It’s a focus on preparing ourselves for emerging opportunities in the information industry through: 1) Collaboration to accelerate the availability of useful information; 2) An adaptable skill set that anticipates and responds to the evolving marketplace; 3) Alignment with the language and values of the community you serve and 4) Building a community that connects stakeholders in mutually beneficial relationships
Have you noticed lately that a lot of things are being called “dead” — as in no longer relevant or meaningful. Here’s some examples of what I’m seeing:
- Print is dead. Long live print.
- Hierarchy is dead. Work is no longer command and control, but collaborative.
- “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet” was the cover of the August 2010 issue of Wired magazine
- Search is dead.
- Is Knowledge Management Dead?
- Earth is dead. In the book Eaarth by Bill McKibbens claims that we need a new name for our planet, as the Earth we knew no longer exists due to the high impact of human habitation.
- Advertising is dead. Long live Advertising.
The whole point of this hyperbole is that, whether discussing print, traditional advertising, or our expectations of knowledge management, we need to look at things with fresh eyes against a new backdrop. The economic meltdown of 2008-2009 shifted our expectations of “normal.” Technological advances related to “big data,” social networking, and cloud computing have changed the way we work and play.
I’d like to add another victim to the metaphor: SLA is dead. Long live SLA.
SLA had its 100th anniversary in 2009. It was a pivot point in many ways as we had a robust discussion around the possibility of changing our name. After many emails, twitters and Facebook posts, the vote was to keep the name the same. I would argue that just having had the discussion, we re-evaluated the definition of a the information professional in the 21st century.
Information professionals no longer use the information search tools that we did even five years ago. And, with the rise of the web, the client’s expectations about our deliverables and the value of our products and services have shifted dramatically. Finally, the breadth of what we do is more encompassing, as SLA members move into embedded positions, into knowledge management, competitive intelligence, information technology, and market research.
So with new tools, tougher deliverables, and an engaged, demanding clients, we need to look at ourselves differently. We need to set bolder expectations and take our appropriate place in the new information landscape.
Long live the new SLA.
- Make Meaning, Not Money. If you’re into personal branding with the goal of making money, stop now. You will attract the wrong kind of people into your life. Instead, start with the goal of making meaning. What better way to align all your actions with your long-term goals. What kind of meaning will you make? Kawasaki suggests two ideas for inspiration: 1) right a wrong, or 2) prevent the end of something good. What will you do to make the world a better place?
What meaning are you making?
- Make a Mantra. In three words or less, what are you all about? Kawasaki believes that mission statements are useless. He says, make a mantra instead. FedEx stands for “peace of mind.” What do you stand for, in the simplest terms?
What is your mantra? Mine is Future Ready.
- Polarize People. Personal branding pundits often advise against being a “jack of all trades,” or a generalist that isn’t very good at something specific. What does Guy believe? He suggests being great for some people rather than trying to please everyone. Do not be afraid to make people react strongly for or against you. As my former business partner used to remind me, you’re not doing something right unless you’re pissing someone off. That doesn’t mean be a jerk. That means just don’t try to appeal to all people, or you’ll end up a mile wide and an inch deep, mediocre to everyone.
- Find a Few Soul Mates. We’re all on this journey together. It’s silly to think we are alone in our careers or in our life. Find people who balance you. Then make time for them. If you’re busy, make plans in advance so you have to schedule around them. You’re only one person, so surround yourself with people whose skills round you off.
Who are your sole mates?
- Don’t Let the Bozos Grind You Down. Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone will always agree with you. That’s a fact of life. So don’t let criticism or doubters bring you down. As you live out your mantra, it’s your responsibility to be strong in the face of “no,” and “you can’t do that.” Guy says, ignore people who say you won’t succeed. Use negative words as motivation. Prove people wrong.
In reflecting on the the book Future Shock, published in 1970, NPR saliently states:
“What Future Shock got right was that it made a compelling argument for taking the acceleration of change seriously,” Candy says. And he says the value of the book was to teach people that the best defense against the future is to think about it, to imagine different scenarios, and try to avoid being taken by surprise.
It sounds like a Future Ready formula to me!
Social media is gaining momentum. Here’s the evidence.
Future Ready is an initiative, a north star, and an attitude. It’s like the string on your finger that reminds you about those four bullets from the Alignment Project. I believe that being more adaptable, flexible, and confident will help us ALL build success.
Change or Transformation?
I’m no Pollyanna, who only sees the bright side of everything. I see that there are seismic shifts going on in our industry, and it is wrenching to hear first-hand how many of our colleagues were laid off in the latest contraction. But for every layoff, there were eight or nine survivors. Many of you have been walking the walk and talking the talk for most of your careers, even if you didn’t have all the latest buzzwords and phrases pinned down.
In our industry, change is ever-present. It feels palpable on days when you read about three new products that you would like to try and don’t have time to. I’d love to curl up with a new iPad for a weekend and learn all about it, but justifying that much of a time-sink is an issue we all face.
The average SLA member has a ten-year tenure in the organization. So, let’s look at what was happening ten years ago, in the year 2000. We were in the midst of the Y2K issue, and all of our data was going to disappear in one magical New Year’s Eve celebration if we didn’t bring in a contractor to give us more digits. Al Gore and George Bush were running for president, and American voters were torn between a vote for change and a vote for the status quo. The events of September 11 had not yet happened; we were not at war.
Now think about what was going on in your library or information center. Did you have a beeper? Did you use a fax machine with curly paper? How big was your cell phone? Could you insert graphics into your email? Social networking, wikis, tweets, and blogs were still on the horizon. There were no e-book platforms. You have seen tremendous developments in technology in the past 10 years, and you have weathered every single one.
To provide value-added intelligence, and not just data, we need to know our customers and our tools equally. We need to understand not just what they ask for, but the underlying need. That predictive skill is what sets us apart from search engines. In your vision of your desired future, what kind of work will you be doing next year that you are not doing now? What are you doing now that you will no longer be doing? Where do you want your profession to be in five years, or your career in ten years? As an SLA leader, it’s my job to assess our strengths and push strategies that position us for a better future. I feel a sense of urgency to do this, and I hope you do, too.
For the last few months, I’ve been traveling, talking, blogging, and collecting stories about what Future Ready is starting to look like. But I’m not done yet; if I could, I’d talk to every single member and solicit their opinion about it. I’d like to learn what you see as opportunities for aligning with emerging roles in the information industry and beyond. Maybe you have an idea about tactics and trends, or maybe you have a success story that should be shared with everyone else. Many members are weathering this storm and are ready for the future, come what may. I’d like to hear how you did it, and help inspire others who are at the cross roads.
I’m reading the book Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, which is about global warming, the rise of the middle class in developing countries, and the possibility of 9 billion people on planet Earth by the year 2050. He forecasts some very dire circumstances for human beings if immediate measures are not taken to curb greenhouse gases. But at the same time, he sees an opportunity in the transition from a carbon-hungry economy to a more sustainable future. He sees opportunities for innovation in sustainable products and services, for the US to take a leadership role in greening the planet, and for energy independence.
I see a similarity between what Friedman outlines for sustainability and what we’re witnessing in the information industry. Many of the activities we had been expert in are no longer valued as highly as they once were. For example, one statistic, from the Alignment Project report that stands out for me, is that 28% of information providers value managing a physical collection, but only 8% of users value this service. Instead of physical collections, users value information provided at the desktop. And they are pushing us to change.
There is opportunity in the transformation of our roles and utilization of our skills in the new knowledge economy, if we look at the issue with a new frame of reference. I’ve been talking to a few people in the sustainability arena, and it turns out they are focused on similar ideas—adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. In sustainable enterprises, there is an advantage to having alternative pathways—such as renewable energy sources—rather than maximizing one pathway over all the rest. It’s another way of saying, “Your mileage may vary.” For information professionals, it is an important concept as positions that use our skills open up new areas, such as those that are embedded in project groups or in functional areas such procurement, IT and market research.
A robust and energetic SLA community is vitally important for positioning ourselves for value. Recently, I read an inspiring article by Chip and Dan Heath in Fast Company, where they talk about “bright spots” and shifting our frame of reference to the activities and concepts that are working. We have a lot of really bright people in our organization. We can use them as exemplars and scouts. That’s why I’ve been collecting stories from successful individuals, and I encourage you to send me yours, either at this blog or to my email address (email@example.com). I think those stories are far more illuminating than anything I can say, because they are authentic, real-life experiences.
Our community is also rich because we have so many generous people. I have gained tremendously from stepping up to the plate and taking on leadership roles within SLA. It may keep me up at night, but it’s never boring. I get to talk with smart, engaged, caring people about a topic I am completely passionate about. I feed off the energy of students who are just starting out, with their whole careers before them, and I struggle to find the perfect advice for them. I make no bones about it – I am here to recruit you. I urge you to step up to participate more actively in SLA and within your division and chapter, as it will help your career by engaging you in project management, cross-functional collaboration, and deep networking with peers and mentors.
My friends and colleagues have been asking me a lot of questions lately. They ask me what I’m going to do as SLA’s President-elect? What are my priorities? What do I hope to accomplish? I’ve been conducting some far-reaching conversations with experts in and out of SLA to help frame up my answer, and it has been exhilarating. I’ve been honored to listen to people strategize around where we are and where we want to be. The key, as I see it, is to make sure that we as members, and we as an organization, are recognized as “Future Ready.”
What’s the definition of Future Ready?
It’s an attitude of being more adaptable and flexible in utilizing the skills of the information professional. It’s a strategic shift toward being more effective at aligning with emerging and robust opportunities in the information industry and beyond. It’s about understanding, and embracing, the future of the special librarian.
According the FastCompany, “We are experiencing a massive explosion of creativity in technology and media, an extraordinary flowering of content and collaboration.” Future Ready is about finding opportunities for SLA members to thrive in the new landscape.
Why do we need to be Future Ready? The rate of change in the world economy is accelerating. To be successful, we need to position ourselves as a unique service provider that is of great value to the customer. The opportunity is captured in this quote by Thomas Friedman:
…we must shift…to producing products, services and jobs which can’t be produced cheaper elsewhere. This is very likely to be a combination of a knowledge economy, knowledge products, knowledge jobs, and knowledge workers produced by a dramatically better education system. Technology and innovation will likely be at the root of all of these businesses.
Future Ready is about creating a shared vision of our desired future which builds on our strengths. Libraries have always been an integral part of every intellectual and technological tsunami, dating back to the birth of our civilization. We will have to work hard, but we have inherent advantages that should enable us to stay relevant. We need your ideas and insights to confront the challenge head-on, so join the discussion!
I’d like to personally enlist your participation!
As computers and automated systems increasingly take the jobs humans once held, entire professions are now extinct. Click through the gallery below to see examples of endangered professions, from milkman to telegrapher, and hear from people who once filled those oft-forgotten jobs.