Monday, July 31, 2006

When institutional cultures and innovation clash

I was scanning one of the Corante Innovation Hub's feeds, and I came across this line. I have been doing a bit more reading in the area of innovation and organizations. At this point, I mostly scan what I have added, but I am finding some interesting things. At any rate, the post's title is "Culture Shock: Do Most Innovation Problems Come Down to Culture?" According to Jeffrey Phillips, a Corante contributor, "Probably a third of the people I spoke to [at the Front End of Innovation conference] felt stymied by their culture - to the point where they've given up trying to implement anything and are simply observers of innovation." The line stuck with me for a couple of reasons. For one, while I was at Immersion, I had a chance to talk to some people in the program track during breaks and common sessions. A very common concern for the program folks was the issue of institutional culture. It seems they had a lot of questions in that regard, and some of those questions did make their way into the teacher track as well. How do you bring innovation when faced with an institutional culture that is stagnant, indifferent, and/or resistant? I will admit that I also wondered about that question. I am still looking for an answer.

Second, I wondered about libraries in general. The blog sector where librarians hang out is often full of the people who "get it." We hear of a few librarians who do great things, which is wonderful. We need more of those. However, it bothers me often that those who "get it" feel the need to chide (or worse) those who "don't get it." Here is my question: what if you do "get it," but you are in a culture that stymies you so much that you know implementing anything is out of the question? Sure, I am all for becoming the change you want to see and so on. One should be able to put their money where their mouth is. But there are places and moments that will drown the most shining example of a luminary. You see, for many of those libraries that do the wonderful things the rest of us read about, they needed to have institutional support in one form or another. They could have had the greatest minds of the L2 movement, but without an institutional culture to nurture, embrace them, and commit to innovation, they could have given up, or more likely used the power of their feet. I think it's easy to chide those seen as "not getting it" when you are in an easy supportive position. What is tragic is when someone talented and brilliant gives up to become the observer, and it probably happens in a quiet fashion that many do not consider. That came to mind when I read that line.

While I thinking, the post also quotes a definition of "learning moments" that I found interesting. I don't necessarily think that libraries will start giving out trips as prizes to those who share their learning moments. However, if my director is so inclined, I may have a list of places in mind I would not mind visiting (I know she reads this, thus the remark). What I want to point out is that the idea of removing fear so that learning can occur and be shared is a good one. It's good to take risks. Anyhow, the quote is from the CEO of WD-40 according to the post:

"A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation. But what it really is, is a culture where people are applauded and rewarded for sharing what works and what doesn't work. It's a freedom culture. It is one that takes away fear. I ran a 12-month program where every month I had people email me and share their learning moments. They would all get prizes and in the end we sent one of our employees on a fully paid trip around the world. The first month there were a few emails. Then as they saw they weren't being punished for this, more came."
In the time I have been a teacher, I have come to learn from what works and what does not work. You have to take risks. Sure, you will fall flat a few times, some lesson plans will simply implode or explode, and that should be ok. I like that freedom culture.


Tobey said...

I am slowly resigning myself to the fact that I work in a library full of, not really technophobes, but techno-apathetics. No one is interested in learning about new ways to deliver information; all they see is "something else to learn on the computer."

It's getting to the point where I don't suggest anything anymore. I'm pretty much treading water until I finish my MLIS--it stinks, though. I also would love suggestions on how to deal with co-workers and management who, for whatever reason, rarely suggest or support innovative ideas.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I have a bit of both. On the one hand, there are a couple of people with interest, but given a serious lack of resources (funding and personnel), things don't get far. Then we do have a good share for whom suggesting anything does translate into "something else to learn on the computer," which means passive-aggressiveness is deployed, and you can forget about getting anything done. Overall, one of the things I have found that helps is jumping ahead with an idea. Go around the system. Try it out for yourself on a small scale, learn as much as possible. That way, when you do suggest it, you can have some evidence that cannot be denied. And hang in there. Best, and keep on blogging.