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Magazines > Searcher > May 2005
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Vol. 13 No. 5 — May 2005
Good Ideas
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

Remember that book that came out over a decade ago — Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? (Not that I ever read it myself! But hasn’t author, John Gray, turned that into a little money-making machine with his series of guides to happiness — or a near facsimile — built around the concepts? Humph.) Anyway, the book’s thesis was that men and women approached life and its experiences from a different slant. For example, according to the book, when a woman shares her troubles with a man, the man thinks she wants ways to fix the problems, but a woman only wants to share her feelings. “Oh, yeah!,” say I to Gray, “Have you ever heard of ‘Honey-do’ lists?” Maybe men want women to think the best they can get — and all they should ask for — is sympathy. Maybe they pay this guy Gray to attribute couch potato-ism to interplanetary forces.

Alright. Maybe not. There could be something to this point of view. If so, I sometimes find myself caught between planets. A girlfriend of mine called the other night to share the troubles of a mutual friend, whom she had just spent an hour talking off the ledge, so to speak. I listened — sympathetically! — and then started up with a row of suggestions on how to make the ledge-sitter happy. However, in the midst of my problem-solving babble, I noticed that my friend’s reactions were getting brusquer and brusquer, almost icy. This has happened before with this friend even when she is recounting her own difficulties.

I have never understood why someone with troubles wouldn’t want to hear a good idea for solving them. Even bad ideas should give one some sense of hope, if only by affirming that one’s troubles don’t look so imposing to others. Right? RIGHT? Sigh. I’ve spent a career coming up with what I thought were good ideas. Vendors who read my “Up Front with bq” column in Information Today get the benefit of my assignments — no charge, beyond a subscription to the noble flagship periodical. Information professionals who read “Searcher’s Voice” have often gotten potentially award-winning — not to say, career-preserving — notions plopped down before their eyes. So why hasn’t the world changed as fast as it should? Why don’t all those ideas promulgated across the decades have checkmarks next to them indicating “task accomplished”? Why, indeed.

A lot of factors affect the trip between word to deed, between idea to implementation. Sometimes it’s a matter of missing links, e.g., when a task’s completion requires the support of one or more players who simply don’t see the performance as either their responsibility or a real opportunity. Sometimes people who could implement a successful program don’t feel a sufficient sense of ownership over the concept to give them the emotional energy to commit to the task. Sometimes endless past battles with the forces of the status quo simply drain away the will of the enlightened to return to the fray. Sometimes people with crystal-clear visions of possibilities so real they seem almost tangible come to doubt themselves when no one around them shares, or even understands, their visions.

It takes more than vision to convert good ideas to desired realities. It takes courage and confidence and perseverance and talent. There’s ownership enough for everyone in most good ideas. Even if you don’t believe today that you can do anything to make a good idea happen, keep it in your private treasure-trove of promising notions. Take each of those notions out regularly and roll them around your mind. Do some follow-up searches on the concepts. Spot when a player emerges inside or outside your field who sees what you see. Track their efforts. Talk the concepts up when networking with colleagues, online or off. If you can’t lead now, support until you can. If an implementation effort fails, find out why. Imagine what strategies and tactics could have succeeded. Envision where this good idea might emerge again. Watch out for name changes, e.g., from push technology to RSS. Always keep an eye out for the long-distance effects of a good idea as it plays out. Some of those effects almost inevitably will be undesirable. Again, look for fixes and, if you don’t find good ones in sight, imagine your own.

One thing is constant in this Third Millennium and that is change itself. If you can adjust your mind and expectations and planning to riding the waves of change, you will prepare yourself for long, successful careers doing what you love doing. At the very least, when the wave of change hits your life, you’ll see it coming. Nothing makes an information professional look worse than being seen to be surprised by developments. Physician, heal thyself! How can we prove to clients that they need our services to protect their welfare when we can’t even protect ourselves? We no longer control information resources as we used to, but we can at least promise to keep on top of developments and move swiftly to maximize the value of new changes and minimize the disadvantages.

Today a friend told me about a speech by Michael Gorman, the new president-elect of the American Library Association, in which he publicly scorned Google for its millions of irrelevant hits. This is the same Gorman who slammed the Google Print library project in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece that got nationwide distribution within days of the project’s announcement. Gorman’s a gift that keeps on giving. Defending himself against the blog-based firestorm reactions to his L.A. Times piece in American Libraries, he attacked bloggers as a class. That got him reactions from bloggers as far away from the library profession as physics. The blogosphere suffers disrespect from no one silently. (Check for details.) What most depressed my friend as she attended Gorman’s latest Luddite sermon was the audience’s reactions. Public and academic librarians sat there smiling smugly, or at least many of them did.

What’s to do? Leap to your feet and defy the Luddite. Speak up. Defend the right. Turn to that audience and challenge them. “How many of you have used Google in the last month? The last week? Yesterday? This morning? Are or are not Web search engines primary sources in reference work for you and your colleagues? Do or do not your clients use them first in their research? Then how can you sit there and...?”

OK. That’s a rhetorical defense of the implementation of a good idea. French president Jacques Chirac has started an even better response. He has called on his nation to come up with its own mass digitization project to make sure that Anglo-Saxon linguists don’t rule the world. See how good ideas make more good ideas.

Change is coming. You can be part of it or let it run you down. Make change your friend. Fight or take flight from anyone who reveals themselves as an enemy of change. Seek the coming thing. Treasure good ideas. Make them happen. The more of us who work for a new and better world, the faster we may get what we wish for. Even if it doesn’t happen as completely or as quickly as we would wish, we will be ready when it finally does come to pass. And can anything taste sweeter than the words, “I told you so”?

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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