Public Libraries: Dancing through the Minefield of Change

change will reinvigorate libraries

Libraries are at the forefront of Organizational Change.

If you had to put an underlying theme on my career, or even my life, its that I try to level the playing field by clarifying the rules of the game for those who are outside the “in-crowd.”

That’s why I love public libraries. They are an attempt to provide information to those who might have no access to it otherwise. If you go back as little as 100 years you’ll see how rare it was for many people to own more than one or two books or get an education past the 8th grade level. Libraries gave people a chance to catch up, or be exposed to what they had missed.  And if you couldn’t afford private tutors or travel to a large city to buy countless books on a subject, libraries brought the world of knowledge to you, if you wanted it. Is learning to play the violin from a book the same as learning from Itzhak Perlman? Heck no, but it’s a start.

Libraries also try to purchase and source credible materials for their collections. Best practices include buying well-researched books that promote opposing viewpoints.  For every “pro this” book, you were to also purchase a “pro that” book. There was a certain trust factor with the collection at the library offered scholarly, balanced, validated information. How can Librarians curate the internet? Every whack job in the world can publish on the internet if they want to (Exhibit A right here).

Now libraries are having to change with the times, caught in a squeeze between decreasing funding, new technology and a changing user pool. Do they invest their scant funds in books? Or in computer systems to grant internet access? Or do they lease “ebooks” in order to increase the availability of titles for their patrons but then not “own” the book?   Some libraries are now promoting the use of their space as a community gathering spot, a learning hub type environment, but others, stuck with a limited budget and small facilities are having to get very creative.

And how do you decide? If you were the head of the library system or on the library board, what choices do you make?

Five years ago you could make the argument that there was still a significant portion of the population without internet access. The advances in smart phones changed that. There are still many people in the US without access, but the overall curve has moved significantly (its not unusual to find someone whose electricity has been cut off but they won’t let their phone get cut off!).

So, do you provide more internet access? Or offer more e-books? Digitize the current collection? Do you clear out the physical books to make room for your own servers? And do you even keep a physical “library” building anymore?  Will school age kids still make the obligatory “field trip to the public library” to get library cards? What new advances will we be seeing in just five years, most likely the timeline it would take for most public institutions to execute a major change? (You haven’t lived until you’ve had to work through a government RFP or RFQ process).

How do you get public support for an institution that served such a vital function for so many? Is there some new, magnificent function that libraries can serve that will somehow allow for those who don’t “have”, to at least glimpse the world of “what can be”?

I don’t know the answer for public libraries but an Oscar nominated film team is exploring how some libraries are coming to terms with finding their answers. Here’s a sneak preview:

What would you do? What do you think libraries should do? Share in the comments.

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3 Great Reasons why what worked for you Before isn’t working Now (Pt. 2)

 

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it stopped? Here’s three reasons why it may have stopped working.

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

(Go Here if you missed Reason #1, “The ground under your feet changed”)

Reason# 2.  You mistook a one-hit wonder for permanent success.

Pet Rock? Business theory flavor of the month? You had a great run but suddenly its not working,  and now you’re stuck.  Hopefully if you intentionally produced a gimmicky app, product or snack food you knew it was going to be short lived and planned accordingly. But sometimes, you and your product are the beneficiary of lucky circumstances, timing or a specific moment in the market, which can create a false sense of a more permanent success.

Think of a musical group that has their song picked for the soundtrack of a hit movie. The song skyrockets to the top of the charts. Now it’s time for a follow up. Maybe it’s a winner, maybe they were the beneficiary of a moment in time. There will be a big difference in their future between living on the residuals of one mega hit vs owning the Rolling Stones catalog.

Notice I didn’t say that the musical group was any more or less talented or hardworking than any other musical group. Hard work and talent count but there are a lot of hard working and talented people out there and they’re not all giant successes.

In the business world, the markers of what made a particular set of circumstances unique often aren’t known until hindsight kicks in.  Years ago I worked in the non-profit arena where many large grants and funds were available due to a specific set of circumstances in the market (bank mergers coupled with mirroring a favored business theory of the then current government administration). The trend continued for nearly 5 years. If you began or started a non-profit in that space during that time, it was easy to raise funds and gain support, giving you a sense of success and a feeling that you “knew how things worked.” Except that was a moment in time, not replicated at any point for the next 11 years.

Were you attached to a popular business theory that “ran its course?” In the past few years we’ve had “The Secret”,”Get Rich Quick” schemes,  and a host of other short term mega hits. If your work is closely attached to a theory that is now discredited or fallen out of favor, even if your work is sound, you will need to repackage it and rebuild success based on a new foundation.

You may have even been the cute new “upstart” in a business sector, and now you’re the “middle-aged” stalled out player, not venerable enough to be one of the “big boys” you ran circles around when you started, and not youthful enough to be as nimble as new market entrants. Many of the “dot-com” wonders of the early 2000’s are facing this dilemma now. Your growth rate no longer thrills Wall Street, because it’s hard to match the early years of phenomenal growth, and the “new market” players may have more immediate upside potential. And the old boys either went under or figured out how to address the threat you made to their market share all those years ago. You’re in the middle, and need to regroup.

Our next article: Reason #3 “You’re wearing the wrong clothes”

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Is your “Confirmation Bias” Backing you into a Corner?

are your confirmation biases blinding you?

Confirmation Bias + Misplaced focus = Epic Failure

Confirmation Bias is a common phenomenon where humans view large quantities of evidence and choose to give greater weight (or even all the weight) to those items that support their theories. Think of it as a recipe for disaster:

Confirmation bias + Excess focus on the areas we know best (regardless of their importance)Epic Failures a.k.a. Projects that consume a ton of energy and yield little in the way of results.

In her recent book, “The Upside of Down” Megan McArdle gives two great examples of “confirmation bias”, one dealing with the “Truthers” who claim the 9/11 bombings were a secret government project and the other example an examination of how different groups view the reasons for the recent financial crisis, each “team” selecting the evidence that support their theory and rejecting other bits of evidence.

Lately it has become easier and easier for all of us to ignore or reject information that runs contrary to our internal views. Depending on your politics you can select a news channel that will then present the news in a slant that will endlessly confirm your world view. Any dissenting opinions will be cut off, minimized or mocked.  The speed at which an internet based news society disseminates information also allows for a minimum of in-depth journalism, much less fact checking.

Unfortunately we do that inside of the business world as well. Labels such as “negative,” “nit-picky” or “impractical” can be accurate, but they can also be used to ignore dissent, or worse yet, critical red flags. As a business leader, if you’re committed to doing great things, you need to be open to listening to your critics. There may be a nugget of gold in there.

Years ago I worked at a dot com. After working there for several months, I was told we’d be launching free websites for real estate agents, then charging for them at some distant later point. Having come from an accounting background I asked some questions about the timing of the future revenues vs. the cost of extending the free sites for an indefinite time. I remember being told very clearly (and somewhat condescendingly,) that I “didn’t understand the model.” I went home that evening, questioning myself, my brain, even my ability to function in a changing world. I ran the numbers, researched other similar models, and calculated the rough costs of the tens of thousands of dollars I knew that the company was spending each day. (Our “burn rate” was to the tune of about 500K per week). I decided I was simply “not getting it” clearly a dinosaur unprepared for the new world of the internet based business model. I was 33 years old and a dinosaur.

I was wrong. I understood the model. The company, however, did not. They shut down 8 months later, having been unable to convert the “business model” into a sustainable business fast enough. The investors were unwilling to provide any more funds as well. They apparently didn’t understand the “business model” either.

As you create your plan, your vision, listen to the dissenters. Ask questions, probe for why. Punch holes in your own plan. Play devil’s advocate and picture a model that operates on entirely different assumptions than the model you chose. Why is your model more valid? Where are your confirmation biases? When you’ve uncovered them, and examined the dissenting evidence and factored it into the model, that’s when you’re ready to begin!

Need some more ideas on how to make sure your project is ready to go? Start here.

Worried about your blind spots? Read this.

Afraid you aren’t seeing the bubble you live in? Try this.

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A great way to see all the moving parts in an organization is to review the lists of questions found in our free field guide. It’s free, simply sign up for our weekly newsletter (and no we won’t spam you or drive you nuts with crazy emails. We sent our a digest one time a week of relevant articles. That’s it.) There’s a box either at the right or just below this for you to sign up. And you’ll get your free guide right away.

What are you NOT seeing? And what is it going to cost you?

 

people with blinders on

Are you stuck in your confirmation bias?

Years ago I would periodically attend senior staff level meetings for my boss when he was out of town. This would happen only a few times a year, but inevitably, my boss would be surprised at the insights I would give him from the meeting. Not the notes on what was said, but my take on the changes in the internal politics. Just by observing the meeting I could tell which departments were in favor, which were jockeying for position and which had fallen out of favor.  Often before he had even noticed.

Why?

When we’re in the middle of something on a constant basis we don’t always catch the subtle signs of impending change.  The details of our day to day existence distract us so we don’t step back and take a look at the big picture, and even when we think we do, we look at it through a filter of what we think is happening. We look for things that will reaffirm what we believe to be true and ignore those that invalidate our truths, there’s even a term for it, “confirmation bias”.

Test yourself today.  Are your assumptions about what’s working (or not working) true? Answer these questions off the top of your head… then go run some tests to verify.

Your revenue generators:

  • Who are your key clients?Are they the same people as previous years?  
  • Any changes in buying patterns? Do you know why? Would they cite the same reason?
  • What about payment patterns? Anyone now a slow payer that wasn’t?

Your Customers or End Users:

  • What questions are your customers asking?
  • Do they indicate movement towards a new product line, a new technology or a new need?  
  • Are they finding you the same way they used to? (Think of the days of yellow pages vs. internet, vs. mobile technology). Can they find you using the method they’re using?
  • If you have a physical location does it show up on Google maps?
  • Does the name of your company, department or group actually indicate what you do or sell now?

Your Team:

  • Morale up or down? Why? 
  • Are you attracting better talent to join your team than the talent you’re losing to competitors?
  • Is your team all from the same background? Schools, geography, ethnicity, gender, age, economic background? Any chance that’s hurting you?  
  • How long have they been in the same roles? Is there an incentive for them to move out if they can’t move up? What will you lose if they move out?

External factors and competition:

  • Is your competitor’s market share shrinking or growing?
  • Is the overall market for what you offer shrinking or growing?  
  • If the market is shrinking, what’s taking the place of what you are offering? Is there a new technology or is someone else promising a “magic bullet” solution to your customer’s needs? What’s attractive about that “magic bullet?”

Find any surprises?  We’re so busy trying to “make it all work” that tectonic shifts can be taking place beneath

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our feet without our noticing. Consider today a starting point, a new commitment to seeing the whole playing field.  For even more things to take a look at, download a copy of our free field guide, Reading the Terrain, by subscribing at with your email address. It will help you look at your playing field with fresh eyes.

Have you ever missed a key change in your industry? How did you catch up? What opened your eyes? Discuss in our comments section.

 

Steve Simpson and his Unwritten Ground Rules on Meetings

If you’re leading an organization through a complex change you don’t have time for ineffective meetings. If you’re like me you’ve sat through any number of meetings where the majority of the participants are “praying to the blackberry gods” (i.e. hands in lap, frantically typing and head bowed to read messages the entire time). How can you tighten up the focus and read the undercurrents of what’s going on in the room at the same time?

Steve Simpson of Australia has provided some great tips in his series of videos on the Unwritten Ground Rules and specifically how they relate to business meetings. He addresses what you can read into a corporate culture just by observing their meetings, and also gives some key pointers on how to make meetings more effective, while taking an organization’s hidden culture into account.

Enjoy! (hey, if you’re reading this in a cube, put the headphones on BEFORE clicking!)

What’s the most effective strategy you’ve seen for holding effective meetings? How do you keep important meetings on track so that you’ve got something accomplished at the end? Please share in the comments box!

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If you’d like to learn more about reading YOUR organizations culture, get our free guide “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing in the box at right. This guide will provide you with some great questions to ask yourself about multiple aspects of the organizations structure and may show some key details you’re overlooking.  Also check out our 10 Rules to consider before beginning any turnaround plan.

Rule #3 Weigh the Opportunity Cost

Joseph Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter, economist and Master of opportunity cost

During my freshman year’s eight o’clock microeconomics class one of the few things that made absolute sense to me was the concept of Opportunity Cost, a theory by Friedrich Von Weiser.  It was an “aha” moment of epic proportions where I could finally explain the best way to determine the true cost of making one choice over another.

Simply put, if you have finite resources, when you choose one path of action, you will be using some of those resources up, and they will no longer be available for other activities. If you plan a course of change that will require 400 hours of IT time, without additional overtime or staffing, you would be making those resources unavailable to other departments or projects.

Opportunity Cost forces you to run the overall value of any planned activity or change against the resources it will use up. Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update a website?  Maybe.  Is it worth 400 hours of IT time to update the website if it will slow customer service response time for your internet customers? What other projects will need to be put on the backburner in order to pull the IT team for 400 hours?

This is why you will need to be able to absolutely quantify the net savings or revenue that will result from your plan of action. You must show that the resources you require are the highest and best use of those finite resources.

P.S. Unfortunately about the only other thing I recall from my very early class was of Von Weiser’s fellow Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, not his economic theories, but his desire to be known for three things; “To be the world’s greatest economist, the finest horseman in all of Austria, and the greatest lover in Vienna.”  He claimed to have achieved two of the three. Clearly he weighed his opportunity costs.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.  

Rule #2: What you knew on the very first day, is what you need to remember now.

Remember the first day you worked at this company, this department?  Some slight boredom, endless paperwork tempered with the excitement of starting something new.  You had some time on your hands to observe while you waited for HR to send back your docs, or your first client to call. Most likely you observed some stuff that didn’t quite make sense, processes that didn’t seem to be working well; a system that seemed to have a vital hiccup.   And you didn’t raise a red flag because, hey, you were the new guy, maybe you just didn’t get “how things worked.”

A few months later, the “Kool-Aid” has been drunk and you’re part of the team. And you don’t notice those things as much anymore. Or someone gave you some sort of explanation about them that kind of made sense or implied a higher level of thinking had already thought through that problem.

Except, you were right, your beginner’s eyes caught something important.

When I take note of things on the first week of any assignment with a new team, if I look back at the notes a year later, there is clarity of thought that often points to a key weakness of the group, team or setup.  It’s generally not people perceptions, but rather processes, procedures or underlying assumptions of the business model that have a “hole” which, while not fatal, may keep the business from achieving the greatest return on its efforts.

Go back to the beginning. Did you take notes? (If not, make sure you always do going forward.) You may not have been 100% correct in your impressions, but I guarantee, somewhere in those first few days, you saw a glimmer of one of the problems that is dogging your team now.

Start digging there.

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015