This is a post that corresponds with my graduate coursework in the field of library and information science. If you are not interested in reading my homework, simply skipping any post that begins with “IST###” should put you in the clear.
During this week’s discussion of the concept of Facilitation in the context of librarianship, our professor mentioned a sneaky and pervasive character that I think everyone has probably encountered at one time or another. This character is “the historian.”
You know who this person is. You come into work all excited with a new idea and excitedly paint a sparkly picture of a reality that has been forever altered by your creative genius. Right when you’re hitting your stride, mid-gush, the historian takes advantage of the brief pause you took, in order to suck in some more inspiration-fueling oxygen, and says,
“Oh yeah, we tried that last year and it totally tanked.”
I have encountered this moment and the wind-out-of-sails feeling is usually the death of my creativity and motivation. It is tempting to think that this person is just a Debbie Downer and wants to establish superiority by showing off prior knowledge. However, I think that the historian is often acting from a desire to be helpful. In fact, I have probably been the historian myself. There is value in knowing what has been tried before and how it worked. However, the way the person with that information makes it known is important.
In the readings for this week, there were four identified key elements of facilitation: access, knowledge, environment, and motivation. Shutting down someone’s idea because it sounds like something that has been done in the past completely decimates all four of those components. It would be much better if we could all remember that excitement and creativity are priceless resources. The way to respond to a new presentation of an old, discarded idea, in a way that reflects good facilitation would be,
“Hey, someone else thought that was a great idea too a few years ago. Let me share with you how far they got in implementation; it might give you a good place to start.”
In this instance, the idea person already has some motivation — s/he’s excited about a new idea. Responding in this way gives access to existing historical information (the historian’s knowledge of past experience) and creates a constructive environment. Only two sentences, and you have facilitation.
So here is what I think:
I think that the next time someone slams down the “we did that already” hammer on one of my ideas, I’m going to take it as an invitation. They will have just volunteered to help me make my idea succeed the way the previous one couldn’t. I’ll do my best also, to practice what I preach.