This morning’s keynote speaker at the 2008 LOEX Conference has really set the tone for an excellent meeting. Attending this conference for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the conference. Laurel Ofstein, Assistant Director for the Center for Creativity and Innovation at DePaul University, presented the session, titled “Creative Collaboration: Setting the Course for the Future of Library Instruction.”
An engaging speaker, she started out by asking how many of us had ideas shot down by administration. Certainly we have all experienced that at some time or another, and heard many of the things from her “killer phrases” slide:
“It’s not in the budget”
“We tried that before”
“We’ve always done it this way”
“The boss will never go for it”
“Get a committee to look into that”
Be open to possibilities
Include many different viewpoints
Start with wild or unusual ideas
To address this, Ofstein presented nine dimensions of the creative environment—essentially the things needed to support creativity and change. Some notes from the handout:
Challenge and Involvement—To what degree are people personally involved in the business of and in the success of the organization?
Freedom—To what degree to people have the autonomy to define much of their own work toward the common objective?
Idea time—To what degree do people take time to consider suggestions that are not part of their assignment?
Idea support—To what degree are new ideas greeted with affirming encouragement as opposed to judgments?
Degree of conflict—To what degree do people engage in departmental “warfare” or spend effort to “best” their internal competitors?
Discussion—To what degree do people engage in lively discussion about the issues (as opposed to discussing each other)?
Humor and play—To what degree do people feel relaxed and are willing to express humor and tell jokes at work?
Trust and openness—To what degree do people willingly put forward their ideas and opinions?
Risk taking—To what degree do people feel supported to “take a gamble” when there is ambiguity?
Dreaming of an Ideal Tomorrow
Typically we develop ideas through conventional thinking, essentially thinking by going from point A to point B, which really does not address the future. Ofstein suggests we try working backwards—start with the solution by first determining where you want to be, then figure out what it will take to get there. So often we start with problems—basically "it’s too expensive," "we can’t do it," "we don’t have money," etc. These kinds of statements turn thinking off and give people reasons not to act rather than motivating. Try turning these statements around instead with: "Wouldn’t it be nice if…"
At this point in the session, Ofstein asked us to create two or three of these opportunity statements of our own on index cards, starting with the phrase: "Wouldn't it be nice if..." We then mixed up the cards at our tables, read the statements aloud, and discussed emerging themes. While I have seen similar group activities in the past, this was very engaging. At our table we discussed staffing and space issues as well as captivating the interest of undergraduate students. The notecards were an excellent jumping off point to get the discussion and ideas rolling, and starting out on a positive note did minimize the negativity and endless dwelling on problems and obstacles.
Oftsein recommended this technique with the notecards to generate ideas. Certainly the technique is easy to implement, and it gives everyone a voice, drawing out quieter members of the group and making the environment less authoritarian. As she put it, it levels the playing field and is a quick way to get some input. A couple of us discussed this exercise post-session and have decided to try it back at work.
We didn’t have time to work through the second exercise, but basically it involves challenging your assumptions. List two or three assumptions and then reverse them. Looking at them from the opposite perspective creates an opportunity for breakthrough thinking. If you have to focus on the opposite, suddenly the reality may seem more manageable. She concluded by encouraging us to define the course. We really can make a difference by dropping negative thinking and considering the possibilities.