play a big part in who we are. Are these the stories that tell the deeper truth of who we are as organizations? I’m curious about how anecdotes turn into story and expand into the minds and behaviors of staff and leaders. What are the stories we tell ourselves–about ourselves? A great work is to harness the power of the stories that make us–libraries, nonprofits, businesses, families–who we are, or who we think we are. How do we broaden the story? When is it time for a plot change (when anecdote starts ruling decision-making, perhaps)? There are endless ways to celebrate our stories. Now, what about those stories that simply need an ending?
Today I heard someone say “I hope we’re not playing with fire” in regard to making budget reduction proposals. I’m not even sure the complete context of what they were saying, but hearing this phrase in the scope of what is going on in our economic forecast gave me reason to pause. It does feel a bit like playing with fire. There seems to be something dangerous and somewhat precarious about the state we are in. I do believe that fire can purify and transform, at least symbolically. This is a way that I think about what we are going through right now. When I read Helene Blowers’ post about new beginnings I felt a like mind chiming in. I think that many of our current practices or approaches may have to burn up in the proverbial fire that has been cast. Sincere vision and dreams will be burnished, but not destroyed.
In this past week I’ve become very aware of the fine line that we often draw between what it means to be business-minded and vision-minded. As the economy continues to plan a trip south and we find out what the reality of this means in our local worlds, I think that it can easily be open season on dreamers. Now is not the time for dreams to die. Now is not the time to sell our vision out to fear. This can feel like a tall order, I know. Business and dreams seem to clash in the air. Where is the mix between the two? What becomes our guide? Do we cash in our vision to projections of hard(er) times. Vision that is grounded continues to lead if we allow it to do so. Has the world shifted in the past several months? Yes. Do we know where this is leading? No. Do we need to be really smart right now? Yes. Do we have to forget our dreams in order to be fiscally-minded? No. Business and dreams can exist together. Yes.
I offer up some thoughts to help dreamers make it through the day, into the board room and away from the cliff:
1. Fill in blanks where you can by telling what you know.
2. Create some method to get creative ideas into action (faster than usual).
3. Re-think before you re-write you reasons for being (don’t throw the vision out with the bath water).
4. Keep stirring the dreams in the mix. Stir a little harder before watching the evening news.
If Buddha took up guitar and decided to sing music that blurred the lines between age groups, he’d likely be doing back-up for the South Carolina band Lunch Money. There are so many reasons to love this band. And they recently released one more reason to love them–because they love libraries…and they put it in song on their latest release DIZZY! Read the lyrics, go listen to the track then repeat. It’ll make you feel good…
I Love My Library
I’m going to the library…to see my librarian…who’ll send me home with 60 things…as if I could carry them (I’ll bring my red wagon)…Passing out the picture books like my granny hands out food…”Leggi, leggi, take all of these…And you might like this one too”…and my brain’s getting fat on stories and facts…and it feels like love…All the librarians…they say come follow me…They’re looking straight at me….They take me seriously….and all the things that I’d never have picked….become my new favorites…I show them to my friends at school…and they get addicted too (to Nancy Drew)…I feel so understood when a story’s this good…Oh, it feels like love…All the things that I could ever wonder about are waiting here for me…All the places I could ever wander to…I have a ticket for free…and guess who tossed me the keys?…Books about boys and girls and magic worlds…Heroic dogs, a toad, a frog…Sleuthing teens and big machines…Hippo friends and astronauts…Freight trains and snowy days…Wind-up mice and caps for sale…Lightning and wild things…I love my library.