Yes, I will Learn with you. . .

When I wrote my “Technology requests ought to begin with a ‘yes'” post, my intention was to highlight a dialectic between those who want to fight the so-called “culture of ‘no'” and those who want to emphasize the need for planning and sustainability. My argument was that technology has changed (and I stated the reasons) and that our thinking needs to be altered somewhat to go with it. I suggested that a technology request ought to begin with a “yes,” but insisted also that after that “yes” there needs to be modelling, planning, priorities and so on.

My harshest critic was Mark Lindner, who said (here):

“But what he actually said about saying yes immediately is extremely simplistic and also ill-advised from a managerial perspective. Do anyone want a manager who immediately says yes to things and then after asking a few questions retracts that yes? Does anyone want to be that manager?”

It’s funny, because I went to David Lee King’s presentation at CIL on change management and asked a question: “Ok. So I have alot of priorities and work to be done, and certainly not enough resources to do it all. I don’t want to say “no,” but i sometimes come off as if I am saying ‘no’ simply because I note a whole number of kinks that need to be worked out first. How can I take on the “culture of ‘yes'” under those conditions?” [not a direct quote]

David put the question to the floor and Halleluah! doesn’t the very first responder say “well, you should start with a yes and then openly and honestly address the idea in a list of priorities.” [also not a direct quote]

So, as a quick response to Mark, yes — I do want to be that manager and I believe that the generation of librarians coming up want precisely that kind of manager. Or at least they want something different from a manager who immediately says “no” or “man, that’s going to take alot of money and work to do” first. These folks understand change; they will understand how “yes” can become “no” as priorities shift, resources deplete and the devil-details bare their horns — and, if you believe the literature, they have the same sort of feelings about their employers. Loyalty means less than lifestyle and meaningful work. But more than anything, they want a chance to show that, actually, it doesn’t really cost that much (in staff time or money) to host a good many technologies.

I’m also going to re-state something I said before. Some technology ideas do not get the same interest as some very expensive and resource-intense non-tech things, like renewing online resources without getting any use for them, or putting on a program, or scheduling a whole slate of “how to use a database” classes, or creating large quantities of print promotions or participating in local events or purchasing large collections of books or setting up a society newsletter or engaging in a newfangled partnership or building a new central library. The list goes on and on.

Yet, for some reason, when a “tech” solution comes out, the starting point for many librarians is “no.” You get “no.” Then you have to “change manage” your way into even the slightest consideration. This is not to say that the non-techie things should not be done, but it does mean that I believe technology things need to be given the chance to show their merit. Starting with a “yes” will go pretty far on that one.

I offer “yeses” all the time and I think I am liked for it. And sometimes I do have to say “ok. Maybe that needs to sit down on the priority list for now as we take care of other issues.” But of course, this is a too literal interpretation of my “begin with a yes” post. I am talking about opening the door to passions and possibilities, rather than controlling the pace to protect people from anxiety. I think this approach can help people want to put the effort behind their projects.

In the library world we need more possibilities and less fear — definitely less fear — about technology.

Asking someone to write a one-page brief on what they want to do, for instance, is alot more fun for staff when you have a “yes” attached to it. The brief may get bumped on the priority list, sure — but in the end, you have that brief in your files (or a tweaked version of it) just waiting for the opportunity to happen . Your staff have an opportunity to know their passions are being listened to and are being given their fair shake at being implemented. And god forbid, a manager — or dare I say “leader” — might learn something along with it.

And that brings me to another point. As managers we talk alot of about training and life long learning, yet sometimes in our daily rush we refuse to do a simple Google search when someone comes up with something we never heard of. So maybe my “yes” doesn’t really mean “yes” purely, but “yes, I will learn this with you.” Truly, madly, deeply, the library world needs administrators who will demonstrate their appreciation for technological change. That takes learning, and frankly, while the tech world moves quickly, the tools are there (Google, blogs, Wikipedia) to help us learn technological things fairly quickly as well.

And if there is anything that social software has taught me, its that learning is alot more fun when you have a cool group of people doing it with you. Wouldn’t it be nice if that cool group for librarians included the people who are supposed to lead the organizations we work in to success?

6 thoughts on “Yes, I will Learn with you. . .

  1. “Yes, I will Learn with you,” is a great phrase – and a great way to try and look at the issue. It is possible that technology will seem less intimidating to some if we approach it in a “let’s-learn-about-this-together” manner.

    As you know, I’ve mulled over your original post quite a bit -and I was excited to see that you had written your promised follow-up post. I guess that in some ways the original “Just say yes to technology” phrase has a tendency to sound to me as if we should just embrace any and all technology – which isn’t what you were saying at all. Without a doubt, this is a cultural issue – and figuring out how to change this culture is the hard part.

    For me, it is critical that we find a way to change people’s perceptions of technology as a stumbling block. Obvisously, some technology will be (but chances are we should stay away from that type), but some much of today’s fun and exiting new technology is easy to implement, may be cost-effective and may dramatically alter the ways in which we can provide service to our patrons.

    Thanks for the follow-up post. You have now given me much more to think about!!

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  2. Wouldn’t it be nice if that cool group for librarians included the people who are supposed to lead the organizations we work in to success?

    yes. yes. yes. yes. I’ve heard many “no”s. I’ve heard lots of “but we can’t”s and “they’ll never”s. The best managers I have worked for have said “yes, great idea, let’s try and make it happen, you take the lead on the project.” Good managers not only affirm new ideas, they empower folks to participate pro-actively in implementing the initiatives they bring to the table. Just 2 cents.

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  3. Ryan, I imagine you’ll discover it since I linked to this and the original post, but I have responded on my own blog.

    I want you to know that I pretty much agree with almost everything you’ve said. I do have some concerns with the way you have repeatedly phrased the part about beginning with yes, although I agree in spirit.

    At the moment, my main gripe is how you complained on Jennifer’s blog about how my comment (and her post) might be misconstruing your words. In fact, both were praising your post and perhaps suggesting that others read it. At a minimum, Jennifer’s post (where my comment is) included an early and prominent link to your post.

    In the meantime, you have, perhaps unintentionally, taken some of my words out of context and provided no way for your readers to put them back in context. If they know me they might try finding them on my blog, but that is not where they are.

    In light of your previous complaint, I should think that you’d agree that this is unacceptable. I choose to interpret it as an oversight, but I do ask that you include a link to my entire comment in its proper context. In the regard, Jennifer’s blog does have links to individual comments, but I’ll leave it to you as to whether to link to her post or to my comment directly. Makes me no matter.

    I sincerely hope that you take none of this personally. I respect what you do here and I generally applaud your powers of nuance. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not convinced you have been as nuanced as you think on this topic. Again, I fully support almost every word you have written on it. I only intended to question a small part of it. If my critique makes no sense to you then please re-read Jennifer’s. She eloquently expresses most of my concern.

    Sincerely,

    Mark

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  4. Re: failure to link to the original comment. Sorry about that — by the time you read this comment it should be fixed.

    Of course nothing is taken personally! We will have to agree to disagree, that’s all. No biggy. And in light of Steven Bell’s article, it’s good to have some contentiousness here and there, even when it is not contentious.

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