Daily Archives: January 15, 2007

Innovation And Bandwagons Don’t Mix

Which services are the ones worth the investment of your time and effort? Are they the ones that seem to be all the rage because everyone one else is getting into them? Or are they the ones that offer quick fixes and are relatively easy to implement? Or are they the services that require real innovation, hard work and may offer greater possibilities for sustainability? Perhaps our approaches to new service and technology development may require some mix of these methods. There may be times when what futurist and innovation expert Jim Carroll calls “bandwagon innovation” may be appropriate.

Carroll is no fan of bandwagon innovation. With respect to the entire Web 2.0 movement he says:

Jumping on these “trends,” for example, is really dumb, because a) there is nothing really new going on here, and b) you can’t create breakthrough thinking by regurgitating old ideas.

Carroll makes a number of points on why bandwagon innovation doesn’t work. The one that resonates most with me is this one:

True innovation takes hard work. It involves massive cultural, organizational, structural change. It involves an organization and leadership team that is willing to try all kinds of radical and new ideas to deal with rapid change. An innovative organization can’t innovate simply by jumping on a trend. Trying to do so is just trying to find an easy solution to deep, complex problems.

True innovation that results from research, exploration, iterative prototyping, and hard work takes time, and time is such a rare commodity for many academic librarians these days. I think that may be why we see more librarians setting up profiles in social networks in hopes of engaging students, and far fewer taking more time consuming paths that involve getting to know students in order to understand what they want and expect from the library – and then developing appropriate solutions that establish the connections with students we truly seek. I’m not seeking to label different approaches as good or bad. They are what they are, and we do what we can given our constraints. But perhaps what we should be working towards in our academic libraries is innovations that lead to sustainable improvement, and avoid misleading ourselves into thinking that a current technology sensation will provide the same outcome. As Jim Collins put it in his book Good to Great, technology can’t create a breakthrough, it can only accelerate the momentum an organization already has that will lead to breakthroughs.

The Librarian And Dr. King: Juliette Hampton Morgan

I stumbled upon the incredible story of Juliette Morgan today, a Montgomery librarian who received hatemail and death threats for writing letters to the Montgomery Advertiser in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. credits Morgan with helping him see the connection between Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence and the nascent movement he would soon lead.

When the letters appeared, the Mayor of Montgomery demanded that the Library fire Morgan but they refused. She was warned, however, not to write anymore letters. A year later when another letter appeared, the Mayor again demanded Morgan be fired. To their credit, Library trustees still refused to fire her, and the Mayor withheld funding from the Library so Morgan’s job would be cut. Morgan soon resigned from her job and later committed suicide. In 2005 the main branch of the Montgomery Public Library was named after her. For more on Morgan see Juliette Hampton Morgan: A White Woman Who Understood and Journey Toward Justice: Juliette Hampton Morgan And the Montgomery Bus Boycott, University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Posted by Marc Meola