Thanks to Mary, a reader who commented last week on HBR’s anti-creativity list. The list was helpful, she said, and a list of pro-creativity ideas would be even better. That really got me thinking, as did her vital question of balance — between fostering creativity and saying no to new ideas, having an idea and making it work, and funding traditional services or experimental ones. Today I’ll share thoughts on fostering creativity in day-to-day operations and follow with a post on thinking about the future of public libraries more creatively.
Even with the mirror effect (hiring someone who seems just like you), it takes time for new employees to adapt to an organization. I’ve found most people join one with enthusiasm and a positive attitude; they want to do well by being open to new things, asking good questions and sharing ideas. Too often they slowly become acculturated by countless small signals, like those captured in the anti-creativity checklist, to keep their heads down and go along to get along.
Acculturating people differently, to become employees that are comfortable asking “dumb” questions and seeing fresh approaches to established products and processes, also takes time.
Small and steady wins
Over the years I’ve turned around many sub-par operational departments and customer relationships gone sour. Success has rested upon:
- Setting modest, specific & measurable goals.
- Starting slow and building on success.
- Creating an environment where it’s okay (and fun) to try new things to meet an objective.
For public libraries, goals might include:
- By [date], increase museum pass circulation by 30% over the previous 12 mos.
- By [date], increase participation in an equivalent number of teen programs by 20% over the previous 12 mos.
- Recruit at least one challenger for every open position on the Friends Board and Library Board of Trustees.
This works because everything can be an object of creativity. Staying focused on the goal naturally helps people generate and evaluate ideas. From a management perspective, modest ideas are easier to approve. Also, starting with a review of existing operations mitigates the dilemma of funding traditional services versus new ones.
The approach requires patience in those who may see these efforts as minor; its transformative potential becomes clearer once the ball gets rolling.
A use case
Take a museum pass program, for example. To increase usage your library might update its website to include information on all the attractions in your area, whether or not you carry passes for them. This will help make your site a “go-to” place for area residents and generate awareness for this library program and others.1 Placing an eye-catching artifact from one of the local attractions in your lobby with promotional material about the museum pass program will also help generate awareness.
To foster engagement, you could create a passbook for children to have stamped at the library when they visit a museum and also craft fun, educational challenges for each one to help children get the most out of their experience. Each month, you could spotlight one of the organizations on your website and newsletter as well as curate a collection of related books, DVDs, websites, etc to draw people to the library and your website. And an annual event with activities to help people of all ages meet others who enjoyed the museums would be a great way for residents to engage with the library and each other.
The museum pass program will be more successful with the help of participating organizations. So let them provide text and graphics for your publications. Encourage them to submit news and event promotions for inclusion in your blog or newsletter — this is a great way to increase readership and add value for residents.2 These partners can be sources of free consulting so be sure to ask for suggestions and feedback, and compare notes on what works and what doesn’t. And what about other libraries in the area, is there creative potential in collaborating with them?
Creating a culture of initiative and accomplishment
Within the library, make sure all staff are aware of the program and its goals even if they are not working on it directly. Monitor your progress and publish your results monthly.3 Encourage questions and feedback. Within the program, keep talking about what you’re trying; if something isn’t working, tweak your approach until you find the “sweet spot”.
Also, as these new activities spur questions and ideas about other library functions be sure to capture them in a pre-determined place (I recommend somewhere visible like a whiteboard in the staff office) for further discussion and experimentation once the museum pass program hits its stride. At the end of your initiative, regardless of the outcome, have the people who worked on it meet to discuss lessons learned. If you’re part of a large library, find a way for the team to share its lessons in-person with other departments.
Then, start on your next initiative …
Finding the time
Are you thinking you don’t have time to do all this? Well, what needs to change so you can approach every library service richly and creatively?
- Is your staff proficient enough with office & web appliations to quickly publish content in paper and electronic form, or is it still a bit of a struggle? If publishing is a challenge, put the word out that you need a volunteer who does this for a living to do some training.
- Are you compiling statistics that don’t significantly impact your operations or manually collecting important data that should be generated automatically?
- Are you spending time in meetings (or in preparation for them) that don’t really accomplish anything?
- Is social media taking up a lot of staff time and not generating measurable results against your goals?
- Are you researching, procuring and administering grants with limited value?
- Are you reaching out for enough help, or keeping things going with a “tried and true” set of Friends and volunteers?
1Designing the site to accept user comments about each attraction will add to its value. Be sure to update the content and clear the comments each year to help keep the program and website fresh.
2WordPress and other platforms make this type of publication relatively easy by enabling people to submit content via the website that is held for curation until the newsletter is ready to be published.
3Publicly posting your goals and progress, in the library and via your website and newsletter can help generate a buzz and get staff and patrons on board.