by Barbara Quint
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”?
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,
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 Technorati.com
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.