Ooching: Cultivating An Attitude Of Experimentation


Image via Squiggle on Flickr

Image via Squiggle on Flickr

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?


Make Your Own Learning

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about courses that I wished that they had offered in library school. There were a lot of great comments from folks about knowledge that they wish they had. These were things like event planning, research methodologies, programming, and others. The reason I wrote it was not so much to complain about the lack of opportunities in library school, but for it to be a signpost for current MLIS students about what they may want to investigate. It was also a recognition of skills that I would like to learn and skills that are useful for librarians today.

After the post, Fiona Bradley wrote a related one saying rather wisely that there is no way that we can learn everything in library school, and that it doesn’t matter because “librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession.” We have the skills for lifelong learning. She says in her post to go out and “make your own learning.” I love this sentiment, and it is getting easier all the time.

Education is noticeably changing. It is becoming less centralized. People with initiative can gain new skills or get a very good (though perhaps not credentialed) education for free or cheap. People who want to improve their skills can brush up or take a class any number of ways online or in person. There are a wide variety of tools available to get those skills in things like event planning or graphic design.

You can learn about entrepreneurship and innovation by watching lectures (like the one above about change and fear) from Stanford’s eCorner. You can learn how to code the fun and easy way with CodeAcademy or learn Python at the Kahn Academy. You can learn how to host a conference or basic graphic design from SkillShare.

With the vast amount of content available, instead of finding a teacher you could create a learning community on a service like Google+ and design lessons that center around shared readings and videos and host discussions via text or video chat.

Anne Murphy Paul at a Time Magazine blog says that projects like these are “ushering in a new golden age of the autodidact: the self-taught man or woman.” I tend to agree with her. Learning is not merely going to be students passively receiving knowledge from teachers. It will be a proactive pursuit for people who are curious and want knowledge that will benefit them either for personal growth or additional job skills. As librarians we are the “ultimate extensible profession.” We can learn graphic design if we want to. But are there also ways for us to help our students and users learn outside of the classroom? Can we somehow connect them with resources like those mentioned above? Can we facilitate peer to peer learning among students and community members who want to share their expertise? How can we create more opportunities for our community members to make their own learning?


Courses I Wish They’d Offered in Library School

I’ve been a librarian now for about three and a half years. I learned a lot while at SLIS at UW-Madison, and there were some awesome professors there. A couple of the most valuable classes I took were Information Architecture and a practicum in Information Literacy where I learned both theory and did hands on teaching and creation of digital instructional materials. But there’s also been a lot that I have had to figure out on my own. Looking back, I wish that there were a few more skills that I could have acquired in library schools. If they had offered these courses, I definitely would have taken them and likely would have been even better prepared for a career in today’s libraries:

Marketing/Demonstrating Value – Libraries are competing with myriad other places and services for the attention of users. How do we promote using the library to our patrons? Libraries offer a lot of great services and resources for free, but how do we let users know about them in a way that doesn’t get drowned out? It is necessary for us to differentiate ourselves from others and show our unique value in order to compete in this information rich world. In addition to promoting ourselves we also need to demonstrate what value we bring to our communities and institutions. The ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Report could be a great text for this class as well as Made to Stick and probably something by Seth Godin.

Graphic Design for Libraries – I saw this idea for a class from a great post about User Experience in LIS education by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and I think it is spot on. I find myself regularly needing to create signage for the library or promotional materials either for print or the web, and I pretty much have to stumble through it. It would be useful in a lot of situations to be be able to make some sign or image that is beautiful or inspiring instead of a Word document with some clip art.

photo by Gwen River City Images on Flickr

Entrepreneurship/Innovation – This is a key issue for libraries to be talking about, and specific reading and coursework on this topic would have been immensely helpful to me. We are constantly talking about changing and adapting in libraries awhile at the same time complaining about how slowly it happens. Courses in LIS education about this topic would be useful in developing grads with an entrepreneurial spirit and who would be key in revitalizing and revolutionizing libraries. Hopefully this class would teach mindsets like the willingness to take risk and fail as well as being tolerant of uncertainty. In addition, it would also teach processes for innovation and turning new ideas into reality. Steven Bell talks and writes about these processes in terms of design thinking. I also saw a great paper presentation about innovation processes at ACRL in March by David Dahl. Being able to thoughtfully and successfully create change is one of the most necessary skills for librarians today.

These are the classes I wished I could have taken (and hope that some places offer or start offering). What classes do you wish that you would have seen in library school? What classes would have been really beneficial for the work you are doing now?