Change is Scary…the first 90 days in a new leadership position

The following is from an essay I wrote as part of my doctoral studies in educational leadership and management. It was a response to a prompt asking for the steps that should be taken upon stepping into a new leadership role. My organization will soon be going through a transition of leadership. Libraries and schools have a lot in common when it comes to managing people and resources. The concepts taught in an educational leadership program can be helpful when transitioning in a leadership role in a library as well….or really any organization.

According to Watkins, “[t]he actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and make needed changes in an organization” (Gallos, 2008, pg. 293). To have a smooth transition, it is important that a new leader, follow a series of steps not just during the first year, but in the first ninety days. These include evaluating the program, collaborating with stakeholders, transitioning towards change within the organization, and reflecting on the process. As Fullan (2011) states, change can be scary. The leader’s role is to make this change as smooth of as transition as possible for stakeholders.

First Steps: Evaluation

According to Watkins, during the first ninety days, it is important to take a diagnostic look at the organization the leader is joining so as to understand the full scope of the challenges and opportunities (Gallos, 2008). He recommends having crucial conversations with stakeholders about the expectations the new leader has for those within the department. Fullan (2011) describes a situation where a new leader to an organization started his role by contacting others in the organization to ask what the organization meant to them. Before making any changes to the organization, this leader first took the time to have conversations about the importance of the organization and what the organization meant to the stakeholders within that organization. Doing this can not only help the new leader gain a clear picture of the organization, but also an understanding of the culture that makes up the backbone of the organization. Taking the time to listen to the stakeholders is also a way to inspire authentic leadership (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow; 2009; Gallos, 2008). These first initial steps are crucial to the developmental growth of the new leader.

Since it is important for the new leader to inspire trust and buy-in within the organization, an evaluation model using a collaborative and participatory approach is recommended (Ruft-Eft & Preskill, 2009). Using this type of approach can result in the inclusion of a large stakeholder group, a better understanding of the program and its effectiveness, and improved skills. By involving stakeholders, opportunities are created to help the leader and the new supervisors learn from those who are vested in the program. It also brings to the surface the values and beliefs that are inherent to the culture of the department.

Also important is to take a look at the roles of those in the organization; Watkins recommends that the leader look at team members and their roles to decide if some restructuring is needed (Gallos, 2008). Leaders should approach change carefully so that the people in the organization may adjust to the change. Overall, they must place building relationships as a priority before all else or the changes they hope to implement will be doomed to failure (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2008; Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

It is important to also evaluate each situation and decision through a lens of inspiring trust within the organization. Evans (1996), states that leaders who are authentic are the ones who inspire trust and are followed. Goals and actions must be aligned, and there needs to be transparency behind the steps taken. The more open communication is, and the more information is shared, then the higher the probability of success for implementing changes. This can also be part of the crucial conversations with stakeholders. Holding conversations among the stakeholders can also lead to the development of better collaboration which leads to the next step in the process.

Second Steps: Collaboration

Watkins suggests that to build leadership capacity within the first ninety days, the leader must create coalitions where alliances are made with members of the organization who all have a shared vision of the success of the organization (Gallos, 2008). Relationships are very important to change initiatives. While having a coalition is great towards moving the change forward, there must be a clear vision of what the changes are and how the department plans to initiate them (Fullan, 2011). Senge (2012) recommends the practice of dialogue as a way to build alignment toward a shared vision and goals. In a dialogue session, people can talk safely about issues that may exist within the department. Once everyone’s thinking has been established, the organization can then begin to move towards establishing actions towards change.

When it comes to decision-making, a team would be established to come together when there are a large number of choices, typically four to ten, to evaluate. This evaluation would be done using an evaluation matrix (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). To complete the matrix, the team would look at the criterion that needs to be considered for the evaluation. The criteria could be looking at the purposes of a resource; for example, does it fit multiple needs or is it too subject specific? What is the return on investment? By involving the team in the decision and evaluation, the leader is acknowledging that everyone is part of a larger system (Senge et al., 2012). Before beginning the transition process, showing that the opinion of the people in the organization holds value is essential to establishing the authenticity of the leader (Fullan, 2011).

Third Steps: Transitioning

According to Bridges (2003) and Fullan (2011), change is a messy process that inspires fear in many people. Part of that fear is because there is too much that is unknown. In this scenario, the unknowns are the new leader coming in and how that will affect the organization. Bridges’ transition process can result in a relatively painless and simplified journey. Bridges (2003) says that there are three stages in the transition process: endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings.

Endings. To begin, one must start with the end. This is not looking at what may happen in the future, but rather saying goodbye to the way things were (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). Some of the things that may need to be said goodbye to are the previous leader and old ways of doing things. This could initially cause tension within the organization because the staff is unsure of what will happen next. The conversations that were mentioned in the previous section are a good place to start for understanding what the concerns may be of the people in the organization. These conversations can help to clear up any misunderstanding that might exist from the confusion (Gallos, 2008).

Neutral zone. The neutral zone, according to Bridges (2003) is the in-between zone of the transition caused by change. In this phase of the transition, people are uncomfortable. Because of this discomfort, some people will try to rush forward before they are ready, and others will try to go back to the past. It is inevitable that they cannot return to where they were, but they also cannot move forward too fast, or they will be doomed to failure (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). By taking their time in the neutral zone, they can prepare themselves for moving forward by changing their mindsets. Watkins suggests that it is the role of the leader to make sure the organization is up to speed on what they need to know so they do not lag behind too long (Gallos, 2008). Communication during the transition is crucial to the success of the change initiative.

New beginnings. In the final phase, people need to accept that things are different and change their behavior to succeed where change is concerned. According to Bridges (2003), many people freeze when they are faced with a change to how they have done things. They did not want to let go of the past and accept that things are different. However, new beginnings should be celebrated rather than feared. It is a time for new starts and acceptance. Watkins suggests achieving early wins by identifying opportunities in the organization where good things are happening (Gallos, 2008). Celebrating these small wins is a way to build momentum within the department, but it also helps towards establishing the authenticity of the new leader.

Because the transition stage is part of a process, it can overlap with the other steps. The leader must make sure to pause along the way to make sure that everyone in the organization is receiving accurate information and communication about the process and the changes being made. It is also important to note that the change process of transition is not a speedy one. While it may be tempting to push forward, the leader must recognize that not everyone in the organization will be in the same zone (Bridges, 2003). The leader’s role is to guide people through the process, listen, and reflect upon the actions made (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009).

Fourth Steps: Reflection

An important goal of the leadership transition in the organization is to maintain or improve the same level of quality, satisfaction, and program success that existed within the previous leadership. Senge (2010) states that “[a] society without a way to value its past naturally discounts its future” (pg. 373). Yes, while it is important in a transition process to let go of the things of the past (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009), that does not mean that there are not still things that can be learned from what was done. To maintain the sustainability of any change the organization initiates, the organization needs to step back and reflect upon the change initiative and the actions that were taken (Scharmer, 2009). There may be some comparison that needs to be made between the two approaches. The leader can hurt their authenticity if they do not acknowledge that there were things that were working under the previous leadership (Gallos, 2008).

Reflection is an important part of any leadership process, but especially when trialing new ideas that have not been tried before in the organization (Scharmer, 2009). As the leader, it is also important to reflect upon mistakes to see what can be learned (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). Scharmer (2009) and Senge (2012) both argue that internal listening, or presencing, are ways of connecting to people and your change initiative. This is a process that involves not just listening to the self but also having an open mind, open heart, and listening to others. In addition to the leader looking inside, the leader should also hold additional reflective dialogues with the stakeholders within the organization. It is always a possibility that the change effort could result in failure, but there are still lessons that can be learned from these failures. It is important to reflect upon those to see what the organization, or system, can learn from them (Scharmer, 2009; Gallos, 2008). This is different from the dialogues that were held during the evaluation stage of the process. In that stage, the leader was trying to learn about the culture and the people within the organization. This reflective stage takes place after the transition; the purpose of this reflection is to evaluate whether the change is working or if something needs to be tweaked in the process. Change is a process that might not work out the first time. If the leader hopes to remain authentic and sustain success, then they must be prepared for the possibility that the process could take a while (Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

Summary

While the steps illustrated here focus on the first ninety days of undertaking the role of leader within an organization, it is a process that will not end in three months or even in the first year. The value of taking an adaptive and authentic approach to leadership is that the leader is always learning (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009; Gallos, 2008. If the leader is coming from outside of the organization, they must first learn what they can about the culture and listen to the concerns of the people who make up the system. Listening to the people in the organization shows them that their opinions are valued and it can help to lessen any fears that they may have during the transition process (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2009). Before making any changes, first gain their trust (Evans, 1996). Once implementing the changes, make sure to maintain open communication and collaboration between those in the organization (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). There is a goal of continuous improvement and collaboration where everyone in the organization has a voice and an important role (Gallos, 2008). After the change process is started, then again reflect on the changes that were made to decide if they are working. This is a process that may loop back on itself, but to maintain sustainability, it must be accepted that things might not work. The organization was successful under the previous leader; however, the only constant is change which means that the organization cannot keep doing things as they were previously done. Together through open hearts, open minds, and open will; changes can be successful.

References

Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. (2007). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing for 21st century learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boss, S. (2011). Technology integration: a short history. In Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-history

Bridges, W. (2003). Managing transitions: Making the most of change (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change: reform, resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gallos, J.V. (2008). Business leadership: a Jossey-Bass reader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Heifetz, R., Linsky, M. & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership. Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Press.

Pucchio, G.J; Mance, M; & Murdock, M. (2011). Creative leadership: skills that drive change (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Russ-Eft, D. and Preskill, H. (2009). Evaluation in Organizations: A Systematic Approach to Enhancing Learning, Performance and Change. New York, NY: Perseus Books.

Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Senge, P, Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. & Kleiner, A. (2012). Schools that learn. New York, NY: Crown Business.

Senge, P.; Smith, B.; Kruschwitz, N.; Laur, J.; & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution:working together to create a sustainable world. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

How I Got Here

Settle in, it is time for storytime; this is going to be a long one. There is a library conference taking place right now. I am not attending, but it made me think of the topics you might hear at one. It is very typical that when you attend a professional conference, there may be a panel of people taking about their professional journey and the road that took them to where they are today. I am a librarian, educator, and author. So I thought it might be interesting if I talked about my own journey to how I got where I am today.Read More »

Crash Course on Creativity in the Workplace

Now that my presentations are over for the conference season, I thought it might be interesting to share with you a bit about what I talked about during my speaker session on Creativity in the Workplace. I have previously mentioned that I spoke at a conference this month. It was a library conference, but the topic is one that transcends fields. So here is a crash course on Creativity in the Workplace…this have been edited from the actually presentation and I have tried to insert the sources that I used, but honestly, my notes didn’t always have an in-text citation of the source. I kept those as a running list on my last slide.

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When time began, it was believed that creativity was a gift from the gods and therefore divine. Greek philosophers like Plato believed that we were creative only through the grace of the Muses. There was a mysticism about it. It didn’t help that during the early 19th century, Phrenology was used to determine someone’s creative ability. This was based on the study of the sculptures and busts of creative geniuses from fields of music, literature, and the arts. For decades, researchers turned their backs on the study of creativity. That is until the 1950s when American Psychological Association president Guilford proposed in his presidential address that creativity was an aspect of psychology that needed further research and understanding. He was a pioneer in the study and devised psychometric assessments to not only study it but also measure it. His research led the way for Torrance’s study of creativity in Children, and Amabile’s current research on workplace creativity.

While the study of creativity has picked up more traction in popular culture over the years thanks to notable speakers like Sir Ken Robinson who talks about the importance of teaching creativity in schools or Wharton professor Adam Grant with his study on original thinkers and ideas. For many, when we think of creativity, we can’t get past the idea that it is something for the artists or musicians…or if we put it into library terms…our children’s librarians and our marketing people. This perception contributes to a misunderstanding and a devaluing of creativity as a science as well as a business tool. Fostering creativity in business means more than having a foosball table in the breakroom or funky artwork on the walls. As stated on Drexel’s website, an IBM survey of over 1,500 chief executive officers from 33 countries found that creativity is the most important factor in the ability to navigate an increasingly complex world (IBM Global CEO Study, 2010). Creative thinking is part of the foundation that guides our problem solving, our sustainability, and our progress towards the future.

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Before we can delve into the role that creativity plays in our organizations, we must first understand what creativity is and what it is not. According to creativity researcher Chris Bilton, creativity is both everywhere and nowhere. It is the key to unlocking competitive advantages. But what does creativity really mean?

From a psychological and psychometric perspective, creativity means novelty; a deviation from what might be considered conventional. But novelty is not enough to make something creative. It must also be useful or valuable. There is of course context that plays into this as what is novel or new to the individual might not necessarily be new to the world. Then comes meaning…who determines if something holds value?

Have you ever purchased a movie ticket? The opera? A musical? A play? Have you attended an art gallery? This one is an easy one (in the session, we all worked with libraries)…have you purchased a book (or checked it out) and then talked about it with others? Well, then you have contributed to determining if something was creative.

It is those already within the field, society, and culture that determine if an idea is creative. There is no value unless the group or society assigns value. Many an idea had been proposed well before its time, such as the tablet computer, but if the world is not ready, then the idea will not move forward. Sternberg & Lubart relate this to their investment theory in that a creative must also be able to communicate their idea so it can gain traction in the market. If an idea is original, but not useful then it is not necessarily creative. Steve Jobs was very capable when it came to communication which is part of why Apple was so successful when they introduced the tablet computer. They weren’t the first and not necessarily the best.

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We often think of creatives as not only being those with an artistic bent, but also a bit of a mad genius. In truth, creatives are just people who see the world a little differently and genius is the result of fine tuning abilities within a certain domain like music. According to Runco, everyone has creative potential. This means that you can fine hone your skills to improve your creative ability. Someone who has moderate potential when provided with the right strategies and skills can outperform someone with more potential but who is disinterested in honing those skills. If a person does not find a domain that they are interested in, then their potential may go unfulfilled. The key is intention.

Have you ever heard the idea that people who are left-handed are more creative? My son is left handed, I am right handed. We are both artistic and draw. We also both lean towards being very logical when asked to answer or explain something. So where does the left-handed artistic thing come from? Well, in a way that is another misconception.

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You may have heard before about left brain vs right brain. Logic and sequential processing are assigned to the left hemisphere and creative logic on the right. Creativity on a neuroanatomical level is actually quite complex. When it comes to creativity, different parts of both sides of the brain are actually engaged depending on the task at hand. There have also been recent studies suggesting that the presence of certain dopamine receptors raise the individual’s potential towards creativity. However, those initial studies have shown the correlation to lean more towards the support of ideation and productivity and not originality. (Runco, 2014).

So now we have a definition and know a little bit of how the brain is involved. But what about innovation? What makes creativity different from innovation?

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I found this quote on the internet (though I can’t remember where anymore) and I love that definition for innovation. Many times when we think of innovations, we think of inventions or technology. But that is only partially true. Innovation is the act of putting creative ideas into reality. So really innovation is acting on any idea that is new to the organization or field.

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Now let’s focus on creativity in organizations. Much of the creativity in organizations has to do with the culture of the organization.

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According to Maslow’s definition of creativity, it is part of a process that can be used in problem-solving (Bilton, 2007).  So when it comes to defining creativity in an organization, it depends on the culture of the organization and the goals that motivate the people in that organization. Maslow’s belief was that creativity was something that happened at the top of the Hierarchy of Needs in the areas of self-actualization and purpose. If a person was struggling to have their needs met in the areas of shelter and security or even belonging, then they will have trouble reaching their potential.

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Rogers also states that the organizational culture has an effect on the whether creative ideas will be accepted or rejected by the organization. Ideas are accepted based on previous experiences that can be related to the idea, but also the personalities of those in the organization. How will the idea affect the organizational image? What are the advantages? Even “What’s In It For Me?”. Carson Block states that it is not only important to convince the decision makers to the benefits of an idea, but also their circle of influence.

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So what does the creative organization look like? Ekvall has created a questionnaire that measures key dimensions of the creative environment.

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The Creative Climates as described by Ekvall are the structures that exist around us and determine how we will react to our environment. It is our preconscious assumptions that have been created by what we have observed around us (Kaufman & Sternberg, 2006). The first nine dimensions on the chart are seen as positive dimensions; therefore if taking the questionnaire, a high rank is preferred. The last dimension of Conflict is seen as a negative dimension and the organization would, therefore, want to score on the low end for that dimension rather than high. While the climate dimensions are best utilized in an organizational environment, people do not live in a bubble. According to Kotter (1996), most of our development takes place in the workplace because that is where we spend most of our time. Therefore, there is a thin line between our professional and personal selves. The environments that we spend most of our time in have an impact on our creative behaviors and the lens through which we view our experiences.

In a creative environment, people are also engaged in the work they are doing. According to Csikszentmihalyi, when people are in a flow state, they are completely engaged in what they are working on (Collins & Amabile, 1999). Many organizations follow traditional hierarchies and bureaucratic methods of management where everything is regimented and specialized (Williams & Yang, 1999). However, as Csikszentmihalyi (1990) states, engagement is very much part of individual creation and cannot be found simply by following checklists and recipes for success. Variety, challenge to skills, creativity, and opportunities to set own goals are part of what can lead to an employee’s flow state. However, according to the Gallup’s (2017) Employee Engagement Survey, only 40% of employees feel that they are given the opportunity to use their talents and do what they do best. So what can we do about it?

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As I mentioned earlier, creativity can be an important business tool. Creative thinking can help in problem-solving and generating new ideas. Successful and sustainable organizations are the ones that recognize the potential of creativity and not only seek it out but also invest in it. As organizational leaders, there are some things that can be done to provide the right environment for creativity to flourish.

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When an employee comes to their supervisor or organizational leader with an idea and the supervisor immediately says “That will never work” this creates an environment where employees become afraid to voice their ideas. In such an environment, when there is a fear of failure, it is hard for creativity to flourish. Employees want to know that what they say and what they do matters; not just to the organization, but also to the world. Employees also want to feel supported not just in what they are doing right but also knowing that it is okay to make mistakes.

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Learning from our mistakes is necessary for the growth of the organization just as much as it is to the growth of the individual. Fullan (2011) states that mistakes are not always a bad thing. Sometimes mistakes should be celebrated just as much as the successes. This is especially important in a learning organization because much can be learned from mistakes. If an organization is too scared to make mistakes, then they will never take risks and strive towards innovation because they are afraid of failure.

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Instead of immediately saying no to an idea, look instead towards design thinking processes and think of ways to scale down the idea so as to be able to trial it on a scale that will not be detrimental to the organization if it should fail. Such as testing out a new library programming idea once a month to gauge the interest of the community rather than implementing it as a regular weekly session. Or trialing a new service at one branch before implementing it systemwide. Remember to review and evaluate!

It may also be helpful for the organization to identify who their innovation champions are. According to Tanner and Reisman (2014), it is imperative to give freedom and space for innovation champions in organizations. The roles of these innovation champions are to identify high priority needs within the organization. Tanner and Reisman (2014) give a list of eight characteristics that creative innovation champions exhibit. The first is discontent with the status quo. This means questioning the way things have always been done. The second characteristic is to have an open mind. As stated above, this would not mean jumping on the first idea but instead investigating alternative solutions to solve problems. The third is a prepared mind; always searching out the trends, new research, and facts. Fourth is positive thinking; it important to keep a positive mindset and keep looking forward. Failure does not mean the end; it means an opportunity to make changes and find something better. Fifth is willing to take risks. Sixth is being action-oriented. When someone is action-oriented, he or she does what he or she says he or she is going to do. The seventh is persistence. The eighth is that a creative innovation champion must be hard working. Tanner and Reisman (2014) mention that this is the one characteristic that is common to all creative innovation champions as without being willing to engage in hard work, none of the other characteristics will carry an idea very far.

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The job of fostering creativity and innovation is not just the job of the innovation champions. Certainly, they can help an idea move forward, but everyone has a role when it comes to creativity. Sharing Ideas at work is something that should be highly encouraged. In fact, not only should discussing ideas formally be encouraged, but also less formal ways as well. Many an idea has sprung from those ah-ha moments to be had in conversations. These types of conversations should take place between departments and even between different organizations. A fresh set of eyes can often recognize problems that are difficult to see at first. One of my favorite stories comes from silicon valley where a group of engineers were trying to solve a difficult problem. They worked long into the night and could not see the solution. Upon taking a pizza break, it was while the delivery man was waiting for his payment that he saw their whiteboard and asked a question. He did not have an engineering background, but what he did have was a different perspective. This question was the ah-ha moment that the group needed and the solution was easily found.

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Organizations that foster competitiveness among staff instead of collaboration rarely see these ah-ha moments from the sharing of another perspective. When people see generating creative ideas as part of a competition, then they are more unlikely to share those ideas with each other. They don’t talk to each other, they hide their work from each other or horde resources. When there is no sharing, there is no collaboration, no new perspectives, and creativity becomes stifled. One of the problems with extrinsic motivation, such as monetary reward programs, is that it can cause competition which can cause creativity and innovation to falter. Let’s take a look at an example of a creative system in place in many organizations.

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The simple suggestion box is a creative system that has existed since the late 1800s when it was implemented by a Scottish Shipbuilder for his company. Almost simultaneously in the US, it was put in place by John Patterson, founder of the company National Cash Register. Patterson had discovered that his own employees were sabotaging his products. Upon investigation, he discovered that working conditions were horrible supervisors did not listen to the ideas of the workers, if the employees even brought the suggestion up in the first place. NCR had a culture where workers were afraid of reprisal from management, of supervisors taking credit for their ideas, or that anyone who made a suggestion was out for their job. The workers felt like they had no voice, so why would it matter if they worked hard for the benefit of the organization.  So Paterson devised a system where every employee could share suggestions or concerns without fear of reprisal. In fact, ideas were celebrated companywide. Many organizations still use the system today, but there are also several organizations that have discontinued their use.

One of the problems with Paterson’s system is that it relied on cash rewards. This type of extrinsic motivation does not truly motivate staff. For companies in the US who still use suggestion boxes, the adoption rate of ideas implemented from suggestion boxes is less than 40% and the participation rate is less than 11% in companies that use the system. Because they are based on extrinsic motivation. However, in Japan, they use a system called Kaizen which means good change for really any creative endeavor is really a change endeavor. The Japanese approach to the suggestion box is based more on intrinsic motivation. If an employee offers a suggestion that would cost the organization more money in the long run, then the company sees this as an opportunity to find out where there are information gaps in an employee’s knowledge and educate them. There are no bad ideas because they are all opportunities. The employees see this as there chance to make changes for the better in their organization. This different perspective yields an 89% adoption rate of ideas and a 74% participation rate.

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The benefit of having such a system in place for suggestions is that employees will feel like they have a voice, that their ideas will not be overlooked, and that they can make a difference in their organization. This is part of a continuous improvement process. However, remember that few employees will submit ideas to a system that does not show strong support or attention. Ideas should also be documented for accountability. But simply asking for input does no good if employees feel like no one is listening.

Forming an idea committee is a great way to problem solve. Here is an example of the idea process:

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It takes places in phases. Such as determining the need. In many cases, it is actually easy to come up with solutions, it is identifying the problem that is the true challenge. Once the Need has been established, a committee can move on to the idea generation phase, this would be where you would apply creative thinking techniques like brainstorming. During the Screening & Development phase, ideas are discussed and either weeded out or improved upon. During the Enrichment phase, ideas are tested on a small scale with mockups or models, or in some cases trial sized programs. The last stage is the results stage where the idea is developed, evaluated, and implemented.

Take a moment to try an experiment. Take out a pen and a piece of paper. It can even be the back of a napkin. Draw a simple coffee cup and saucer. Go ahead.

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Okay, now get a little creative with the cup.

When asked to perform this experiment with a group of executives from Morgan Stanley, researchers received many different styles of coffee mugs. Those who were struggling to come up with a simple cup had no problem when asked to be creative. However, even though there were chalices and dragon mugs, they all had the same thing in common. All the mugs were drawn from the same perspective, from the side (Achor, 2013).

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When problem-solving, we see many different solutions, but they are all usually generated from the same perspective. Just like the silicon valley story, a different perspective is often what you need to solve a problem and generate ideas.

Another idea for fostering creativity borrows on the idea of mindfulness. Seppala (2016) recommends that managers and their staff do nothing. Allowing for time to let the mind wander not only serves as a break from intense workloads, but also for generating creative new ideas. This could be as simple as taking a walk or a “fieldtrip” to a business unlike the one of which currently employed. Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly. Many professional development conferences now feature behind the scenes tour as part of a pre-conference experience. These tours echo the idea proposed by Seppala (2016 September) that a change in scenery might be need to stimulate ideas.

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In order to provide opportunities for flow states to flourish, organizations must create environments that are conducive to these states. This can be accomplished by allowing employees the opportunity to set their own goals and the flexibility in how they will achieve those goals. Additionally, employees should be given the opportunity to utilize their skills in creative ways that not only realistically challenge their abilities but also helps contribute to the purpose or mission of the organization.

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If you have laughed today, then you are well on your way to increasing your creativity. Studies have shown that when we laugh, our creative problem-solving abilities increase. So similar to the field trips that I discussed a moment ago. If you are stuck, take a break. Go look at some silly memes on the internet or cute cat videos. In fact, a Japanese study nicknamed the Kawaii study discovered that when we look pictures of baby animals we increase our productivity. This baby-schema study found that we have a biological urge to become more alert when confronted by the wide eyes of baby animals and yes, human babies too.  Or better yet, turn to YouTube. After watching a brief clip of Robin Williams performing standup, researchers from Drexel and Northwestern found that their study participants were 20% more effective at puzzle solving. (Daisley, 2018)

Researchers have also discovered that when we participate in small “c” creativity endeavors, this can decrease our stress levels which can help to make us more productive. Small “c” creativity consists of everyday creativity such as organizing a book display or bulletin board, writing a press release, or even prepping for a storytime craft activity. —-This blog is an example of a small “c” activity!

Csikszentmihalyi recommends that employees find ways to challenge themselves. Eikenberry suggests emulating creative geniuses by doing the following:

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Don’t stop creating!

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Culture is a big part of fostering creativity, but here are some creative thinking techniques that can also be applied to problem-solving:

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Brainstorming is a technique popularized by Alex Osborn in the 50s as a way to generate many ideas for solving a problem. It is probably the technique that most organizations are familiar with today. The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible. However, a good brainstorming session should not be a no-holds bar free for all. It is important that you have constraints like a time limit, how will ideas be shared, and who will participate in the session established at the beginning of the session. Also, before even beginning the session, there should be a plan in place for how ideas will be selected to implement.

Brainstorming is perhaps that most commonly known activity associated with creative problem solving, but there are many more ideas to help spur creative thinking. I highly recommend the book Thinkertoys because of the robust list and instructions for many different types of creative thinking techniques.

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Here are some of my favorites from the book:

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This is an idea developed by the Central Intelligence Agency to encourage agents to look at a challenge from many different angles. Dissect the problem in as many ways as possible. Listen to the questions people ask about other problems. Think about how those questions can be applied to your problem.

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The principle behind the Idea Box is similar to a hand of Poker. By discarding cards, you are able to create combinations to increase the odds of having a winning hand. This can also be done when it comes to generating new ideas. You choose the number and parameters for the challenge, the greater the number, the more possibilities you have. The idea box allows us to see the relationships between elements by breaking it down into parts. For example, the challenge could be a new product for a publisher. The publisher decided on four parameters with five variations of each. By connecting these four areas, the publisher could create a scratch n sniff cookbook advertising a company’s product. This same idea can be applied to creating a new library service or program.

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This is another CIA technique. With this technique, you are looking more closely at the idea for critical analysis. This process uses a specially selected group who are brutal to an idea. They look for any way that the idea might not work. They do this because if weakness can be discovered before the idea moves forward, then they can be circumvented before they become a problem. Some questions to ask are is this idea really serve a need in the community, who might resist this idea, what risk factors are acceptable, who should be involved, what is the worst that could happen, what is the best that could happen?

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I wouldn’t be a very good librarian if I didn’t recommend some titles for you to check out for more information on creativity. So here are a few:

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Gamestorming is my go-to book when it comes to group idea generating. There are lots of great activities in here to help you spark new perspectives or new ideas. We have used this book in training sessions before for activities like “Welcome to My World” which puts the staff member in someone else’s shoes to see if the job of the other employee is really what they thought it would be.

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I was fortunate to see Sir Ken Robinson speak at one of the Masie Learning Conferences and what he said about creativity has really stuck with me in regards to how we educate children. The Element gives lots of great stories about the education and childhoods of lots of creative individuals. Highly recommend reading this and watching his TED Talks on YouTube.

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I have already informed my bosses that if Professor Adam Grant was to offer me a job, I would probably not hesitate to turn in my resignation (Are you reading this Adam? Let’s talk.). He has a podcast sponsored by TED, I follow him on LinkedIn, everything I have read by him is amazing. Originals is an interesting book that gives you a different perspective on creativity and taking risks.

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I would probably say the same if Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came to me too, but I don’t want to move to the West Coast. His work has heavily influenced my perspective of creativity in the workplace. In addition to his book Creativity, you should also check out his book Flow!

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Linda Hill has a fascinating TED talk about leading innovation. She discusses how innovation leaders break down silos to harness the power of collective genius. Everyone in the organization has a voice and shares thoughts with each other. She uses the example of Pixar where even the gaffer’s assistant can approach the director of the film with a suggestion. In fact, Pixar believes that everyone who works on a project serves a vital role right down to the babies that were born during the film. If you look at the closing credits of a Pixar film, you will see that they list every baby born to staff during the project. You can find out more in the book she collaborated on, Collective Genius.

Yes, this may have sounded heavily academic, but hey, I am an academic. Here is a list of most of the resources that went into my presentation:

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I have to say that it was an interesting experience. If you read my Faking it ‘Til You Make It post, then you already have the background on how unnerving it was for me. But I am very passionate about the subject and hope you are enjoying the posts I have been sharing about you in regards to my cooking related small “c” experiments with my instant pots or my “creative” financing posts as I try to balance the family budget on one income. I love writing, so even if no one is reading this, I am still getting the benefits to my stress levels by putting forth this creative endevor…more on that can be found here.

 

 

Personal Learning Networks

As was mentioned in a previous post, one of my classes this quarter is on Social Media. More specifically, it is about social media usage in K-12 schools. Since I do not work in a school system, I approach the topic more as someone who collaborates with schools and that is kinda how I approach my Personal Learning Network (PLN). The people in your PLN should extend beyond your current field or friends. But I am getting ahead of myself…

So what is a PLN? Let’s start first with the PLE- Personal Learning Environment

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Everyone’s PLE is going to look a little different.

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This is what mine looks like:

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I have it broken down into five sections: Resources, Curation, Networks, Communication, and Locations. Your PLE is always in flux and could change depending on what resources are available to you, your current interests, or even your current career. For example, in my course, we are using Wikispaces, but the platform has just announced that they will shutter the site this summer. This reminds me a lot of the Digital Media Concepts and Production course I took as part of my graduate degree. I was introduced to a lot of great resources, but many of them don’t exist now because they merged with other products, the company was sold or went bankrupt, or there just is no more interest in it. Then there are some that we think are gone, but still exist…did you know MySpace is still up and running?

Now to focus on the network part of the PLE, we have the PLN:

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There are three types of PLNs: Synchronous- meaning real-time, Asynchronous- meaning not in real-time, and Semi-synchronous which is a blend of the two. This blog is an example of asynchronous.  If you visited my social media links, those would be semi-synchronous because we could connect in real-time or play a virtual version of phone-tag. *hint* I am usually always online with either a tablet, a phone, or a computer somewhere close by. So there is a good chance you will catch me via one of the social networks.

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Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook make up a big part of my PLN. I try to keep everything separate depending on the platform. For example, Facebook is for friends and family, though I have been branching out to include some private FB groups related to blogging. Next is LinkedIn which I keep strictly professional. I will connect with librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, and many others related to my scope of professional interest like educators, STEM, training, etc. I find people through conferences, trainings I have attended, and even follow several authors. Twitter is a mish-mash of the two. My Twitter contains people I know in real life, but also many others that I have never met. Some I follow for entertainment…my current Twitter obsession is following David Harbour’s adventures with his Twitter ReTweet challenges.

I am waiting for those “dad dance” pics with the penguins…

Then there are others that I follow for professional reasons such as the current Kid Lit controversy about notable male children’s authors sexually harassing other authors.

While I don’t attend the conferences mentioned in the articles, it is important that as a librarian, I am aware of stuff like this. This is why it is important to have people in your network from outside of your silo.

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I admit that I am not very active on the socializing part when it comes to using my Social Networks to their best advantages. I am working on that. In the meantime…

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Sometimes just observing can be okay while you figure out what is okay and what is not for a particular platform or group.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) has developed standards when it comes to technology usage in education. As a student, I think I am rocking it as far as the standards are concerned. This blog has gone a long way towards helping that along with sharing information and trying towards being a global collaborator. I teach at the graduate and professional levels rather than K-12, so the teacher standards also look pretty good to me, but that is because I have a lot of resources available to me. I teach via virtual classrooms and learning management platforms on a regular basis, so technology and my teaching are pretty integrated. Many of my students are current or future media specialists, so we try to also include resources that they can use in the schools (which is why I am taking a school focused Social Media course).

One thing I have learned is that when you plan on using a particular social media tool, plan on a backup as well. Last time I taught my grad course, we planned on using VoiceThread which allows you to narrate slides via a cloud upload. It only worked for half the students. So I quickly came up with an alternate submission platform using the course’s discussion boards. Now when I teach the course again, I will have that backup already available as an option.

I used to be a member of the Association for Library Service to Children‘s Children and Technology Committee, so teaching best practices, or media mentorship, when it comes to technology use and children is something that is very important to me. Technology is not going away, so it is important that we teach our children how to be responsible technology users. If we shelter them from it, then they are going to make mistakes because they haven’t been taught what responsible usage looks like. If we want them to learn, we are going to need to show them that we are willing to learn as well. So the question is, where can we go to learn?

As a librarian, the archive of resources from Little eLit has been a valuable tool that I still use with my grad students. ITSE has great educator resources. The perfect blend for me of librarian and educator is following the Daring Librarian who is a middle school librarian. She posts great tips and resources for her PLN. Pinterest also has great resources like app reviews and how-to manuals. Twitter has Tweet Chats on various topics. Your library may also have resources like Lynda.com for learning how to navigate the various tools and platforms. I currently have learning about Instagram on my to-do-list.

The closing down of Wikispaces does bring one question to mind…we are posting all this great content. So how can we make sure that we are archiving or preserving it for the future if the place we posted it will no longer exist? Where do we go from here?

 

Two years later…

Hi! It sure has been a while hasn’t it?

My last post was made in June…2013. So what have I been doing?

Working on a new book!

Best STEM Resources for NextGen Scientists: The Essential Selection and User’s Guide should be released in late June 2015.

Intended to support the national initiative to strengthen learning in areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, this book helps librarians who work with youth in school and public libraries to build better collections and more effectively use these collections through readers’ advisory and programming.

Make sure to order your copy today!