We spend our lives looking out through our own personal lens. Sometimes, it is necessary to look at things from a different perspective, to look from the outside in. When we see the earth from outer space it is still the same planet we encounter every day but from that perspective it appears very different.
This was something that Dr. John Howard encountered at the American Indian State University when he set about the task of cataloguing the artefacts of the indigenous population of southwestern states of America. A group comprised of two white men and one Native American could not agree on how to organise the articles. It required the skill of a social anthropologist to show them that the way to achieve their common goal was to participate in each other’s perspective.
Travelling through time and space as both the Starship Enterprise and you and I do, we must sometimes change our perspective or alter our goals to overcome with the obstacles in our path.
There are many stories in the episodes of John Howards’ life, a life similar to the path followed by the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Both encountered many new discoveries, their own talents and strengths, their adaptability and the paths their choices led them to. Dr. Howards’ musical skills could be utilised in many ways and led to many different and unforeseen environments where he excelled and thrived.
Katherine McSharry of the National Library of Ireland explained how strategic planning must be carried out in a reasonable time frame. Furthermore the environment and its horizons must be scanned for forthcoming changes so they can be encompassed in the plan. Dr John Howard outlined the consequences of ignoring this. When he became Head of Research at Harvard Medical School, the Carnegie Library had been refurbished into a beautiful building at a cost of $35 million. However, over the 3 years it took to complete, the patterns of use no longer applied and the library remained underutilised. He took a completely new approach and sent the librarians out into the medical school and through bioinformatics tried to create answers for the medical school to questions they could not easily answer.
Strategic planning was originally devised by American corporations and the U.S. military as a method to cope with change in their environments. Stephan (2010) in her article on Western Washington University demonstrated that a combination of Bryson’s “Strategic Change Cycle” and their own ‘SWOT bootcamp’ gave structure to the process of creating the plan. The SWOT bootcamp was where all the information gathered was examined for relevance over the course of one long day.
Fairholm (2009) suggests that analysis of the data and production of the strategic plan may leave ‘gaps’ which will require both leadership and strategic thinking to overcome. He differentiates between strategic planning (“achievement of goals and the control of achievable events” (Fairholm, 2009) and strategic thinking, (“values, purpose and identity”), (Fairholm, 2009) Broadly these groups divide planning and thinking into quantitative and qualitative, it appears for me that for success a combination of both is desirable.
Although Linn (2008) says that ‘a laborious process is not needed to plan a library’s strategic direction’ it is however necessary to predict with some degree of reality what changes are foreseeable. Dr. Howard became Director of Technical Services at Arizona University. It was a time of great change which needed to be managed aggressively. Management however were reluctant to accept technical change. Sometimes disaster can have a positive outcome. When the network went down for a full three days the degree of dependence and the need for updating the system were evident for all to see. It is clear that it is essential to plan strategically but the process does not have to be lengthy. Taking too long can make the plan redundant particularly in times of great change. (Linn, 2008)
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley,” [often go awry]
Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse, 1786
http://www.astroteller.net accessed on 1/4/2017
Burns, Robert (1786) To a Mouse
Fairholm, M. R. (2009). Leadership and Organizational Strategy. Innovation Journal, 14(1), 1-16.
Mott, L. (2008). Planning strategically and strategic planning. Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, The, 21(1), 20-23.
Stephan, E., 2010. Strategic Planning on the Fast Track”, Library Leadership and Management, 24(4): 189-198.