You think you have a culture of innovation? Are you sure?

As the Chair of the Emerging Technologies Group for the Libraries, I sometimes struggle with what the group members (including me) should be doing — are we a “thinking” body or a “doing” body? Do we just do research and make recommendations? Or do we try to implement/move forward our recommendations, and to what degree? How do we facilitate innovation? How do we facilitate new technology? Do we even have the power to do those things?

I think many libraries/organizations/institutions are struggling (esp. in these economic times with less staff, less resources, less everything….) with keeping up with the technology, let alone actually making progress. This is actually the second Emerging Technologies group of which I’ve been a member. Both seemed to struggle in terms of what they were supposed to be doing. In reflecting a little, I think the main problem is that many of us are lacking the basic foundation to implement new technologies: a culture of innovation. We may think our institution/library/business/organization is innovative — oh, we did a website redesign, oh, we added some new bit of technology, but is that really innovation?

Traditionally, our foundations for moving technologies forward are often fragmented — falling to a staff person here, a staff person there, a committee here, a committee there, a department over here, a department over there. It’s not about how many IT staff or programmers or web editors or graphic designers or social media evangelists work in any one place …

Definition of a Culture of Innovation (from A Dozen Ingredients for a Culture of Innovation, by Jeffrey Baumgartner)

A culture of innovation is very simply a workplace environment that constantly encourages people to think creatively and facilitates implementing creative ideas so that they may become innovations. It is important to note that our definition includes the terms “creativity” and “innovation”. That is because innovative solutions are the result of implemented creative ideas.

So what are the key ingredients?
1. Top Management Buy-In
2. Trust
3. Priority of Innovation (Often Confused with Time)
4. Freedom to Take Action
5. Freedom to Make Mistakes
6. Rewarding Rather than Stifling Creative Thinking
7. Collaboration Tools
8. Places and Opportunities to Talk
9. Places and Opportunities to Work in Isolation
10. Access to Information
11. Transparency
12. Humour

Unfortunately, our society, our culture (U.S.) does not value the arts (see all of the articles about funding being cut to arts programs in public schools; articles about impoverished artists, etc.). We do not value creativity….and if we do not value creativity, how in the world can be innovative? Is it no wonder we are losing our status everyday as being innovators in technology?

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