Just Say Yes To Technology?

One of the most interesting blog posts that I have read over the last week is Ryan Deschamps’s What the Library 2.0 Crowd is Trying to Say about Technology. Overall, I really like Ryan’s enthusiasm for libraries and technology. I so often find his enthusiasm infectious. In this particular post, I understand (or at least think I understand) what Ryan is trying to get at. He is trying to figure out why technology is so often a problem. Ryan concludes early in his post “that technology problems are ultimately organizational culture problems.” His solution? “Technology has reached a stage that any idea to implement a technology ought to begin with a “yes.”

I’m not convinced that just saying yes to ideas that involve technology is going to help resolve organizational issues. Really, I don’t disagree with anything else in Ryan’s post other than this point. Ryan has 10 great reasons why librarians need greater freedom to play, test and monitor new technologies. I think this means that we need to make technology play a more central role in our organizations – make it seem fun – try and make technology less intimidating – integrate it into our work more fully. I love Ryan’s take on playing and having fun. I think following this suggestion could be the key to helping people be much more comfortable with technology. Without changing the organizational culture, I have a suspicion that actually just saying yes to new ideas involving technology –  and then worrying about the actual plan – might actually cause deeper cultural divides within the organization. And isn’t there already a divide that we are trying to overcome?

Additionally, just saying yes doesn’t take into account a whole set of other issues, like technical support or impact on support staff. I admit to often being baffled why some seem to resist simple enhancements that don’t require any resources from those saying no. However, sometimes there are important reasons for saying no. Library 2.0 isn’t just about (or shouldn’t be just about) technology. The technology needs to fit the situation, the library and the people.

I agree with Ryan about the impact of organizational culture on technology ideas. However, it seems that it is imperative to try and change the culture. Technology is only a tool to try and accomplish something. I think that simply saying yes to technology doesn’t take into account the human aspect, the human resistance to change and to technology, and/or the human fear of the unknown. I don’t think it should be about the technology.

Ultimately, it seems that people are trying to figure out why the answer to proposals dealing with even simplistic technologies is more often than not no. This is tough question. I deal with it constantly – sometimes as the one who says no and sometime as the one who gets told no. In many ways, librarians need the freedom to make some of these decisions for themselves without always answering to an outside department. The library needs to have an organizational culture that accepts and even embraces change – one that encourages testing and trial by error. It is easier to say yes to ideas in a testing environment and it may be less threatening to those who don’t take well to change.


8 Responses to Just Say Yes To Technology?

  1. aL says:

    I think both Ryan and you have brought up some extremely interesting point in the current world that we are living in, and there really is no one answer for any of these, especially when human beings are involved. I also totally agree with you that technology is merely a tool and simply saying yes to it is way too oversimplifying the matter. However, IMHO, I have to honestly say that a “YES” to a new technology is a huge if not critical part to why new system or technology fails or succeeds in a large organization.

    I don’t know how it is in the library world, but in the health care world you see issues like you mentioned day in and day out. Is it not weird that health care, which should take patient’s well-beings above all else, seems always to be lacking behind in technology implementation and adaptation? And you know that it is definitely not because there is a lack of technology, nor is it because patient don’t want them, nor the lack of resouces… it purely is because there is a significant level of resistant to change from the staffs, doctors and nurses who have been adapted to the way it ‘used’ to work and can care less about anything new, especially a new system that they have to ‘relearn.’

    However, I believe the next generation would be different. They are a generation that is born into a technological and fast adapting world. They are a group that embraces the change and at a certain degree even loves the change. And one day, when that generation rules the world, technology changes that takes years and decades for us to adapt now, could literally happen in hours or minutes.


  2. Mark says:

    Well said, Jennifer! I, too, enjoyed Ryan’s post and only had a problem with the same thing as you. You, though, said what I would have liked to but with kindness and some detail. My rather simplistic critique would basically have been that saying Yes before even asking any questions is stupid; not a good way to start a conversation.

    I understood his point to be “Minimize the obstacles, ask only necessary questions, and empower people,” or something like that. But what he actually said about saying yes immediately is extremely simplistic and also ill-advised from a managerial perspective. Do anyone want a manager who immediately says yes to things and then after asking a few questions retracts that yes? Does anyone want to be that manager?

  3. I think my point is being taken a little bit off here, because I tried very hard to be balanced.

    “Minimize the obstacles, ask only necessary questions, and empower people” is a poor distilisation of what I said. Particularly, the “ask only necessary questions” part.

    This is a bit frustrating to me, because what I actually wrote was:

    Begin with a “yes,” then work through the barriers or fit the idea into a list of priorities after. No, that does not mean “implement new technology NOW!” It means “give us techies the benefit of the doubt and then determine if something is not sustainable, too resource-intensive or whatnot after we have had the opportunity to show you it can be successful.”

    Say “yes” and then say “let me see the model or plan” and then criticize it on its merits. Then do a 5-minute Google or Wikipedia search to find out what we are trying to do. Say “yes” first, then ask the hard questions and when the idea falls off the rails say “ok — let’s look at this for another time.”

    I said technology ought to *begin* with a “yes.” By that, I meant to say “yes, now go get me a business plan.” or “yes, now where does this fit into our priorities and/or strategic plan.” And no, don’t want managers to reduce the questions — I said ask *hard* questions. But say “yes” first. Or, (if I can change my tune just a bit) at least as often as we say “yes” first to a whole slate of other activities.

    The point is less about reneging on the need for planning and/or alternative actions and/or critical thinking and more about engaging techies in the discussions that already get a “yes” before ever asking any questions (which I agree is stupid, if by that you mean going into the implementation stage without anything resembling a plan).

    What I had here before was TLTR, so I’m going to move it to a blog post. But suffice it to say that I think managers (and I am one myself by the way) have to start thinking about life-long learning too, particularly with respect to technology. Because that’s what I think is at the heart of what I’m trying to say. The “no” reaction to technology in my view is less about resources and more about a lack of knowledge. If libraries are to survive, our [the managers] role has to resemble something like “yes, I agree to learn this with you.”

  4. Jennifer says:

    aL, I think you are definitely right about there not being only one answer. Each situation is very different. I can certainly see your point about a “YES” playing a critical part to the success for failure for a technology. However, I have seen many situations where “they” said “YES” to a new technology and it was a miserable experience that caused deep, deep unhappiness for staff. Thanks for the glimpse of technology in the health care word. I guess there are some similarities between libraries and health care where people often prefer to do thing the way they have always done them.

    Ryan, personally, I think that your post was very well balanced. In all honesty, I love your post – I can’t even tell you how many times I have read it. Creating an atmosphere that is receptive to change – especially technological change is one of my greatest challenges. It is something that I am struggling with daily and trying to be better at facilitating. And your post speaks to this issue eloquently. I didn’t think that you were saying there should be no planning at all. I’ve been re-reading my post (and yours although I almost have it memorized by now). I guess that I am a person who never asks for technology without a plan in place – so it seems to me that when I get a yes or a no, it is already based upon more than just the technology. And realistically, I don’t usually ask for a technology – I put a plan together to develop something to solve a specific problem and don’t even mention the technical parts until later on.

    I guess I would modify your original tenet to say that I believe someone should not say no to an idea because of the technology. I’m guessing that people often do because they are unsure of what it entails. People should have the freedom to experiment, to make a case for things, to try and make them seem less intimidating. I believe we need to eliminate these types of knee-jerk, technophobe reactions.

    I’m still very uncomfortable saying “Technology has reached a stage that any idea to implement a technology ought to begin with a “yes,” but if it works for others that is really all that matters.

  5. Hi Jennifer — I hope I don’t sound offended here or anything, because I’m not at all. I really agree with your post as well (it’s that [healthy] cycle again — planning. . . [yeah but] innovation . . .[yeah but] planning. . .). I’m just a little concerned that the headline and Mark’s read could give the wrong impression if someone didn’t actually read what I wrote. That’s what comments are for anyway right? To clarify, add, participate etc.

    Another point here is the need for playspace — namely access to a test server, with all sorts of bells and whistles, including a test copy of the ILS if possible. It’s really hard for people to demo tech projects when people can’t see the possibilities. And out-of-the-box products, especially open source ones, don’t really show well to people who don’t know how something works.

  6. […] 12 April I made a comment on a post at Life As I Know It. Jennifer Macaulay, in a post entitled, “Just Say Yes To […]

  7. […] My harshest critic was Mark Lindner, who said (here): […]

  8. […] Just Say Yes To Technology? (Life as I Know It) […]

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