Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some insight from NetWork 2010

I just ordered "42 Rules for Successful Collaboration: A Practical Approach to Working with People, Processes and Technology," by David Coleman. Here's how I learned about the book (and about the existence of the "42 Rules" series).

I use Google Reader to monitor a bunch of feeds relevant to my work. One of those feeds is ReadWriteWeb. They posted "Video: Analyzing the State of Collaboration,"  which linked to this video from the NetWork Conference, sponsored by Gigaom on Dec. 9, 2010 in San Francisco. The video featured JP Finnell, Managing Partner of Mobility Partners, LLC, interviewing David Coleman and Sameer Patel about what they see in their work as collaboration consultants. Sameer is Managing Director at the Sovos Group. David is Managing Director at Collaborative Strategies. Both interviewees are immersed in collaboration and collaborative technologies in for-profit enterprises. Collaborative Strategies even offers an on-line self-assessment to help organizations measure their current environment's collaboration climate.

I watched this 20 minute video (in which Coleman hawks the book)

Watch live streaming video from gigaomtv at livestream.com
and I liked a lot of what these guys had to say. I'll share two ideas from them.

I was especially impressed by Coleman's theory that technology is only 20% of the collaboration equation, while people and process are 80%. So he advocates approaching collaboration by bring the people first, then the process, and the technology enters the picture last. Very smart, intuitive approach, but most organization's probably start with the technology and try to make it drive the other components.

Patel's attempt to debunk the millennial/boomer technology divide myth also resonated with me. I agree with his conclusion that it's "B.S" And those kinds of generalizations about technology facility across generations (young = savvy; old = luddite) really don't help to facilitate collaboration across the work force spectrum.

The path that led me to Coleman's book also got me thinking about the role of intention in collaboration. I'm going to mull that over and blog about it later in the week. . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collaboration is a two-way street

A quick and dirty google search on the word collaboration turns up 90,200,000 hits this morning. Collaboration has become the cure-all for everything that ails us in these times. It's tossed about like a life ring to every sinking body. Grab hold! Collaboration will save you! And despite my skeptical tone, I think it very well could be the case. The key to making it so is not simply collaboration, but strategic collaboration. The starting point for strategic collaboration is not a survey of the landscape, it's a close and careful review of your organization's mission, vision, values, strategic plan and operational plan. Those organic documents will provide the foundation upon which to build your collaborations.

Look at those areas where you're not meeting your goals. Identify the reasons for the performance gap and think about whether there are potential partners that might help you fill it. Think beyond the usual suspects.What type of service, skill, product or expertise is needed to help you reach your goal? Who might have what you need? Who is doing it well and could provide some valuable insight and advice?

Now go back to your documents and figure out what you're doing well. What do you have to offer as a collaborative partner? Remember, collaboration is a two-way street. Know what your strengths are and be alert to opportunities that may arise in the course of your work. If you listen carefully you're likely to hear of needs that your organization can fill for others. If you begin to build a reputation as a proactive and responsive collaborator you're likely to find more opportunities opening up to you!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Library Collaborations in New York State

Yesterday I was invited to attend a Public Policy and Advocacy Summit for the Academic and Research Library Community hosted by the New York State Higher Education initiative (NYSHEI). This is the 2nd annual meeting of the group and I commend Jason Kramer, Executive Director, for leading this initiative to coordinate efforts across organizations. Representatives from 21 entities attended, including state, private and non-profit concerns. The group came together with no formal agenda, and each party was given the opportunity to talk about policy and advocacy issues in their particular sphere of influence. I left the meeting feeling grateful to be an independent 501(c)(3) and not bogged down by the bureaucracy of state policies and procedures! Here's the conundrum state funded libraries and institutions in NY are facing.

First, as might be expected, the state of the economy means potentially enormous budget cuts for state-funded libraries. In New York, the state comptroller, Thomas Dinapoli, quoted the current deficit at nearly one billion dollars (as of mid-Nov., 2010). So of course some efficiencies need to be explored. Belts need to be tightened. Effective collaboration is one key tool in efforts to cut costs and reduce redundancies. And at no time in my tenure as a consortium leader have a I seen the climate so receptive to collaborative efforts as it is today. People realize that the status quo simply can't hold. The attendees at yesterday's summit are the leaders in the library community in NYS, and clearly have the will to collaborate. But procurement policies imposed by the state seriously hinder their ability to do so. I'm not up on the specifics of those policies but from what I could glean from the meeting, expenditures at different dollar amounts trigger different, and increasingly stringent, levels of scrutiny. The dollar amounts quoted represent fairly typical expenditures for library acquisitions. However, the procurement procedures bog down library expenditures to the point that the libraries are unable to be responsive to opportunities for collaboration when they arise. This really puts these libraries in a catch-22 situation. Their funding is cut, they identify viable solutions through collaboration, but they are unable to respond in a timely manner due to procurement policies, which makes them unattractive partners for collaboration!

The group identified this as a major stumbling block and therefore a key area for advocacy efforts. I'll report back on the results of their important work in the coming months.

Monday, December 6, 2010

TEDx musings

It's been more than two weeks since I attended TEDx McGill. Several colleagues have asked me to report out on the experience but I needed some time for it all to percolate. So now I'm ready to share. One of the first things I would note is that TEDx events are licensed by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) but are independently organized by the host institution. The McGill event was held at Marché Bonsecours‎, a beautiful venue in Old Montreal near Port de Montreal. The full-day event began at noon and was slated to finish by 7:00, but it was closer to 8:00 when we wrapped up and went in search of dinner*.

The TEDx host develops the theme and does all of the content planning, etc. In the case of TEDxMcGill the theme was "Relentless Curiosity." The presenters covered topics including sustainability, importance of place, impact of language on healing, activism and beaver sculptures! We enjoyed several musical presentations, including a violinist accompanied by a laptop musician, and a rap singer with a personal survival story to tell. The sort of rapid-fire pace of the presentations left very little time for reflection during the event, and immediately afterward I felt shell-shocked by the information overload and anxious to decompress. That evening, my 'relentlesss curiosity' was piqued by one question: what was the connection? How did those things all weave together to deliver something cohesive? It wasn't immediately obvious to me.

Over the course of the next few days I came to a few conclusions. First, the topics didn't weave together neatly, and they didn't need to. Each attendee came with a different world view and something would undoubtedly strike a chord with each of us throughout the course of the day. What we took away depended upon what we brought. Second, I wasn't the target audience for TEDx McGill. My son and his contemporaries were. It's not that I wasn't inspired but the day's events, but what's really important is that Sam and his generation find purpose and work to make a difference, in whatever discipline they choose. They need to be inspired, and I think TEDx McGill succeeded in the goal of inspiring their target audience. Sam came away from the day knowing that one determined person can make a difference, and more importantly, realizing he could be that one determined person!

I think the concept of TEDx is a great one. You can really tailor the day and the message to your audience. I'd be interested in hosting one on the topic of the future of libraries, collaboration, the changing face of information, intellectual property, first amendment. . . Anyone game?

*For dinner we wanted tapas. We landed at Solmar, a Portugese place. The vibe was kind of blue hair Miami or white shoe New York City, but the Caesar Salad prepared tableside was the realest deal I've had in a long time. And the company was excellent! My son Sam, his girlfriend Danielle, Sam's new roommate Bernard and Bernard's little brother Deo made for some lively conversation!