Part 3: 33 Tips to Increase Innovation Capacity in your Library

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

September 26, 2017

Well, we’re finally at part three of this series. Here are my final ten tips and a bonus one. (Check out part one and part two here, in case you missed them.)

1. Understand the adoption curve

I love the adoption curve. It explains so much about why certain people are not as comfortable as others with innovation and change. Yet everyone (or nearly everyone) eventually (some estimates are that it takes 7–14 years—sigh) adapts to changes in our world. Basically, new innovations need to attract the use and attention of 15% of your target group before they break the overall inertia of the entire market. Bridging the chasm between the early adopters and the greater majority is a serious deal.

I have found that in the early phases of a new or innovative product the opinions of early adopters are most useful. As the product progresses though its lifecycle, the reactions and opinions of later adopters become increasingly important. Likewise, the opinions of folks who have a predilection to late adoption offer little substantive advice on transformational or leading edge technologies. We can easily track innovators through to early adopters and early-through-late majority in the adoption of Internet access and websites through libraries. Consider reading “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore.

2. Do research for yourself too

Set up alerts on your own hot issues and hot technologies. Your research skills are not just for your clients—use them to serve your own cause. Read the blogs in your field and have a trusted circle of bloggers who alert you to cool ideas, changes in our field and websites worth a look. Make sure to attend the keynotes and trends sessions at conferences, not just the core sessions in your area of expertise. Keep your mind open to the viral effects of these new information grapevines. Just look at the success of such technologies as RSS, blogs, Wikis, etc., achieved with little or no formal advertising, and now mutating into social ecologies. So many exciting things are happening.

3. Bring management on side first

Then add customers and users, BEFORE you launch. This is a truism in every book about innovation and product management. Yet it is shocking how often it’s ignored. Without your management on side—understanding your goals, intended impact, product and overall agenda—you risk failure. They are a key stakeholder and can certainly drive a stake through the heart of your project. Keep them in the loop, continuously.

4. Feedback is a gift

Like that wedding gift from Aunt Sally, you can keep it, display it, return it, or hide it in the closet. It’s your choice. Don’t overvalue one piece of out-of-context feedback or let it lurk in your mind’s eye out of balance. Feedback is best digested in the aggregate rather than in small doses. Squeaky wheels are fine and need to be oiled. But if it’s the engine that needs attention, then that well oiled wheel is just a distraction. Feedback shouldn’t be cause for stomach-wrenching stress. You are in control of how it can be dealt with (good or constructive or bad), and you need to hear and accept this gift from your stakeholders. Do you have easy feedback mechanisms on your website?

5. Measure—don’t just count

Decision makers CANNOT interpret your statistics. They either don’t have enough background or just don’t have the time to invest. You have to do it for them. Creating perfect visuals (bar charts, pie charts, graphs, infographics, and maps) that communicate difficult financial and statistical information effectively to decision makers is easier than ever. Management tends to prefer and absorb visual representation of key data insights over huge spreadsheets.

6. Sacrifice

Every organization has thousands of ideas worthy of consideration. No organization can do them all. That’s the tough part. When you have 100 good ideas to choose from, the critical skill isn’t choosing 5 but sacrificing 95. Learn the skill of temporary sacrifice. You can store your good ideas in an idea parking lot and bring them forward into the strategic planning process as other projects are completed. If you don’t choose to limit your energy to achieving success on those that will deliver the most value to your enterprise and users, you are choosing mediocrity. Build foundations first before trims and ornamentation.

7. Cheap is expensive

Especially in the long run. Think of cheap products as pilots for the real implementation. This seems obvious, but I am always shocked by the needless nickel and diming that limits the success of a project. Good budgeting and management are truly necessary, but financing success is different—and having a value system that prioritizes doing it right rather than doing it cheap is a best practice. Every real project should recognize the real costs of: conversions, customization, user adoption, marketing, introduction and launch and client support, etc.

8. Build for the future

Too often projects that are planned for 18-36 months are based on the naïve assumption that things will stay the same technologically. Remember the lessons of the past where things mutated quickly: DOS became Windows, diskettes became CD-ROMs, Netscape begat MSIE which begat Firefox/Chrome, online dial-up became web broadband, etc. You can’t be certain of the future, but you can’t wait for total stability either. That’s the ambiguity. Dealing with ambiguity is a key competency in change management and introducing innovation.

9. Learn from Best and BAD Practices

I admire those who can craft and communicate best practices. I also find it difficult to cull from these best practices exactly what caused the ‘successes’. However, when I hear about a worst practice, I seem to learn quickly and see the moral of the story really fast. Interesting, that. Here is a list of the ‘lucky seven’ themes of bad practices in introducing innovation in new products:

  1. Multiple, ambiguous objectives
  2. Different functional objectives
  3. Focus on current customers and confusion about future target customers
  4. Narrow engineering focus on elegant solutions and leisurely attitude to time
  5. Team doesn’t own the project and blame is shifted
  6. Narrow specialists in functional chimneys
  7. Unclear direction, no one in charge, accountability limited, inconsistent or invisible executive support

10. No mistake is ever final

One of my better bosses had this phrase framed on the wall of her office. She said she eventually got it done in needlepoint. We were part of a skunkworks that was tasked with re-technologizing a major corporation, as well as introducing transformational change into a huge market and changing the overall culture of the companies involved. No small feat. Not only did we make many mistakes; we learned from them. If we weren’t making mistakes, we weren’t trying hard enough. We tried to limit the exposure of our experiments, but as with learning to skate, if you’re not falling down, you’re just not learning well enough. Her sign “No mistake is ever final” encouraged us to try just that little bit harder to achieve greatness because we knew we had her support. If you want to change things for the better, you have to be a change agent—and that means you have to be comfortable with making mistakes and dealing with them effectively, while learning continuously.

BONUS TIP: Have some fun!

We are often too serious. Our work is serious and our impact on our communities is enormous! However, working creatively, trying new things and being innovative are fun. Take the time to recognize that and live your life to the fullest. Celebrate your successes and your team’s work. Champion your library’s achievements! Reward your colleagues when they succeed. Don’t ever get so heads-down that you can’t see the big picture. It’s a wonderful world.

Well, we’ve arrived at the end of this three-part series of posts. I hope you have found my old insights useful. I think that these could form the basis for a good discussion between development teams and library managers. As I said at the beginning, not every ‘tip’ is guaranteed to work every time or in every situation. It’s always good to keep talking, debating and working together to move our organizations and our communities forward. Finally, I’d also love to hear your insights and lessons learned over the years. My e-mail address is and I am always glad to hear from you.

Missed part 1 and 2?

Part 1: 33 Tips to Increase Innovation Capacity in your Library

Part 2: 33 Tips to Increase Innovation Capacity in your Library

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

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