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I’ve almost finished the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath and one of my new favorite words that they define and discuss in the book is “ooch.” Ooching is the opposite of jumping in headfirst into something. Ooching is conducting “small experiments to test one’s hypothesis.” I know that I have fallen into the trap of debating at length the merits of some idea or initiative without getting anywhere. It’s also easy to think in terms of finished products and having to meticulously plan to get things perfect. And planning is extremely important, but what if you are planning for the wrong things? What if you are planning a service or initiative that people don’t actually understand or use?
One really important area where I would recommend ooching is in library school (and probably before). Before paying money for graduate school classes, try working or volunteering in a library. Shadow or spend some time with a librarian to see if it is actually something you’d want as a career. While in graduate school, internships, practicums, and work experience are great ways to test out different types of libraries and library work to understand what you will actually enjoy.
This idea of experimentation is extremely helpful in technology innovation in the library. Often we don’t know how effective technologies will be or how they will be useful until we try them. Whether it’s a new social media technology or a tool to enhance learning in the classroom, an attitude of experimentation and a sense of playfulness are essential for understanding their value. The same mindset is also present in good teachers. They never see their classes as a finished product but as a constant work in progress. They regularly try out new lessons, technologies, and teaching methods to find the most effective ways of facilitating learning.
Ooching reminds me of the philosophies behind ideas such as design thinking and the Lean Startup Methodology. In all of them there is a curiosity and desire to learn paired with a bias towards action. In the Lean Startup Methodology you create a minimum viable product (MVP), test it, and repeat. In design thinking there is ideation and planning involved, but the process moves past that into piloting and prototyping. We can often get stalled and spend a great deal of time and energy in the planning phase without much result. It’s not possible to ooch into every every decision you are trying to make, but it can be helpful in moving forward. Perhaps the next time you get stuck in a meeting or while thinking about an idea could you ask questions like: “can we run a pilot,” “can we test this and see what happens,” “is there a way we can ooch into this?”
What are successful pilots, experiments, or ooches, that you have conducted?
I’m currently reading Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup. Ries talks a great deal about experimenting and validating learning. Often we provide products or create services because we think it is what has an impact or is what our users want. But in a number of examples that Ries provides, adding new features or services does not create any change at all and a lot of what organizations do is superfluous. This leads him to ask “which of our efforts are value creating and which are wasteful?”
To answer this question he says that we need to identify and test our assumptions through a number of small experiments. He also says that we need metrics that can tell us something as opposed to vanity metrics. An example of a vanity metric in libraries would be something like gate count. It says “we have a bunch of people coming in and out of the building,” but it doesn’t go to much farther than that. Why are these people coming in? Does it have something to do with our efforts?
He also talks about “success theater,” (the work we do to make ourselves look successful). It’s good to have charts and graphs that go up and to the right, but do those actually tell us anything? Is it our efforts that our making a difference or something else? Are we accidentally getting it right? Is it a fluke? What happens if the numbers go down?
So this brings me to my question: what are the assumptions we have in libraries and how to we test them?
Assumptions abound in libraries: students need research help from librarians, we need to be on social media, students need to be taught how to use a database. These assumptions might be different from institution to institution, but each place has their own assumptions.
We also have a variety of metrics and numbers that we can pay attention to in libraries: gate count, database statistics, circulation numbers, reference statistics, number of classes taught, assessment data, student surveys, etc. Which numbers are really valuable for testing assumptions and which are just noise?
What are some of our assumptions in libraries? What assumptions do you test at your library? What assumptions would you like to test? What metrics do or could you use to validate your learning?
“Doing more with less” is a phrase that regularly comes up in libraries. It is also a regularly maligned phrase since you can’t really do more with less, you can only do less. Andy Woodworth gives an example of cutting a pizza into different parts. In doing more with less you really are just spreading your resources more thinly and giving everyone less quality service. I don’t believe that library budgets should continue to be on the chopping block. This country needs less ignorance and more enlightenment, more curiosity and creativity, not less. But the reality is that we’re in a period of less resources, even while usage and programming are up.
This is not something new for libraries though. They are used to not being flush with resources. And I think this can be a huge strength. Last Friday I attended the ACRL NY Symposium on Cultivating Entrepreneurship and there were some great examples of people finding creative ways to secure resources whether through working with other departments, developing their own technology tools and selling them, working with companies as sponsors, or leveraging free online tools. The best, stickiest, most succinct, definition I have come across for entrepreneurship is from the Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson. He says,
“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”
We may be in a time of less resources, at least from traditional funding sources, but we are also in a time in which there is an abundance of opportunity. More students are going to college but less are graduating on time. People need to retrain, unlearn, and relearn to be a part of the now ever changing job market. Higher education is in a period of significant disruption. These are not problems but distinct opportunities that libraries can capitalize on, but in order to do that we need to be entrepreneurial.
Libraries are already scrappy. They find extremely creative ways of avoiding budget cuts and advocating for library voter support. What is needed in addition to being scrappy and creative, is an entrepreneurial outlook: seeing opportunities and pursuing them without regards to current resources. There may be less traditional funding, but that doesn’t mean the resources aren’t out there. Instead of a zero sum game where there are only so many slices of pizza to go around, maybe we start recognizing that there are also tacos, and chicken wings, and chili and lots of other resources we may have overlooked. Maybe we continue to leverage and expand our use of the abundance of free software, platforms, social media and web tools available. Maybe we strategically partner more with departments or offices around campus. Maybe we secure more funding and work with from those in the business community to whom we send graduates. Many of these are becoming increasingly socially responsible and want to do good in addition to making a profit. Maybe we crowdfund more really good and needed library ideas.
Resources are out there. They may not look the same as they always did, but funding should not hold a good idea down. Opportunities are also out there. We often see them as problems, as things that annoy us, or as things that scare us. When you start looking at things that make you uncomfortable though, you begin to see that it is often an area that needs attention and where good work can be done.
Let’s not do more with less. Let’s do more with more.