I know what great cat curiousity certainly hasn’t killed, or even maimed or slowed down in any fashion. Jane Dysart.

Jane is one curious character (if I called her a “curious cat” it would make me sound like I’m remaking an episode of Dobie Gillis or Ozzie & Harriet. Oh dear, most of you are too young to know that before he was Gilligan, Bob Denver was none other than “Maynard Krebs” – a “beatnik” who referred to cool people as “cool cats” on Dobie Gillis.  I digress!)

As I prepare a paper for next week’s OLA Superconference on Strategic & Critical Thinking: Seeing Possibilities, I reflect on Jane’s ability to view situations from a different perspective, largely because she has an incredible sense of curiosity and she’s a risk taker.  Curiousity is an important attribute for strategic thinking; strategic thinkers are those who question and explore issues and developments to see where they lead. Coupled with their comfort for risk taking, they will follow these unmarked paths — sometimes to poking about to see what emerges.  One of Jane’s favourite sayings is “What’s the worst thing that can happen? If you can live with the worst, then explore it a bit.”

I’m not talking about strategic planning, but rather strategic thinking — which had better be involved in the strategic planning. Without strategic thinking, you aren’t getting the disruptive thinking and fresh paths leading to change — which is, of course, the whole purpose of strategic planning. If you aren’t thinking strategically, you are developing a service plan or an operational plan, not a strategic plan.  Strategic planning & Strategic thinking are iterative & dependant.  If you think strategically & don’t plan to do anything with the realizations or possibilities, then it was a fun exercise. That’s why Jane keeps me around. I plan.  (I do think, too…ahem…..but in very different ways than Jane.)

Jeanne Liedtka’s model illustrates the strategy-making framework with “the tension between the creation of the alignment necessary to support efficiency and effectiveness and the disruption of alignment necessary to foster change and adaptability.” (Eton Lawrence’s 1999 discussion paper on Strategic Thinking for the Public Service Commission of Canada.

Strategic thinking hinges on creativity, connecting disparate issues & events, & ultimately in re-writing the rules; critical thinking hinges on improving reasoning by questioning & highlighting innate biases, beliefs, assumptions & perceptions.  Unless these hinges are both on the door to your strategy, it won’t open very widely or really direct your organization into a new, success-oriented environment.  They both rely on people with different perspectives & experiences conversing, considering & creating.

Those in libraries sometimes find it very challenging to question rules, assumptions & base beliefs.  Let’s be honest — we talk about getting rid of sacred cows, but very often we can’t even clearly define the cow let alone agree on how to get it to the butcher!  Our profession has to exercise its strategic & critical thinking skills:

  • We have to listen, truly listen to what other people are saying & observe their behaviours
  • We have to be aware of our assumptions, tendencies & perceptions
  • We have to let our curiousity lead us in variant directions, & be interested in things that have nothing whatsoever to do with libraries but have everything to do with people
  • We have to admit that we perhaps don’t have valid information or reasoning at hand
  • And then explore, with others outside the library environment, what that validity might look like

The Shanachie Tour that first arrived at Internet Librarian a few years ago was the result of strategic & critical thinking.  Dick Kaser & Jane questioned base assumptions about thetypes of sessions to be at a US-based conference; they took a risk investing in individuals from a European library to travelling across the US interviewing librarians; they were curious as to how the “Tour” would be received, & reasoned that it would give a different flavour to the conference.  And, their thinking – their risk – their curiousity – was all correct.

The session we’ll be giving on Thursday February 3 has an exercise for people to test their critical thinking — try it out.  And let us know how strategic & critical thinking has resulted in creating new, potentially risky strategies or services that break the rules at your library.  It doesn’t matter the size or scope — new possibilities, formations, ideas — we’re curious! Let’s explore & succeed together.

Thinking strategically & critically: seeing possibilities