Margaret Heffernan is a woman who knows her way around information Internet environment organizations. She’s a noted author, particularly for women entrepreneurs, and is Executive in Residence at Babson College. She got to this point by being CEO of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and iCAST Corporation, and was named one of the Internet’s Top 100  in 1999, one of the Top 25 by Streaming Media magazine and one of the Top 100 Media Executives by The Hollywood Reporter. Her “Tear Down the Wall” campaign against AOL won the 2001 Silver SABRE award for public relations.

I tell you this to establish her credibility for the rule she established at her companies that “all complaints be accompanied by at least one solution.” She had learned, as many of us have learned, that smart people find faults, &, without firm boundaries, will focus on these faults rather than on improving the situation.  We also know that people tend to put all problems into one big bucket that they stir & stir – with the end result that all problems are given equal weight, not many get effectively addressed, & the organizational culture descends into a toxic pit of low productivity & high pessism.

Margaret doesn’t talk about categorizing problems, so I will; face it, there 3 kinds of problems or “issues”:

1. those over which you have no control — so move on & focus your efforts where you can make a difference

2. those over which you have some control — deserve some attention, so find some allies & get to it

3. those over which you have total control — AH! the sweet spot – you have the POWER so use it & do something about it

And what do we have total control over? Ourselves — our attitude – our approach. And attitude is everything. Good problem-solvers are just that — solvers.

In “Stop the Whining: How to Stop Corrosive Complaining,” Margaret lays out why the rule of basically ‘let’s focus on what we want to fix & stop perpetuating the problem’ works:

1. it makes ppl think about what’s an important problem to be fixed & worth the cost of fixing – in otherwords, it helps ppl set priorities

2. it encourages ppl to work together & generate good ideas; rather than those in technical areas blaming the front-line or client-facing ppl, they work together to devise innovative solutions (remember, innovative doesn’t mean ground-shaking — it just means different & better)

3. it makes employees see the big picture & to take ownership for the organization — gains buy-in & employee engagement, since ppl can see that THEY make a difference, & not leave things at management’s door.

Heffernan’s advice is aimed at corporate settings, but I’m adjusting the aim towards libraries & those in information functions.  There are some REALLY fabulous libraries out there, and some fabulous information professionals. And, there are some incredibly smart information professionals out there who see the problems & loudly voice the problems, but don’t engage their own efforts or the efforts of their colleagues in solving those problems.  As Heffernan says, “So many companies become the walking dead when they focus on complaints rather than solutions. Does your company have a culture of complaint? If it does, what are you doing about it?” Does your library have a culture of complaint? If it does, what are you doing about it?