Information professionals  must adapt to current disruptions and prepare for new ones to be relevant.

In early 2010, Iceland’s barely pronounceable Mt. Eyjafjallajokull erupted. The volcano produced a spectacular lighting storm and spewed ash across Northern Europe, creating an enormous disruption in air traffic between Europe and North America.

I see similar disruptions in the information industry. We have seen every link in the chain of information–finding, selecting, and disseminating–undergo tectonic shifts. Each of these shifts has pointed in the direction of continued, accelerated change. In fact, one business process consultant told me we could see more change in the next five years than we have seen in the last half-century.

I don’t have to tell you that we need to take a proactive stance to thrive in this new landscape. It’s because of this disruption that I’m encouraging YOU to do what it takes to be “future ready”–in your company, in your work activities, and in our association.

As I’ve emphasized this year, we need to stay focused on preparing for the future. My theme, Future Ready, is an attitude. It says I’m adaptable, I’m flexible, I’m confident, and I’m constantly expanding my skills.

Future Ready is also a skill set that embraces change and tries new things. Being future ready means adapting to the disrupted environment and aligning with emerging opportunities in the information industry and beyond.

Future Ready is also a north star–it’s something we may never quite reach, but it’s an aspiration worth reaching for. Being future ready enables us to respond effectively to a never-settled landscape full of volcanoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes, big and small.

Adaptive Competence

Recently, as I was mulling over the idea of what it means to be ready for the future, I came across an article on the NPR Website about a woman named Helen Reichert. Helen is 109 years old. I couldn’t help but think, what’s her secret? A thousand calories a day and an hour of yoga?

According to her physician, Mark Lachs, diet and exercise have nothing to do with it. “No, Helen Reichert likes chocolate truffles,” he wrote. “Her favorite beverage is Budweiser. And she once announced … that she was thinking about smoking again. When I protested, she reminded me that she has outlived several other physicians and told me to mind my own business.” The key, according to Dr. Lachs, lies in “a powerful trait geriatricians call adaptive competence.”

Now, you can’t live to be 109 years old without life throwing you a few curveballs along the way. But you rebound and you keep going. You get good at adapting, even if it just means breaking in a new doctor with threats to buy a pack of Marlboros. Adaptive competence is the ability to respond positively to a rapidly evolving environment and come out better for it. If you embrace change, rebound, and keep going, then you’re future ready!

From Drought to Deluge

In our lifetimes, we’ve seen information go from drought to deluge. In fact, this phenomenon is so prevalent that in March, “information deluge” was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and The Economist published an article titled “Too Much Information” in its June 30 edition.

Our clients can’t drink from this fire hose of information without drowning. They prefer single-serving snippets that are easy to digest and spot-on relevant. This is creating some extraordinary opportunities for people who find, assess, and organize information. We are being called on to summarize data, turn it into an Acrobat file, post it to a wiki, and tweet it before lunch. Our future ready skills are becoming more and more essential.¬† In my role as president of SLA, I have worked hard to get out of the office and travel to meet members. I have visited chapters large and small, where many of you have shared stories about new roles that our predecessors never would have imagined. Some of you are working with pattern recognition; others are being pulled into archiving and curation. Here are example of the emerging roles I’ve heard about recently:

Let’s continue to develop new roles for our skills. Let’s go where the market takes us, because that definitely requires being future ready!

SLA in 2014

Let me wrap up by talking about how SLA itself is working to be more adaptable and agile. As a member-driven organization, we need to embrace a different point of view in a more digital, more social, and more interconnected world. Information that once was known only to membership organizations is now freely available on the Internet, and learning programs are popping up faster than you can say “do it at your desktop.”

For SLA to stay relevant, it will have to confront the disruptive forces of social networking, distributed collaboration, and more. To address this challenge, the SLA Board of Directors held two strategic vision brainstorming sessions prior to the annual conference in Philadelphia. It was very messy. By the time we finished there were shredded spreadsheets on the floor and an avalanche of Post-It notes on easel boards, and the distinct aroma of too much magic marker hung in the air.

  • It was hard work, but it was exciting. In those two sessions, the board did the following:
  • Developed a strategic vision for SLA for the next three budget cycles;
  • Brainstormed new ways to collaborate with partners and sponsors;
  • Looked at just about every aspect of our “reason for being”; and
  • Debated how we can be future ready as a group.

The session reports are still in progress, so I can’t give you the final word quite yet. But, I will say this: it won’t be your father’s Oldsmobile. We are going through a transformation, and we will come out better for it. Also, I have appointed a task force composed of John DiGilio, Alex Feng and Cynthia Berglez to review and make recommendations to modify our continuing education model. The board is committed to keeping you involved and informed of our progress, so expect to hear more about the new strategic vision shortly.

I’ve shared some thoughts about disruption in our industry and what we can do about it. We know we need to adapt, both as individuals and as a collective group. We all know that the opportunities are out there. If we use our wits and our proven skills, we will find that we are, indeed, future ready!