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.

6 thoughts on “Innovation And Bandwagons Don’t Mix”

  1. Buzzwords can be organization killers, but they can also be fabulous tools that organizations can use to quickly get staff on the same page (using the same terminology) and to then be able to institute changes in services. I have seen too much positive energy out of the “Library 2.0” rhetoric to see that it has devalued anything yet.

    Sure some will get lazy and hope that just instituting tools will be enough to catch them up to the future. But, others can use the concepts of “2.0” to really make a difference by revising their policies and procedures to create better, more relevant services. Without the discussion of “Web 2.0” this is MUCH harder.
    (See my blog entry in reactio:

  2. I think that social networks are a great window into student life. They are tools that enable you to find the right students to “engage” with…instead of ones that will just tell you what you want to hear.

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