Category Archives: Frameworks and Theories

From Scarcity to Abundance: Libraries, Learning Spaces, and Collections

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a workshop on creating learning spaces at the Fielding Graduate University Winter Session. The workshop created a learning space in its own right in a large hotel ballroom. We participated in exercises to expose us to the different experiences two Fielding graduates had as they taught online courses for the first time. We heard about the model a student had built to show the difference between collaborative and networked online learning experiences.

Finally, the space was transformed into a maker space as we broke into groups to respond to a design challenge–to create a prototype exhibit for a museum. This was a real life problem and as part of the exercise we presented our prototypes to a member of the museum staff who provided feedback. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to use her feedback to refine our designs, but we had a chance to experience a design process that emphasizes rapid prototyping and gathering feedback early.

Besides being fun, it was great to get outside of ourselves and work on a problem that was new and fresh. Later in the day, we got bogged down when we started to think about what Fielding’s learning spaces should be. We were too close to the problem and had too much invested in solving particular problems.

On the same day, Barbara Fister posted Schrödinger’s Library on her Library Babel Fish blog. Barbara thoughtfully analyzed the trend in libraries toward repurposing library space from “storage” for collection to “a digital scholarship center or study spaces that students clamor for or a new classroom where students can use archival or rare materials”. She also cited the Ithaka research that shows a gap between faculty and library directors’ views about the purpose of the library. I have seen this dichotomy in focus groups with faculty and librarians at client sites.

It has occurred to me that what may seem like nostalgia on the part of faculty for their graduate school days when they could browse the stacks and come upon material serendipitously may represent a kind of learning that is important and that should be accommodated, particularly in certain disciplines. I am also concerned that if librarians focus on the learning process–regardless of how sophisticated the view of that process may be–they will lose opportunities to collaborate with faculty on learning outcomes that may involve deep engagement with content. If faculty and librarians are embattled over who is responsible for information literacy, the students stand to lose.

When a domain such as higher education is undergoing change and is under threat, one of the results can be turf wars. Is it possible that the polarization between librarians and faculty over the issues of the purpose of the library and responsibility for student information literacy comes from a scarcity mentality that results from being under threat? What if librarians changed the conversation from either/or to both/and? What if learning space design specifically addressed concerns faculty have expressed about the need to engage collections in certain disciplinary areas (art and music come to mind immediately)? What if learning space design engaged the question of how to incorporate the kind of learning that results from serendipitous discovery into the use of digital collections?

In last week’s learning spaces workshop, the design assignment we received was abstract but included some important underlying principles such as the goal to have visitors leave the exhibit area feeling hopeful. While my ideas about learning spaces in libraries are also somewhat abstract, they also include some basic principles:

  • shift the conversation from one of scarcity (dividing up responsibility for information literacy, housing collections or creating learning spaces) to one of abundance
  • think about ways to expand the use of print collections in learning spaces beyond engagement with “special” collections
  • model serendipitous discovery in the digital environment
  • use rapid prototyping to design new learning spaces and programs that can be refined and adjusted based on feedback from stakeholders, including librarians, faculty, and students

Perhaps some of these principles are already in use in some places. If so, I would love to hear about these efforts.

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A Natural Systems Approach to Reducing Workplace Anxiety

One of the fundamental principles I bring to my consulting practice is that people are better able to solve problems and think creatively when they are less anxious. In an article based on my dissertation research, I explain how this idea fits with neuroscience research–that cognitive impairment, which translates into poor problem solving and reduced creativity is related to high levels of anxiety. I also explain how a consulting approach based on Bowen theory–the approach used by the consultants I studied in my dissertation research meets the challenge of reducing workplace anxiety.

In the article, I provided examples from my own experience and from stories participants in my study had told about their work. These examples show how, by applying principles from Bowen theory, the consultant can be a catalyst for a shift in the work system. Anxiety goes down and the organization begins to function more effectively.

The article Applying Bowen Theory to Work Systems, was first published in Volume 46, Number 3 of OD Practitioner, the peer reviewed journal of the Organization Development Network. The theme of the issue is Reflections on the OD Network’s 50th Anniversary and Beyond. I was honored to have my article on Bowen theory–a theory that is less well knows than it should be among organization development professionals included in the section  called Rethinking Core OD Practices and Exploring New Roles for OD.

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Project Management and Organizational Change

The Project Management Institute has published Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide. This guide, which a staff member at a client organization brought to my attention applies project, program, and portfolio management practices to change management in organizations.

The goal of the guide is to increase the effectiveness of change management in organizations. Of course, coming from the Project Management Institute, the Guide makes certain assumptions. Although the guide introduces well known organizational change models (Bridges, Kotter, etc.) the framework is embedded in project management (control). Organizational project management is central to successful organizational change in this model.

Organizational change projects can certainly benefit from a certain level of project management such as mapping out the project schedule including critical path, defining tasks and resources, and tracking progress. However, approaching organizational change as a project, program, or portfolio that can be controlled and managed through the application of project management techniques puts the cart before the horse.

As the guide points out, project management and change management domains are separate but overlapping in what they emphasize. It is valuable for practitioners in each field to be aware of the other domain and what it can offer. While the discipline of project management can add value to an organizational change project, the constant need for responsiveness in today’s world that the guide discusses is better addressed by being adaptive.

The jazz metaphor Frank Barrett described in his book Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz is a more realistic approach to organizational change, which is inherently unpredictable, than a method that emphasizes control. The Practice Guide is worth a read, in part because change management professionals may encounter project managers who are attempting to use the Guide in their organizational change efforts. Familiarity with the framework presented in the Guide may help keep channels of communication open between the two domains to achieve a balance between control and tolerance for mess.

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Why I am “pro” rather than “anti”

About the same time that I proposed to use an Appreciative Inquiry approach for strategic planning with a new client, Chris Bourg wrote a piece about anti-harassment policies at conferences for her blog, Feral Librarian. Chris advised other libraries to join Stanford in encouraging staff members to look at whether a conference has an anti-harassment policy or not when making a decision to attend. These two events got me thinking about why I prefer to stand for than against. Continue reading Why I am “pro” rather than “anti”

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Innovative Organizational Design in Academic Libraries

Academic library leaders seek new organizational models to support the agility and experimentation needed to respond to an environment characterized by disruptive technological change. While some libraries have created new departments or units within their organizations to focus on digital library development or scholarly publishing, these new endeavors remain situated in traditional 19th century hierarchical organizations.

What organizational structures and processes can provide capacity for innovation, including generation of ideas, launching prototypes and experiments, and evaluating those experiments to decide what new products or services should be implemented? Design thinking–methodologies for generating and implementing new products and services based on user needs–is one framework to explore.

Companies that devote themselves to incubating innovation such as IDEO are able to operate using a fluid organizational structure. IDEO, for example, is organized into “studios” with teams that form and disband as projects come and go.

While this type of organizational structure does not seem feasible for an academic library, which must still engage in running standards-based production operations and services (e.g. metadata creation, digitization, stack maintenance), some libraries are experimenting with bringing design thinking into their organizations in other ways.

The University of Rochester Libraries have led the way in the application of design thinking to service development as well as systems design. While responsibility for this perspective seems to be situated in the Libraries’ usability lab, many people in all departments of a rather traditionally organized library have been involved in design projects.

The Virginia Tech Libraries, under Tyler Walters’ leadership have launched a set of initiatives to encourage innovation, including a library-based hub to build capacity for new systems and services. Although they have not applied the design thinking label to this endeavor, the concept seems to be aligned with design thinking principles.

Based on anecdotal evidence, design thinking may be catching on in academic libraries, albeit slowly. The dominant model for bringing design thinking into the library seems to be through an innovation incubator (working group, council, or hub) or a usability group. Is this a viable model? What are the advantages/disadvantages?

Is it important to introduce design thinking throughout the organization? Is there an innovative organizational design that would enable this? How would a hybrid model of “studios” with self-organizing team alongside a traditional departmental structure organized along functional lines work?

I would love to collect more data about various organizational models libraries have used to foster innovation, and how those models have worked, so post your stories here, or send me an email.

 

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Application of Bowen Theory to Organization Development Practice

At the end of May, I presented a summary of my dissertation findings to my dissertation committee and fellow Fielding Graduate University students. This event is called the Final Oral Review (FOR). My FOR was a webinar–but we had some technical difficulties, and the session was not recorded. I wanted to be able to share a summary of findings with the study participants and other folks who might be interested, so I created Application of Bowen Theory to Organization Development Practice, a movie of the FOR, created from the power point presentation with narration added.

The movie provides a summary of what I learned from twelve organization development consultants who use Bowen theory in their work–in just under 30 minutes. Continue reading Application of Bowen Theory to Organization Development Practice

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Overcoming Irrational Forces in Work Systems

Are you curious about why some work system engagements go so well and others are so difficult when by all appearances, the presenting issues seem similar? Have you thought about irrational forces at work in human systems and the power those forces have to hijack good thinking? What can a consultant do to help people recognize “emotional process” in the workplace and learn to function better in the face of it?

This is the topic I explored in my dissertation research. I studied how organization development consultants use Bowen theory in their work. I found that consultants who ground their practices in Bowen theory take a different approach and stance than other organization development consultants. The biggest difference is in stance. Consultants who use Bowen theory take a systems perspective and make every effort to remain neutral and stay outside the organization’s emotional process.

Emotional process describes how people respond unconsciously to each other. Murray Bowen, who developed his theory in the mid-20th century believed that awareness of the process, and an effort to engage the “thinking brain” could improve individual functioning. In turn, improved individual functioning makes for better functioning families and work systems.

Following this line of thought, the consultants help their clients become aware of emotional process and support their efforts to come up with thoughtful solutions to their problems. The consultants often engage in coaching to help individuals within an organizational system represent their points of view more effectively with their bosses, their subordinates, and in meetings.

The consultants who use this approach find it effective, especially when they engage with clients who are interested and motivated to learn a new way of thinking about work systems. Based on my research findings, I am developing a reference model for Bowen theory-based organization development consulting. When I have completed the model, I will post the details. In the mean time, get in touch if you would like to learn more.

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Thinking Systems: An Alternative to Blaming and Scapegoating

Recently, I completed the data collection phase of my dissertation research. I am studying how organization development consultants use Bowen theory in their work. One theme that emerged is the tendency to look for an individual to blame for problems in a work system. This person could be the leader, or another person in the organization who becomes the scapegoat.

In Bowen theory, seeking an “identified patient” is a way for the anxiety in a system to be channeled. This mechanism gets everyone else in the system off the hook in terms of seeing their own part in the problem. Many of the consultants I interviewed talked about how the ability to see organizational issues in a systems context increased their clients’ capacity for change and improved their organizational effectiveness.

On the other hand, systems with a stubborn adherence to assigning blame to an individual had difficulty breaking out of the pattern. What can happen in these systems is that the scapegoated person is forced out, but the system finds another scapegoat to replace him or her. The underlying issues are not really addressed. Although thinking systems is a complex skill to develop, the payoff in terms or organizational effectiveness is worth the effort.

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Leadership Development: Connecting with the Classics

Recently, I read several chapters from On Becoming a Person, a collection of lectures and essays Carl Rogers compiled in 1961 from previously written material. Rogers was a psychotherapist, but he suggested that much of what he had learned in work with clients could be applied in any relationship where one person is helping another to grow and mature.

Rogers emphasized the importance of being a true self. Elements of becoming a self include having a purpose in life, and being able to differentiate from the expectations others may place on you. This might mean not being brought down by another person’s depression, upset by another person’s anger, consumed by being relied upon too greatly, or dependent on the love or approval of another. However, identifying purpose and values does not equate with remaining in a fixed position. On the contrary, the well defined self is a person who can accept others for who they are, able to note and observe without judging and able to empathize at a very deep level without taking on the other person’s emotional state.

In the presence of a leader who exhibits these qualities, others are more likely to realize their potential. A psychologically mature leader is able to create an accepting climate in an work system. Under accepting and supportive conditions, Rogers predicted that people could become more responsible for self, more creative, and better problem solvers.

Rogers’ work has a timeless quality. In fact, the book is still in print, and an edition is available for the Kindle. A workplace with more mature leaders is bound to be a workplace that functions more effectively; a world with more mature leaders is bound to be a world with more creative problem solving and more empathy for others. Fifty years after publication, Rogers’ work still has much to teach us about leadership development.

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