For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
April 27, 2006 - For Positive Change, Think Positive
Someone told me about a recent study of long term survivors of open
heart surgery. They were surveyed to find out what motivated them to
recover. The reason was not, as you might suppose, "to avoid death."
It was for some more positive outcome: to spend time with their
grandchildren. To tour Europe. To learn to play a musical instrument. To
finish the garden.
It makes you think. Many people work in businesses that have problems,
too. At some point, the question becomes, "how do we get better?" In
some cases it might well be "to avoid bankruptcy."
But it's hard to for people to really enjoy their jobs with that
attitude. You may work hard to avoid losing your job, but you're
probably not doing your BEST work.
One typical planning exercise has the friendly acronym of SWOT. What are
the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats faced by an
organization? And when I've participated in or even lead such exercises,
I find that people often relish the weaknesses and threats discussion.
We're in trouble! We're in terrible, terrible, trouble!
You can almost see the energy drain from a group.
Just possibly, the way many organizations choose to plan, undercuts the
best motivations for accomplishment.
I'm willing to bet that most of my readers work in places where MOST of
their time is spent solving "problems." Maybe the focus is on one cranky
customer, or one surly employee. That customer, that employee, almost
certainly represents a tiny fraction of the whole business -- but they
somehow get first call on your resources.
That approach minimizes the aspects of the organization that work well.
It says that what's wrong is more important, more worthy of managerial
A new alternative is emerging, called "Appreciative Inquiry."
Appreciative Inquiry, or AI for short, is based on the idea that
creating positive change is easier when you take a positive approach.
So instead of a SWOT exercise, the exercise begins with this question:
what are we doing RIGHT?
I've tried this with a couple of groups, now, and the difference is
striking. With this question, you begin to discover the things that
people are justifiably proud of, the real accomplishments.
The next question is: what could we do better? It may sound like a small
difference. Isn't this just like, "what's wrong?"
No. Now people have just described things that they're good at. And they
can see the gap between the things they did right, and things they
haven't brought that same level of care or attention to. But now they
I've tried to carry over this insight to other parts of my job. When
somebody brings me a problem so dire that it strikes to the very heart
of the organization, I try to sit back long enough to see if the
essentials of the organization are still right. It puts things in
Any organization will have things go wrong. And those things do have to
be dealt with, preferably when they are still small enough to fix
But we need to remember that most of our customers are terrific. Most of
our employees are bright and painstakingly conscientious. The more time
and energy we spend with these people, the more we'll enjoy our jobs,
and the more we'll get done. We'll let those people know that THEY are
the ones we value most.
Most of the time, the issues faced by an organization are nowhere near
as life-threatening as open heart surgery. But the lesson is powerful.
The right question is not, "What are you afraid of?" It's, "What's worth