Wednesday, March 10, 2010



-A sign in the Springfield Library -- the Springfield that's home to Marge and Homer Simpson and family

Today we travel to an unlikely place in search of inspiration for innovation, to a library in Gilbert, Arizona. There we can find the start of a radical notion known in the library world as "The Perry Branch Rebellion."

The Rebellion began with what qualifies as one of our Great Moments in Management. One day in 2006, a boss happened to say to an employee four of the most beautiful words in organizational life: Let's do something special.

Ah, what glory lurks in that little statement! Yet, such a suggestion is spoken rarely; the more common pronouncement is just the opposite, the dreary, "It doesn't have to be anything special" The heart sinks. But a young librarian named Marshall Shore recently recounted for me how one fine day he was asked by Harry Courtright to make a library special. (Perhaps we should also make this a Great Moment in Career Management because when I asked Shore if he'd be amazed at being asked to do something unique, he replied, "I'd developed a reputation for experimentation and innovation, so when they asked me to be involved, it was asking for something new." And there's the career chicken-egg – you have to be known for being special to be asked to be special.)

What Shore did was to seek out locals who did not use the library and ask, Why not? Here again, let us stop and admire: Most people, put in charge of opening a new library branch would seek out librarians and library users – the "experts" – to ask for "input." But, as Shore put it, "I want everyone to use the library so I wanted to see what was stopping people from coming in." He mostly heard two complaints: finding a book using the library numbering system, and the fines.

Given the nature of the economy, he couldn't give up a revenue source, like fines, but he could do something about those little numbers, the Dewey Decimal System that we all learned in school… didn't we all?... yet it's still off-putting to many prospective library users. I suppose it made them think of the crusty old school librarian with the schussing – a serpent-like hissing, come to think of it, the snake in the stacks.

But many of these same non-users of the library claimed to LOVE going to bookstores – ah-ha – and that's how Shore decided to offer up the radical notion of dumping Dewey and going with the topic-grouping familiar to book shoppers.

Imagine the resistance Shore faced. Not from library customers – he knew from survey results that three out of four visitors to the library came in to browse, not to seek out a specific book – but from librarians and staffers, the people who live Dewey, die Dewey. How did Shore overcome their objections?

Get this. It was a new library branch. The Dewey-less system was decided BEFORE the staff was hired. Part of the interviewing process was asking about Dewey. Those who couldn't imagine a library without it simply were not hired.

If you have an idea you want to nurture, don't plant it in the forest of the status quo, place it in a fresh field, away from the old growth. Give it to a new group or try it in an experimental store, surrounded by people who want it there, who want it to thrive.

Which brings us to an IBP (Important Business Principle) with a lovely Zen weightless heft: It's easier to change people than to change people.

©2010 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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