By James King, Washington DC & Maryland Chapters, Government Information & Information Technology Divisions
What do we need to do in order to survive and thrive in the 21st Century? The most successful organizations are those that have come up with innovative ways of doing things, like Amazon, Apple, or Facebook. Are we part of an innovative organization? What does it take to be innovative?
“The Innovator’s DNA” (Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen; Harvard Business Review, December 2009 – http://hbr.org/product/the-innovator-s-dna/an/R0912E-PDF-ENG) provides an answer. The authors report on a six year study of the people behind some of the most innovative and disruptive business strategies in the world to see what makes them tick. What they found are five discovery skills that seem to distinguish these leaders and can serve as a model for others that want to strive for that “critical thinking” that Thomas Friedman challenged us to in his keynote speech at SLA Annual.
The five discovery skills or “Innovator’s DNA” are questioning, observing, experimenting, networking, and associating. Not only do I agree with their findings about these traits, but I also realize that we can learn and develop these, and that my involvement with SLA helps me strive towards each of them.
Questioning – asking questions to dig deeper
Questioning often reveals sacred cows and entrenched traditions that are holding us back from improved ways of serving our customers or streamlining our back office operations. Having well-researched facts about how other organizations operate and how executives view our profession (as is described in the Alignment report) I can be better prepared to ask questions about why certain practices or processes are still being observed in my organization.
Observing – watching the world around us
By observing and studying our customers and other organizations around us, we can learn many valuable lessons and change our services for the better. Participating in the Annual Conference, local chapter events, reading articles from Information Outlook, following the Twitter posts from the Information Futurist Caucus, or reading blog entries from the Future Ready blog can all help us to monitor the rapidly-changing information industry.
Experimenting – willing to try new things
Experimenting and risk failure is a critical trait of an innovative person. Involvement in chapters or divisions can encourage experimentation by providing a “safe haven” without a direct risk to your pay or benefits. The article pointed out that one of the most powerful experimentations is to work globally. By having access to a global association like SLA, we are able and encouraged to build collaborations with fellow professionals around the world, which will undoubtedly broaden our perspective.
Networking – building relationships with peers
Networking is probably one of the hallmarks of participation in conferences or attending local chapter events is the opportunity to build relationships with peers. Those networks can provide a mentor, a friend, or even a future job prospect. However, the digital world and social networking have also allowed us to better maintain those initial contacts and develop those relationships.
Associating – creating connections
The final trait of their DNA pulls together the four actions (questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking) and creates connections. Those mental connections are the spark of innovation and have spawned new business processes and changed the world. Though this is ultimately a personal exercise, learning from others who have made unconventional associations to create new services for our customers will help and encourage us to do likewise.
Building a culture that allows and encourages these innovative traits at both the manager level and employee level will challenge traditional leadership and traditional librarianship but will result in a more relevant and innovative organization. Whether we have the support where we are or not, are we taking advantage of the opportunities available to us through SLA to build these innovative traits or simply running the treadmill to retirement?
James King, SLA Fellow, was the 2010 President of the Washington, DC Chapter and is the long-time convener of the Information Futurists Caucus. He is currently serving at the national level as an Alignment Ambassador, chair of the Nominating Committee, and was on the 2011 Annual Conference Planning Council. View a fuller bio at http://about.me/edit/cmndr_king.