Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big ideas and how to quash them!

For the last few years NELLCO has been in a period of significant organizational change. We've relocated our offices and are back to being physically co-located with one of our member institutions, Albany Law School. In 80s and 90s NELLCO was seated, first physically and later only administratively, at Harvard. For most of the first decade of the 21st century we were administratively tied to Yale, but physically housed in commercial office space remote from any of our member institutions. Today, we are administratively independent and building a physical presence for NELLCO that is closely identified with Albany, NY.

Working with Organizational Design & Development Associates, the NELLCO Board of Directors developed an ambitious strategic plan for 2010-2014. As I review the plan today I feel confident that we're on track with the goals the Board defined for us. We are now moving in some really exciting directions that result directly from the hard work of the Board.

One goal from our current plan is the focus of this post; Program Goal A: To maximize the benefits of membership and efficient use of consortium resources in an organization dedicated to a leadership position in the law library field. This is where we have potential to realize some 'big ideas.'

Big ideas are always (necessarily) departures from status quo. A recent posting by Jeff Arnold on his blog, Zen Leadership, points to our amazing ability to talk ourselves right out of any 'big ideas' with a litany of 'what ifs.' Throwing up obstacles left and right in the very first instance is a sure way kill off any big ideas.

Another blogger, Ann Michael over at the Scholarly Kitchen, talks about the same issue in her post, Pizzas and Publishing. Our innate need to overcomplicate things paralyzes us. She quotes Ryan Jacoby from his  Seven Deadly Sins That Choke Out Innovation:
Innovation is all about discussing new ideas that currently have no place in the real world. If you’re only comfortable talking about things that don’t strike you as alien, chances are you’re not talking about real innovation.
So my take away as I reflect on NELLCO's evolution and these posts about big idea thinking is to encourage all of us to work harder at imagining what could be, what might work. While I don't agree with Jeff Arnold's characterization of S.W.O.T. analysis as a Stupid Waste Of Time, I do agree that prematurely calling out potential obstacles is a sure way to stifle innovation!

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