Go For It! Advice from Public Library Directors

“WHAT DO LIBRARY DIRECTORS DO? The answer to this question may seem self-evident, but it is actually a lot more complicated than it first appears.”

public-lib-coverI’m happy to share that Public Libraries Magazine has published my newest article titled, Go For It! Advice from Library DirectorsFor over a year’s time I interviewed 50 public library leaders to learn more about how they interpret their job and to solicit their insights. This diverse group of directors shared their thoughts on challenges, trends, what they wish they had known before starting as a director, and advice for aspiring directors.

Here are samples of their wisdom for those considering a career in library directorship:

“This is an exciting job, no two days are the same. You must like change and have agility to go with the flow of any given day. ”

“New directors need to come in and take risks. Don’t be afraid to make changes and do new things.”

“Kindness and coming from a place of love are critical. A director should be courageous enough to fail and willing to accept that failure and grow from that.”

“Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions. Explore and push the boundaries about what a public library can do.”

“If you have any inclination, you should state it with confidence by talking to as many directors as possible and get as much advice as you can. There are very few failures, but there are some great people who never launch because they didn’t put themselves out there.”

I want to thank all 50 directors who participated in the interviews and send a special thank you to editor Kathleen Hughes for accepting my third article for publication.  The full article is now available online at Public Libraries magazine.

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Can a Second Brain be Built in a Day?

basbWe all know that Rome was not built in a day, but can a second brain be built in a seven hour workshop?

On Tuesday May 21, Tiago and Lauren from Forte Labs came to the Palm Beach County Library System to lead their signature course Building a Second Brain (BASB) for thirty five library staff.  Participants were recruited from across the library system, with many members coming from the Productivity Committee and the User Experience (UX) Committee.  All of them were excited about the benefits an electronic second brain had to offer.  Prior to the workshop, participants had a homework assignment to identify their “12 Favorite Problems” and to start capturing electronic items, such as articles, photos, news clips, etc.,  in Microsoft OneNote.  They also had access to an online version of BASB specially designed for the library staff.

At the start, the BASB workshop laid out the core tenants of the second brain philosophy: Capture, Connect, Create.  The morning was spent with a review of capture and then moved on to PARA which clarified the difference between projects, areas, resources, and archives.  Following lunch, the seminar moved to the theory and practice of Progressive Summarization.  Students then explored the concept of project packets that lead to the “Just In Time” project delivery system.  Finally, Tiago shared his view of the future of knowledge work in relation to personal knowledge management.

Library staff left the workshop energized and excited about the possibilities from mastering personal knowledge management.  So in the end, we learned that building a second brain is not a one time exercise, but an ongoing approach to curate the streams of information that flow around us.

Thank you Tiago and Lauren from all of us at PBCLS!

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Failure is Thankfully Unavoidable

All knowledge workers will fail!  Guaranteed!

Nobody likes to fail.  In fact, a harsh stigma is often attached to failure.  Yet ironically failure is a natural part of life.  It is both unavoidable and necessary especially in the realm of knowledge work.

Remember that knowledge work is composed of tasks and goals that must be defined by the knowledge worker themselves.  Alas, even with their best judgement and experience, knowledge workers are often faced with a deficit of information.  Based on an incomplete picture, they are forced to make their best guess and then see how it plays out.  A knowledge worker living in fear of failure becomes paralyzed into inaction, perpetually avoiding a decision.

To counteract this problem, I agree with blogger Venkatesh Rao in that our approach to solving problems should be similar to that of software engineers.  Successful software engineers are constantly tinkering with code, testing it over and over again looking for bugs and creating situations where it will crash.  It is only after many different trails and iterations that they reach a pragmatic success.  This approach, known as “agile” has its own mantra, “Fail Early, Fail Often.”

Therefore, I believe that agility is a key factor for a successful knowledge worker.  They must be willing to learn from mistakes, course correct, and experiment constantly until they reach the desired goal.  When viewed this way failure is not a problem, but instead a necessary component of the path.  Once this is understood, failure loses it sting.  The knowledge worker can become fearless!

UC-TeddyDon’t worry about your failures, as each one is a stepping stone on the path to success.  As President Theodore Roosevelt said:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, then to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Leonardo DaVinci – Knowledge Worker

On a long ride across the state of Florida, I downloaded an audiobook from CloudLibrary to pass the time.  My selection was the biography of Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Issacson.  As I listened to the fascinating life story of the archetypal Renaissance Man, it struck me that Leonardo was in fact a knowledge worker well ahead of his time.  Knowledge work is characterized by the worker having to define their own goals and the steps needed to achieve success.  Back in the 1500’s, Leonardo DaVinci was doing many of the best practices of knowledge work naturally and to powerful affect.

leonardoFor example, not trusting his head to remember ideas, Leonardo was constantly taking notes.  It is estimated that he wrote 5000 pages in his lifetime.  These wide-ranging notebooks jump from scientific studies, to sketches of machines and animals, to subjects for artwork, to notes about his personal life.  Leonardo was constantly generating new ideas and the notebooks detail how he pieced different ideas together for larger impact.  This made him an early expert in the field of personal knowledge management.

Another advanced knowledge worker skill was his drive to ask challenging questions.  Leonardo was always seeking out experts in the courts of Florence and Milan to engage in deep discussions on a wide range of topics.  This incredible multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach was a secret to his success.  For example, his knowledge of anatomy allowed him to accurately draw the muscles of people in his paintings.  This small detail gave the images a sense of realistic movement that other paintings of the time lacked.

To read more about Da Vinci’s fascinating life, copies of the Issacson biography should be available at your local library.  You can also view pages from his notebooks at the website of the British Library.  Unfortunately, I don’t think you will find a secret DaVinci Code in any of his notebooks!

How Software is Eating the World

Look around your room.  How many devices do you see that run on software?  Our computers obviously, but we often forget that software runs our televisions and cable boxes.  Many people now own smart appliances or have Ring doorbells.  All recent cars have a software package that controls vital aspects of the car.  With the spread of software, we are more and more reliant on an invisible profession to manage our days: software engineers.  As Marc Andreessen wrote in his 2011 Wall Street Journal article, software is eating the world.

raoVenkatesh Rao has deeply explored how software design process altered our way of living.  In fact, he champions that idea that we need to think more like software engineers who embrace failure and use it to constantly improve their work.  In his online series, Breaking Smart, he argues that software has become a transformational technology on par with the development of language and money.  Yet being in the middle of this transformation, we still struggle to understand its full effects. Venkatesh writes:

“As a simple example, a 14-year-old teenager today (too young to show up in labor statistics) can learn programming, contribute significantly to open-source projects, and become a talented professional-grade programmer before age 18. This is breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage — in this case a young individual using software leverage — to wield disproportionate influence on the emerging future.”

This is clearly demonstrated in the impact of people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google.  Venkatesh’s ideas are complex, but the Breaking Smart blog is worth tackling if you want to get a better sense of the often-unseen impact that software has on the world.

Time or Attention? Which Works?

AdamGrant_2016-headshot_previewWhen I ask students why they decided to attend an Efficient Librarian seminar, a common response is that they wanted to learn more about “time management.”  While it seems logical to believe that you can get more work done through better management of the hours in your day, it may not be that straightforward.  In fact, focusing on time management may actually make you less productive.

In a recent article on the New York Times web site, Professor Adam Grant argues that managing our attention, not time, is a better approach to getting things done.  He writes:

“Being prolific is not about time management. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and focusing on time management just makes us more aware of how many of those hours we waste.

“A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.”

This reminds me of a classic David Allen quote from Getting Things Done:

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Read the rest of Adam Grant’s article on the New York Times web site.

Organizing is a Journey

claire-tompkinsDavid Allen has often said there is a “strategic value” to “clear space.”  In a physical sense, this means ensuring that our work and home spaces are organized and clean.  However, for those starting out with the intention to get organized there is a trap to avoid.  It is very easy to see the whole process as one big heavy lift that needs to be accomplished in a short time.  With this daunting view of the project it is likely they will give up on organizing right from the start.

Claire Tompkins, aka the Clutter Coach, shares in her book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized, that organizing is a journey.  It is not meant to be completed in one weekend, but instead is a transformative approach occurring over many weeks or months.  On page 50 of her book, she shares a simple way to frame the task.

“Try on this thought: organizing is a journey, not a destination.  The difference between people who are organized and those who aren’t is that they do a little every day to maintain order.”

She then suggests the following tip:

“Identify one small area that tends to get cluttered regularly and spend five minutes putting things away and throwing things out.”

Sounds like good advice.  Now excuse me while I clean out this drawer …