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Make Space to Innovate

by on December 19, 2016

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, innovation is:

  1. : the introduction of something new
  2. : a new idea, method, or device : novelty

Library Journal Editorial Director Rebecca T. Miller recently called on the library community to share library innovations. She observed the need for organizational commitment for innovation to succeed. Promoting innovation takes a conscious decision to change our management structures and organizational cultures. Below are a few ways companies are sparking creativity. Try one of these concepts at your library and see what new ideas you can ignite.

Changing focus to allow time for play and creativity is essential to creating an innovative workplace. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed people who work on cognitive tasks are more motivated by autonomy and a sense of purpose than financial rewards. The Renaissance Society of America posted a summary on this topic: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

Other industries are successfully using these strategies. The Minneapolis-based technology company Clockwork has a human-centered approach allowing them to meet the needs of both their customers and staff. Known as a “Best Place to Work in America,” Clockwork allows staff to work when and how best meets their personal needs so long as the work gets done. Being a place people want to come to work is a key strategy they are using to meet their goals and to retain quality people. Australian tech company Atlassian allows staff members to use 20 percent of their time to work on any project they want with anyone they choose. The only catch is they need to share the results. This approach has helped them to become profitable and also a company that is recognized as a best place to work.

While libraries may not be able to offer this much unstructured time and keep the desk covered, the concept of free time is one we can use. Rather than scheduling a meeting for discussion, take some down time to think creatively with others.

Changing how we interact with each other is also key to becoming more innovative. The Second City recently published a book on improvisation called “Yes, And.” The company has taken improvisation off the stage and into the workplace to help companies transform their thinking. Improv theater relies on the performers being able to take another person’s ideas and transform them into comedy. The principle of “yes, and…” helps improv groups move a performance forward. The book describes how “yes, but…” thinking can kill an idea before it really develops. Try this in your next brainstorming session to see what a difference this way of thinking can make.

Expecting people to fail seems counter to improving library services. However, having a safe place to fail is important in fostering innovation. “Fail fast” is an entrepreneurial strategy used to pilot new ideas to see whether they will work. Failure is not a typical librarian goal. However, trying something new without being judged beforehand is important in fostering creativity. After all, fail just stands for “first attempt in learning.” If we, as librarians, are not learning, we are failing to grow in our profession.

Innovation is not only a catchy buzzword, but it is also a vital role libraries need to play as information intermediaries and creative spaces for the public. We owe it to our patrons and communities to foster our creativity to continue to offer relevant services.

Further reading

The Library Innovation Toolkit: Ideas, Strategies, and Programs. Edited by Anthony Molaro and Leah L. White. Chicago: ALA Editions, an Imprint of the American Library Association, 2015.


“The Best Place To Work In America?” November 14, 2014. Accessed November 27, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d8_lkiH7zs.

Leonard, Kelly, and Tom Yorton. Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “no, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–lessons from the Second City. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2015.

Miller, Rebecca T. “Staff as Innovation Leaders: From Great Ideas to Great Implementation.” Library Journal, 016. October 31, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/10/opinion/editorial/staff-as-innovation-leaders-from-great-ideas-to-great-implementation-editorial/#comments.

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009.

“RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The Surprising Truth about what motivates us.” April 1, 2010. Accessed November 27, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=youtu.be.

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