What Might Be

Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Roger Martin, the author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. There is a great article about the book in Businessweek as it was one of their top recommentations for 2009.

The event was held at the new, and very cosmopolitan Ziba Design building on Ninth and Northrop in Portland. The crowd was large, hip, and enthusiastic.

As his thesis, Martin poses this question: “Why aren’t companies more innovative, especially since innovation is such a competitive advantage?” He investigated the obvious answers–that  companies like what they already have or that they don’t have the resources–and he found they were not true. Companies really do want to be innovative.

So, what is impeding innovation? From his research, Martin concludes that it’s the subtle ways that people think that block changes in process and structure that lead to innovation.

Martin then outlined three ways that people think. The first is analytical thinking which looks at data from the past to predict the future. Its goal is a reliable outcome, but the limitation is that when you are looking to innovate you cannot use inductive or deductive reasoning to prove something new. In fact, Martin goes so far as to say “prove it” is the enemy of innovation.

Another way that people think is intuitive thinking, which has the goal of creating “what might be.” Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning. This method of thinking has 100% validity, he said, because it lacks parameters.

The combination of both approaches is called abductive thinking, and its purpose is to integrate the past and future, and to combine reliability and validity. The intersection of analytical and intuitive thinking is where innovation occurs.

He argued that corporate life is dominated by analytical thinking, and that it has been pushed so far that it is counterproductive. He gave suggestions for intuitive thinkers to understand and empathize with analytical thinkers. He also challenged analytical thinkers to share reasoning and data, but not conclusions with intuitive thinkers.

If you change structure and process, then culture shifts occur. Cultural shifts lead to innovation.

As SLA looks to become Future Ready and posits “what might be,” we need use analytical and intuitive thinking to engender new processes and structures to support our members.

What’s your dominant way of thinking? Analytical, intuitive or abductive?


Before you vote, please think about…

After we’ve had this big, beefy conversation about our name–about our identity really–we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, close Pandora’s box, or put the toothpaste back into the tube (choose your metaphor). 

Collectively, we’ve aired out our concerns from every perspective and because of that we’re all looking at S-L-A differently. It’s like the cup of coffee you left on the counter in the morning, when you pick it up in the afternoon—it’s different. What is that film on it? And why does it taste so tannic? It was fine a little while ago, but time passed, and something changed.

Even if you really like the name SLA, you’ve got to admit, it looks different on this side of the discussion.

 Change Adoption

I feel that we are widely spread out on the change adoption curve. In fact, if we were a Boy Scout troop hiking on a trail, the front of the pack probably would not be able to see the back of the pack. And the back of the pack is having a hard time hearing what the front of the pack is saying. But we’re all going forward. And if we don’t change now it’s a lost opportunity.

 Lost opportunity

Guy St. Clair, author of SLA at 100: From Working with Knowledge to Building the Knowledge Culture, has this to say regarding SLA’s reluctance to change:

Both in the book and in the presentations, one of the points I found myself making related to how close – as an association of professional knowledge workers – SLA came to taking a leadership position only to step back when confronted with the challenges the proposed change would require. Indeed, it was sometimes quite disheartening to research a topic and learn how people so talented and so smart – when they really needed to exercise their leadership – were not able to do so.

I’m put in mind of these several situations, what I’ve come to think of as SLA’s missed opportunities, as we engage in our discussions about the name of the association. I can’t help but wonder if once again we are going to not recognize a very special opportunity that is right in front of us. 

Noble calling vs. expanded opportunities

I can’t speak for the Board, but I know that people in leadership have your best interests at heart. They genuinely want you to succeed and are trying to balance the noble calling of librarianship with the fact that in many instances it is limiting in terms of salaries, job opportunities, and business priorities.

SLA leadership has been studying, contemplating, and reflecting on the issue of our name/positioning/branding for a very long time. We know there is controversy and doubt. From the Alignment Project research we have compelling evidence that the words “special libraries” do not get you what you told leadership that you want. We have all the proof we can muster—for some of you the next step is an intuitive leap.

As you can see from the following quote, by Roger Martin author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the New Competitive Advantage, we are not alone in the challenges we face.  

By pushing the principles of scientific management too far, corporations are short-circuiting their own futures, says Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management. “The enemy of innovation is the phrase ‘prove it,’” Martin says.

Vote yes for our association’s future. Let’s make the most of this momentous opportunity. We’ll be positioning ourselves for value and growth with the name the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals.


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© 2010 Romainiacs Intelligence Research