The Art of Noticing

A few days ago, a co-worker sent me a link to an interview with Seth Godin. Krista Tippett, author of the blog On Being, talks with Godin about the “art of noticing then creating.” The transcript of the interview is well worth the read, but it’s the phrase “art of noticing” that caught my attention.

I’m always talking with people about leadership, and how I am worried about the lack of interest so many in the field of librarianship have in becoming strong, effective leaders. During a conversation recently with a fellow library system director, I tried to articulate what I consider  the single most important quality of an awesome leader. I talked about the ability to see and make connections outside the library arena, to look at something that succeeds in another field and imagine how it could be adapted to libraries. This blog actually began with that premise – to share sources of inspiration. I talked around the concept for a long time, then my colleague said, “But what do you really mean?”

What I was grasping for, what I was dancing around, was the concept of noticing. Of paying attention. And then doing  something.

Some people approach their jobs in one dimension – they cannot, or will not, think outside their own department, or library, or office. Others are Idea Hamsters – they churn out cool, crazy, interesting ideas, but they lack the will, or conviction or, perhaps, the resources or permission to make their ideas a reality. An awesome leader notices those crazycool ideas and clears the way to allow staff to manifest those noticings.

But where do you go to notice things? Here are some ways and places I find inspiration:

  1. Read widely. Read all kinds of magazines. Get a news aggregator like Zite and have a varied collection of top news stories fed to you every day. Read the magazines while you stand in line at the grocery store. Read the news headlines on Yahoo. Subscribe to trendspotting newsletter like Springwise or Gizmodo.
  2. Talk to people. Talk to your patrons, talk to your staff. Talk to the little kids in the children’s area, talk to the teens in your library. Talk to your neighbors, and the friends your kids bring home.
  3. Watch a little TV. Tune in to Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel once in awhile to see what’s up with the young ones these days. Check out the History Channel and MTV. Immerse yourself in pop culture for a few hours a week. Get to know Snooki and JWow, or the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
  4. Listen to music. Listen to a wide variety of music, and get to know the musicians. Music can truly open your mind and lead you places you never expected.
  5. Get to know your staff. Talk to them and find out what makes them sizzle, then remember it and celebrate it when you can.
  6. Spend time on Facebook. It is incredibly easy to share things there. Facebook does some interesting things with marketing based on your friends and pages you like, and, while it can sometimes be intrusive, I often find myself exposed to things I never would have encountered anywhere else.

So what kinds of things have I noticed and then acted on? Here are a few:

  1. Blind Date With a Book – My friend Mary, who lives in Ogdensburg NY, shared a photo with me on Facebook that illustrated a really cute, imaginative way to display books for Valentine’s Day. Wrap them up in fancy paper and invite people to go on a “blind date” with an unknown book. I shared the photo, and now a couple libraries in Monroe County are using the idea.
  2. Custom Receipts – Several months ago, I read about a library that was creating custom receipts for library materials, and I shared that with MCLS staff. A librarian from the Fairport Library emailed me to ask whether it would be possible to use that feature to show how much people “saved” by using the library to borrow materials. I sent the idea on to our ILS vendor, and a few months later, we had a solution. The ILS adds up the replacement cost associated with each item as it’s checked out, then the total value of the items borrowed is printed on the receipt.
  3. Local History – There is a blogger called Rochester Subway who has a keen interest in local history and historic buildings. I follow him on Facebook. A few months ago, he recorded the demolition of a building owned by the local brewery which had been the center of a bitter dispute between the City, the brewery, and local preservationists.  He posted his photos of the demolition on Facebook, where I noticed them, and initiated a request to our Local History staff to somehow capture and archive those unique images.

These are just a few examples of how and where I notice things. The art of noticing is a powerful tool for any organizational leader. Where do you notice things? What have you noticed recently and how have you acted on it?

4 thoughts on “The Art of Noticing

  1. Love the custom receipts idea! I must save thousands of dollars a year borrowing all kinds of things from the library. I bet patrons would be interested to know how much they borrow, too!…Mary Ann

  2. That Blind Date with a Book thing is catching on like wildfire, and it’s so fun!

    I find a lot of inspiration being out and about, particularly when I’m traveling but also even around town. As an example, I was visiting a friend in Durham the other week, and we went to her local branch library to pick up some books she had on hold, and I noticed that they had this really cool system for displaying staff picks, so I took a picture and to share with staff here so maybe we can see if it’s something we want to adapt for our library. I find a lot of things in spaces that aren’t libraries, too. Museums are a great place to find ideas about how to arrange spaces and display things, and I get promotional ideas all over the place–just even walking down a city street and looking in windows.

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