Being innovative

Being innovative in using technology with little money and staff is not a difficult thing. It requires:

  1. an understanding that things change,
  2. a commitment to spending time exploring new things, and
  3. sharing what you have learned with your friends

Play is a good thing. It is not for children only. Innovation is play. Innovation is a process where you look at a number of seemingly disparate things and join them together to create something new. In our current environment it is as important to play as ever. People's expectations are changing. The economic environment decreasingly surrounds manufacturing. Information technology is no longer the realm of librarians and computer specialists.

Innovation requires a staff of one -- you. Any administrator worth their weight in salt will recognize the need for innovation. Ask them straight out, "How much time can I spend per week on play?" Then take that time. Your email can wait. Innovation is a priority, not an extra.

Innovation does not require money, per se, unless you consider time to be money. Innovation can be a structured activity occurring on a regular basis like ever Friday afternoon or for an hour or two at the start of every day. Innovation can happen on the spur of the moment like a flash of intuition. Realize that emotional and intellectual maturity are not the only ways to be mature. Foster your creative side.

There is so much free software available it is rarely necessary to purchase anything. All you need is somewhat authoritative administrative rights on your computer and you're ready to go. Download Apache (for Windows or Unix) and create a Web server. Download Perl from activestate.com or perl.com and write a Hello World program. Download swish-e, an indexer, and create a searchable interface to a pile of HTML or XML documents. Download a relational database like MySQL and begin to create the "next generation" online catalog. Seek out and collect bunches o' "widgets & gadgets" and play with them. Examples include Firefox extensions, Worldcat search boxes, Javascript hacks, various Web browser toolbars and bookmarklettes. Ask yourself, "What is library all about, especially in the current environment?" Answer the question for yourself and try to put together a solution through innovation.

Brainstorming is a good technique for jumpstarting the innovation process, and there are innumerable ways to brainstorm. One of the easiest requires a chalkboard (whiteboard), a scribe, and a group of people. Articulate problem to be solved and go around the room listing possible solutions. No solution is silly. Brainstorming is not a time for evaluating solutions. Another technique is the "slap a piece of paper down on the table technique." Instead of calling out solutions have everybody write solutions on sticky notes. When everybody's ideas have been exhausted collect the notes, discuss them, and group them in to similar solutions. They key to both brainstorming techniques is the ability to listen. Do not criticize! Hear. Internalize. Give the idea a chance.

Once you have played with something and you believe you have some sort of solution, share it with your friends. Write a short essay describing your process. Let people play with your solution. This is where you will need a thick skin. You will need to be receptive to their observations. Take what they say in stride. Try not to play the role of the indigent artist. While some people will truly not understand what you have to say or your time was wasted, your efforts will be appreciated by someone and will help the profession move forward.


Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This essay was originally published on TechEssence at http://techessence.info/node/32.
Date created: 2006-04-15
Date updated: 2007-12-28
Subject(s): TechEssence; innovation;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/being-innovative/