By Stephen Abram, Toronto Chapter, Business & Finance, Information Technology, Leadership & Management Divisions
And the future is still in front of me and always will be! Cindy Romaine asked me to write a guest post for this blog and I am honoured to do so. I believe that her future ready theme is right on. The only thing we need to prepare for is the future. The past is gone and the present disappears in the blink of an eye. By coincidence I’ve just passed my 30th anniversary of graduating from library school and it’s caused me to reflect. I tell myself that I probably have another 30 years left. So I’ve decided that I am still mid-career. What have I learned in the first half of my library life about preparing for the future that may be in any useful?
Listed below are some personal insights that I’ve learned and have found them personally meaningful over the years, so I pass them on to you here in the hope that it helps us all become more future ready. Honestly, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and it’s probably better to learn that way, but here goes:
- Watch the Banana: When it comes to observing user behaviour and changing behaviours it is wise to remember the banana. I was once forced to watch primates for days as part of a bachelor level primatology course. We often watched them eat. Upon returning to class, the professor gave us all bananas and asked us to peel them like an ape. North Americans grab the banana by the stem and pull it open. This method crushes the top. The whole class proceeded to do it this way. He then showed a film of an ape peeling a banana. If we carefully observe chimpanzees and bananas we can see that they carefully pull the skin of a banana from the softer non-stem end and the white fruit is pristinely unwrapped as a thing of unbruised beauty. The lesson for us budding primatologists and ethnographers that I never forgot: Observe carefully. Don’t look for what you expect. When you’re looking for insights into human behaviour or the direction of the world, you’ll find it in what you don’t see at first.
- Play with Vigor and Intent: Everyone who knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of play in the workplace. This isn’t just playing with all of the new technology toys and websites that are presenting us with opportunities on a daily basis. I love that as much as the next person. What I am also advocating is that we also include ensuring that fun and humour enter our work lives on a daily basis (or more) too. Secondly, focus is good but focusing too intently is not as great. You can see opportunity in new things when you play. When you research or investigate something for work alone with your workplace goggles on, sometimes you miss the biggest opportunities in the innovation. Occasional undirected play at work loosens the unconscious and frees the mind to explore new ideas. Successful people and work teams leave time for play – alone and together. Play is not frivolous but remains one of the most potent learning strategies there is. And, frankly, it makes it fun to go to work every day. Happy teams, having fun together, is, I believe, a predictor of workplace success, employee retention, and lifelong health. Do you make time to play? Relax. You will see more opportunities for a better future in a relaxed state than all of the moments of intense concentration combined. Are you laughing and giggling enough all day? Live intentionally.
- Hang out with different people and people who are different than you: Lately, I’ve been thinking about the echo chamber that is librarianship. I worry that we are listening too much to each other and not enough to others. I am not advocating that we listen less to eachother but that we adjust the balance to include more voices. How do our real customers talk about their encounters with the new information technologies? If we talk about ‘e-books’ and they talk about ‘reading’ (see the difference?), are we framing the issues correctly? And, how diverse is the community of people you deal with? Are there enough non-librarians, non family members, in your circle? How about the wonderful demographic mosaic of gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, race, language and geography in your conversation zone? Is it diverse? Do you have personal experience with young librarians and young people or vice versa? Do you travel enough to challenging experiences and places? Don’t sit with friends all the time at events or conferences – you already know them! People from diverse backgrounds can approach issues, decisions and problems in different and still valid ways. If your peers are non-diverse, I believe that it affects the quality of your insights and decisions. Mix it up.
- Avoid the Eeyores! Some people add no value to your life and you run the risk of damaging yourself by being around them too much. People who are negative or critical in the extreme, but devoid of critical thinking are negative influences in your life. I love being around people who bang away at ideas aggressively to make them better. They’re awesome. I am talking about avoiding people who are joyless. As the economy gets worse, there seem to be more of these negative folks. Critical thinking allows for seeing weaknesses in an idea or argument and working toward correcting or improving or disproving the thinking. People for whom criticism, devoid of a context to improve ideas, where snark and name calling rule the day, are best avoided when the time can be spent with others who focus on making the world of ideas a better place. If you’ve ever met a person who is a black hole and sucks all of the life and happiness out of the room and conversation, you know what I mean. Run towards the light! The future needs to be somewhere where you want to be, and some people just can’t make that voyage. They’re locked in the ambiguity of the present tense.
- Fail and Fail Often, but Fail Safe: You’ll discover the future by trying to invent it yourself. There are two kinds of people – those who create the future and those who live in their own personal, endless Hell of the present. Make the choice to be an animator in life. The avoidance of risk is death to growth and adaptability. Take small and manageable risks in order to learn. You’re not learning to ski or skate unless you’re falling down. How many small risks of failure did you take today? It can be as simple as meeting someone you don’t know, trying a new website, changing your
personal style of interaction or something even bigger like loading new software or temporarily changing a work process. Try to recall when you learned to ride a bicycle. Remember the failures and then the heart floating feeling of balance and movement? I remember when I first tried public speaking with some embarrassment but I got better over time with my supportive SLA network. The opportunities to try new things are endless and, yet, we seem to partake of them too rarely. Can you schedule a daily potential-risk-of-failure-event until it becomes a habit and part of your work life? Grow pearls when you discover an irritant. Start small, pilot and experiment. Nurture and incubate. You’ll be a better professional for it.
- Listen to your Gut: Bio-feedback works. I have learned to listen to my gut and persevere when I don’t feel right about something. Not every technology is future ready. Many have severe shortcomings or run the risk of damaging the world of information, knowledge, learning and more. Some just aren’t ready for primetime or anyone other than the early adopters. My subconscious tells me things if only I’d listen to it. I am not saying that it is telling me in black and white to do or not do something. It is often telling me things that affect the direction and experience. My gut senses distrust faster than my mind. It tells me when something might be conflicting with my personal or professional values or morals. My gut tells me when I’m not quite ready. My gut tells me when I have lingered too long in a lovely past paradigm that is now failing me. Trust your gut.
- Do and Try: It’s not enough to be just an observer. Participate in the world as it changes. Comment and learn. Share – write, blog, tweet, and have deep conversations. Experience comes from participation. The person watching the gold fish in the bowl does not understand the goldfish.
- Encourage the Heart: One of the most delightful aspects of librarianship is our supportive networks. Also our workplaces tend to be clean and safe. We have a personal responsibility to take this gift and improve upon it. We have potentially thousands of interactions a month. With each interaction, with each moment of truth, we represent the best of what we have to offer to the world. We can make a huge difference in people’s lives. And, with our attitude we can encourage the heart. Wake up every day choosing to make a difference in your end users lives, and, for that matter, all of your co-workers, neighbours, and colleagues.
Watch for part two and 10 more!
Stephen Abram, MLS is a Past President of SLA and is Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Markets, for Gale Cengage Learning. He is an SLA Fellow and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association. In June 2003 he was awarded SLA’s John Cotton Dana Award and the AIIP Roger Summit Award in 2009. In 2011 he is Canada’s CLA Outstanding Librarian of the Year. He is the author of Out Front with Stephen Abram and Stephen’s Lighthouse blog. Stephen would love to hear from you at email@example.com.