I started a little meme on Twitter on Thursday, which David Free picked up on and posted about over on his blog, David’s Random Stuff. I thought I’d add a little (brief) backstory and fill in some of the tweets that David missed. (One of the interesting things about Twitter of course, is that depending on who we follow or who follows us, we all saw – or didn’t see- different responses. )
Like David, I’m not naming names, but I thought it would be interesting to add timestamps to give everyone an idea of how this played out chronologically. I think there were some brilliant comments, so I hope the authors step forward and take credit.
Brief backstory: Janie Hermann and I were chatting about the lack of recent posts on LG and Janie jokingly suggested that maybe Twitter, the great sucker of time, was to blame. I threw out the comment that “Twitter is like therapy… without the progress.” Janie suggested (dared?) that I share that thought on Twitter. I thought it might make for an interesting meme so seconds later (at 11:10) I threw it out there to the 50 or so people in my twitterverse. This is what transpired:
- NEW TWITTER MEME: TWITTER IS LIKE… (I’ll go first) Twitter is like therapy… without the progress. (11:10)
- Twitter is like ADD without the Ritalin (11:19)
- Twitter is like Jaiku…. I’m bad at analogies (11:23)
- Twitter is like whippits (11:24)
- Twitter is like a celestial bulletin board. (11:24)
- Twitter is like a crack addiction without all the mugging, prostitution, and running from the cops. (11:26)
- Twitter is also like Paris Hilton: slutty and unfortunate. 11:26)
- Twitter is like your drunk uncle at Christmas, sometimes you want the madness to stop, but you still wanna see where it’s going. (11:30)
- Twitter is like passing notes during class. (11:31)
- Twitter is like [name redacted] – You don’t like it until you try it (11:32)
- twitter is like the background noise of the universe, kind of a low murmur that lets you know you’re not alone (aww!) (11:37)
- Twitter is like cheating on your blog (11:38)
- Twitter is like crack for procrastinators. (11:41)
- Twitter is like sex without a condom. Sure it’s fun, but you will probably regret it later. (11:42)
- Twitter is like…. so. y’know. … What was I doing? (11:43)
- Twitter is like compressed infobursts, effin ay! (11:45)
- Heck, Twitter *is* compressed infobursts (11:45)
- Twitter is like an inside joke: no one gets why you do it unless they do it (11:46)
- Twitter is like sucking out my braaains… (11:46)
- Twitter is like being stuck in a massive kaleidoscope- ooh something shiny! (11:56)
- Twitter is like drinks with @dwfree – makes you feel all nice and warm inside (12:04)
- Twitter is like drunk sex w/ a friend: not nearly as intimate as you expected it to be, but still sexy & satisfying. (12:04)
- Twitter is like drunk sex w/[the person who just posted about drunk sex.] (12:09)
- Twitter is like being in a room with your “friends”, saying something really loud, and hoping that someone hears you. (12:18)
- Twitter is like having 10 IM windows open at once. (12:27)
- George Costanza: “It’s like going to the bathroom in front of a lot of people and not caring.” Jerry: [pause] “It’s not like that at all.” (12:28)
- Twitter is, like, another reason I, like, totally, looove innovation (12:39)
- Twitter is like a party in my phone! (12:39)
- Twitter is, like, totally awesome. (ok really i’m done. lunch over) (12:43)
- Twitter is like the sound a tree makes when it falls in the forest — whether anyone is there or not. (12:48)
- Twitter is quotidian packet hops (12:51)
- Twitter is like finding out your favorite candy bar now comes in smaller easier to eat packaging…for free (12:55)
- Twitter is like is like a bus full of crazy people talking to themselves. Except you get to choose who is on the bus. (1:12)
- (Twitter is instant gratification.) (1:12)
- Twitter is like a dry skin condition. It itches, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches. (But it feels soooo good to scratch…) (1:22)
In my last post on The Human Touch I discussed how a warm, caring human being trumped a crappy, highly inconvenient system. And now for something completely different…
A few weeks ago I went into Philly to meet an old friend for dinner. Mindy had just moved back to the Philly area after too long an absence. She was happy to be returning to the city life, and particularly happy to find that there was an organic food co-op a block from her new place. Over dinner she related the following story.
After getting moved in, Mindy grabbed her environmentally friendly canvas bag and headed down the block to the co-op to do some shopping. The co-op’s a fair-sized place, spread over two floors. Lots of veggies, fruits, meats, dairy, knickknacks, and a very active community bulletin board. There’s lot’s to see, so Mindy takes her time, browsing through the store, taking it all in, while slowly adding items to her canvas bag.
Little by little Mindy starts to feel a little weird. People are watching her. Giving her strange looks. Dirty looks? What’s going on? Maybe she’s been out in the sticks too long and is just not use to the unfriendly ways of east coast city life? No, people are definitely watching her. And following her. Like maybe she’s a thief…
After this goes on for about 1/2 an hour, the manager approaches her and says, “Is there some reason you’re putting items in that canvas bag?” Mindy replies, “Um, yes. Because I’m shopping.” The manager informs her in a none-too-friendly tone that all customers must use the little plastic baskets for shopping. Mindy says, “Oh, well, I didn’t know that.” So she grabs a plastic basket and transfers all of her items into it, wondering why no one told her sooner.
She finishes up her shopping, goes to the cashier, pays for her items and goes to the door. At the door she transfers her items from the basket to her canvas bag and walks out.
She’s about 1/2 way down the block when the manager comes running out of the store calling, “Miss!! Miss!!”. He chases her down, stops her, and says, “I’m sorry but I have to see what’s in your bag.” Mindy replies, “I’m sorry, are you accusing me of stealing? Here’s my receipt.” The manager insists he has to see what’s in the bag. Mindy says, “Fine” and dumps the contents onto the sidewalk. The manager inventories the purchase against the receipt, and then leaves.
There was no apology.
OK, so here’s the punchline. When Mindy told me this story I said, “So I guess you’re never going back.” Sheepishly she tells me she’s already been back. And she’s signed up to become a member. WHAAA??? Mindy says, “It’s just so convenient!”
The thing is, I understand. Convenience is something we all value. In Mindy’s case, she valued convenience so much it outweighed the crappy treatment she received. Of course, the co-op is not only convenient, it offers a niche service. You can’t go to the Acme and get the same goods, so the co-op can get away with lousy customer service. They’re not only the closest game in town, they’re the only game in town. Literally.
In my last post, I related how a human touch — truly exemplary service — helped make up for a decided lack of convenience. However Mindy’s story revealed how convenience can also trump bad service, especially if the service fills a specific need that is otherwise difficult to fill.
Ideally, of course, we want our libraries to be both convenient and customer-service oriented. We want well-designed systems AND the warmth of caring human contact. Unlike the organic food co-op, however, libraries no longer have the luxury of providing niche market services.
In the good old days (prior to 1994) many of our customers had to come to us. We were the only game in town. But I’m afraid that our prior near-monopoly on information services made some of us a bit too comfortable. We were able to get away with clunky systems, restrictive policies, and unfriendly staff. Customers didn’t have much of a choice. Well, those days are gone, and they’re not coming back. That doesn’t mean libraries don’t have a lot to offer, but it does mean we have to be much more aware of the value that our customers place on convenience and friendly service if we expect to remain relevant.
As some of you may know, I’m involved in the management of New Jersey’s 24/7 VR service, QandANJ.org. We celebrated our 6th anniversary in October, and in those six years we’ve collected thousands of customer comments. Two of the most frequent comments we receive are variations on, “Wow, it was great to have a live person helping me.” and “Wow, this was just so convenient.” I’m proud to be associated with QandANJ because we’re translating (or “operationalizing”) one of librarianship’s core values: removing the barriers between people and information. It’s personal service with anytime/anywhere convenience that our customers value.
I’m not suggesting that every library needs to be doing virtual reference (although I do think every library should at least be available through IM.) I am suggesting that if libraries are to thrive, it’s imperative that we audit our staff and services with a critical eye toward ramping up convenience and bringing a human touch to all of our services and all primary points of contact with our customers (our front doors, our phone systems, and our websites.)
The Human Touch (in which a crazy-bad “system” is made less bad by a live, caring human being)
In November I’m going to be staffing a booth at New Jersey’s annual teacher’s convention to help promote our statewide virtual reference service QandANJ. A few months ago I filled out the necessary forms to reserve booth space on the exhibit floor in the Atlantic City Convention Center. Soon after, I was sent the “exhibitor’s manual” which included another myriad of forms to fill out. So many options! Do we want a table? How many? What size? A table drape? What color? Carpet? Plush? Regular? Color? Chairs? How many? Wastebasket? Do you want the booth vacuumed? How often? Do you want electricity? What kind? (yup, there’s different kinds.) Internet Access? Telephone? Help setting up the booth? Taking it down? Will you be sending boxes of stuff? To the warehouse? To the booth? Etc. Etc.
I suppose choice is good, but the quality of the forms that would (hopefully) reflect my choices were not so good. Small type. Poor design. Lot’s of repetition. Yesterday I spent the better part of the morning attempting to fill out these many poorly-designed forms, all written in 6 pt type. There were eleven different forms. Eleven. And they had to be faxed to three different places! Each form asked for the same information: Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Name, phone, email, fax, credit card. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have gone to a single website, entered this information ONCE, then made my selections electronically? Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?
As it was, my morning was eaten up, my eyes were crossing, but there was a single saving grace: The exhibitor hotline. I had called the exhibitor hotline months ago when I first ordered the booth. In fact, I called it five times in one day (the initial forms I used to order the booth were no less confusing.) Each time I called, the phone was answered on the first ring by Kris. Kris was pleasant. Kris was helpful. Kris was friendly. When I called, I was feeling equal parts stressed, frustrated, and stupid. Kris talked to me like I wasn’t stupid. She comforted me and made it clear that I could call as often as I needed to. So I did.
Yesterday morning I renewed my contact with Kris. She was still there, picking up the phone after one ring with a friendly greeting, helping me figure out the forms and understand the ramifications of my choices. She even made a few phone calls to assure that I’d get the early-bird rate even though I was a few days past the deadline (“Oh, since this is your first time exhibiting…”)
So yes, the “system” sucked, and yes my eyes hurt, but in the end, to be honest, I felt fairly positive about the whole thing. Sure, I would have preferred a system that didn’t require me to interact with another human being (and I’m an extrovert). And I certainly would have preferred a system that didn’t take 3 hours of my time to communicate some relatively simple choices. But having a live person–a warm, caring, informed live person–available to help me gave a HUGE boost to my overall level of satisfaction.
So I ask: What happens when our customers need help? Whether it’s a reference question, a query about branch hours, or someone trying to find out what time storytime starts. Do they get a live person? Do they get an informed, warm, caring live person? Is the phone answered after one ring? Two rings? Five rings?
Kris was my escape valve. Ultimately it’s better to design our systems so we don’t need an escape valve. After all, what happens when Kris retires, or takes another job? Without her on the other end of the exhibitor hotline I would have been in hell. But even the best systems can only benefit from having an escape valve. A Kris who picks up after one ring. A human touch.
If asked to evaluate my experience as a prospective exhibitor at NJEA I’d give failing grades for convenience, but an A plus for the customer service I received from Kris. Overall, a solid B.
In my next post (on convenience) I’m going to describe a very different experience…
David Lee King has offered up a new song/video Social Digital Revolution. I love this tune! The poppiness. The playfulness. The great lyrics.
Enough of my blabbering, just go watch it: http://blip.tv/file/441515
As my friend and blogmate Janie Hermann recently pointed out, we’ve all been a little too busy lately to post to the blog. But that got me thinking (as many things do) to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Boyfriend. Jerry gets upset because he gave his phone number to Keith Hernandez, but Keith hasn’t called yet. Elaine suggests that Maybe Keith hasn’t called because he’s been busy, to which Jerry responds, “Why do people say they’re too busy. Too busy. Pick up a phone!! It takes two minutes. How can you be too busy?”
We’re all busy right? No excuses. So I’m “picking up the phone”, as it were. While the past coupla months really have been maybe the busiest I’ve been in my career, they’ve also been extremely satisfying.
Last Thursday, I got home late after two days of traveling, standing, and talking (one day co-teaching a team building workshop, one day staffing a booth at a business expo) to find AL Direct in my email. I was thrilled and energized to see that two projects that I’ve been involved with received recognition.
I’ve already mentioned the launch of the CEBuzz blog in a previous post, but I don’t think I’ve written yet about the commercial we have running on MTV to advertise QandANJ. I gave a sneak preview of an early cut of the commercial to attendees at the Colorado Collaborative Virtual Reference Symposium this summer, but you can now view on YouTube the final version (that premiered during the MTV VMA’s and is now running on MTV in Jersey markets). Almost 2200 views and counting! The commercial has also gotten us some attention from our local press in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
I suppose what I’ve enjoyed most about the past few months is that there has been an incredible amount of collaboration with smart, results-oriented, creative, fun people! The launch of the CLENE blog was a collaboration between (or is it among–grammar police, please comment) me, Gail McGovern, and Mary Ross. We worked together (remotely) to plan the blog (mission, goals, editorial guidelines), design the blog, and recruit a wonderful roster of authors.
Then there was the (again, remote) collaboration with my Library Garden blogmates to put together our traveling road show, “Magical Mystery Tour“. The first day we presented (On Aug 22, in Princeton) was actually the first time we were all in the same room together!
Earlier this summer I worked with QandANJ Project Coordinator Beth Cackowski on our joint presentation at the Colorado Virtual Reference Symposium. We also worked together, along with our leader Karen Hyman, our video designer Roy, and our Comcast agent, Debra, to develop the commercial, and put together a plan for airing it. (Not as expensive as you might think—I urge everyone to investigate doing quality TV ads in your area!)
Concurrently, I was collaborating with my friend and former co-worker Karen to put together and deliver a full day workshop on Team Building as part of New Jersey’s multi-part “Super Library Supervisor“series. Karen and I used to be on a county library management team together, but we had never trained together, so this was a real treat! Team training is always more fun than going it alone, especially when it’s with someone you just enjoy being around. We delivered the training last week, and while neither of us was used to being on our feet for 8 hours, the day was a great success.
The day after our training, I had the pleasure of staffing SJRLC’s booth at the South Jersey Business Expo. This was the third year we’ve had a booth at the Business Expo and it’s been a great success. SJRLC’s crack Advocacy Team plans for the Expo throughout the year and takes shifts staffing it on the day of the event. It’s amazing how many people want to stop and talk about library services. And let me tell you, telling them that they can get 24/7 research and homework help (through QandANJ) really stops them in their tracks. I just love blowing people’s expectations out of the water like that! Almost as much as I love having the opportunity to work with so many top notch people.
So that’s what I’ve been doing the past so many weeks. Not a lot of down time, but it was all good. No apologies for not posting more (I promised myself I would never do that), but I will try to give myself permission to write shorter posts. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace, right? :-)
There’s a new library blog that might be of interest to Library Garden readers: CEBuzz. CEBuzz is a group blog brought to you by ALA’s Continuing Library Education Network and Exchange Round Table, aka, CLENE. (I’ve been active in CLENE for years and am currently coordinating the new blog.)
The mission of CEBuzz is to provide a thought-provoking resource for those interested in and responsible for Continuing Education (CE) and staff development in libraries. To that end, the the blog will:
- Provide coverage of trends in learning theory and practice
- Provide links to online learning resources
- Provide coverage of “hot topics” in CE and staff development
- Announce learning events of interest
I think we’ve put together a great team of authors, who’ve already generated some wonderful posts. So if you’re interested in continuing education and/or staff development check us out. Or just pop our feed into your reader: http://feeds.feedburner.com/CeBuzz.
Oh, and if you’re an ALA member and interested in joining CLENE for a mere $20 (and getting a free preferred professional membership in the American Management Association thrown in) you can add us to your membership right online.
Although apparently a legit social networking site, if you join they prompt you with one of those, “hey, want to know which of your friends are already on Quechup?” pitches, and ask for your permission to search your online address book (if you have one.) That’s where it all goes south…
Quechup then searches your address book and…wait for it… SENDS AN INVITE IN YOUR NAME TO EVERY EMAIL IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK.
Hey marketing geniuses at Quechup, can I ask you a question? In what universe would this tactic be successful and not, oh, say, be the ruin of your company? I’m guessing it’s a universe where people say ‘goodbye’ when they enter the room, and ‘hello’ when they leave it. (Hello Quechup!!)
As requested, here’s the link to the Wiki that supports the Magical Mystery Tour: http://librarygarden.pbwiki.com
My Flickr set from the day is available here.
My 15 minutes was focused on getting across the concept of RSS. I did a powerpoint (also up on slideshare.) All of my supporting information is up on the wiki here: librarygarden.pbwiki.com/Pete’s+Favorites.
We’re doing a repeat performance next Thursday (and then Barbequing at Chateau Bromber’) so if anyone has any recommendations or feedback to improve my RSS presentation I’m all ears. Grilling tips are also appreciated.
An announcement from Connie Paul, Executive Director, Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative:
Amy Kearns, will begin as (CJRLC)Program Coordinator on July 30, 2007! Currently the head of reference for the Paterson PL, Amy is a blogger, a trainer, a techie, and a library enthusiast. She has been very active in the Highlands RLC… She is eager to get to know our members (she knows many of you already), and we are delighted to welcome her.
A huge and hearty congratulations Amy on this exciting new position. Looking forward to working with you on continuing education initiatives! – Pete
I’ve been meaning to get to two posts for months now: A post about Toastmasters (the toast post) and a post about taking improv classes in Philly. Well, this is a (slightly modified) version of a Toastmasters speech I recently gave about my experience with improv. Two birds, and all that :-)
A few months ago I started taking Improv classes in Philadelphia on Monday nights. I signed up for improv not because I have a burning desire to be the next Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, nor any illusions that you’ll soon be seeing me on the big screen or on SNL. What inspired me to sign up for class was a small, remarkable book called Truth in Comedy, written by Charna Halpern, Kim Johnson, and Del Close (one of the most important influences in modern day comedy improv. Just look at the list of folks he mentored!)
The more I read about improv, the more I realized that the principles of good improv are also the principles of living a good, centered, happy, connected, and fulfilled life. So today I’d like to take a few minutes to share 10 improv principles with you, and tell you a little bit about my experience of the past eighteen weeks learning to doing improv.
First I think it’s useful to briefly address the question, “What is Improv?” Inevitably when I tell someone I’m learning to do improv, they say something like, “Oh standup comedy, I could see you doing that.” So let’s clear this up right away: Improv is not stand up comedy. In many ways it is the antithesis of stand up. Stand up is generally written, memorized, practiced and polished. It’s also (usually) a solitary activity. Improv is spontaneous, free-flowing and created on the spot. It’s also (usually) a team sport.
Often it’s the unscripted nature of improv that is most associated with the form, and for that reason many people say things like, “You’re doing improv—isn’t that hard? Isn’t that scary to work without a script? To have to make it up on the spot?” To which I can only reply with a scratch of my chin, “Hmmm… Having to make it all up on the spot… That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before??? Oh yeah!!… it’s what we do every single day of our lives!”
Look, not only can anyone do improv, we are in fact, all of us, doing improv all the time.
Let me ask you: When you were born, were you handed a script that layed out all of your lines so you’d know just the right thing to say and do for the rest of your life? I don’t think you got that script. I don’t know anyone who got that script. I know I didn’t get that script. So we’re doing improv all the time. All the time. Every day. You. Me. Them. We’re improv-ing baby!
And you may have noticed that IN our unscripted lives, sometimes, ‘stuff’ happens. And learning and practicing the principles of improv can help us deal with that stuff.
In my improv class we don’t rehearse scenes, but we do practice. We do train to learn and internalize certain structures and methods the way jazz improvisers learn scales. Before getting into scene work, we activate our minds and bodies by playing games; games that will help ground us physically and emotionally to characters we create in scenes. Sometimes we play 2 or 3 games at once to help sharpen our awareness and listening skills and get us out of our heads. Props to the Boy Scouts on this one.
Willingness to do what you ask? A lot. We have to be willing to fail, and fail spectacularly. Since we don’t know what’s coming next, we have to accept that we may get knocked off balance. Therefore we have to be willing to mess up –and mess up big time.
Being willing to fail spectacularly means being willing to take risks. Lack of success is not due to trying and failing; it’s due to not trying, often out of a fear of failure. Being willing to fail means being willing to look foolish. It’s been said that we wouldn’t care so much about what people thought about us if we realized how seldom they do. If we’re not willing to look foolish doing improv then we won’t risk, we won’t commit, and the scenes will lack energy and direction. Being willing to risk reconnects us with the zest and energy of life. When we risk, our senses our heightened, our adrenaline is flowing. It’s a rush.
Finally, we have to be willing to make mistakes. The point is not that there are no consequences. Rather, it’s accepting that if we are truly risking there is no question that we WILL make mistakes. But we also realize that others are there to help dig us out of our mistakes. And ultimately it’s our mistakes that lead us to growth and improvement. We learn to choose better next time.
In improv what is happening NOW is the key to discovery. I was at a Library Futures conference recently and heard someone say, “I’m very interested in the future because that’s where most of my life will happen.” That got a big laugh. Well I’m very interested in this moment, because that’s where ALL of my life has happened. And I’m pretty sure that’s where most of the action is. (Coincidentally, it was at the library futures conference that Mary Catherine Bateson suggested that the best way to prepare for the future is to take an improv class…)
Good improvisers are not necessarily more clever, or more quick-witted. They just listen better… Improv is about hearing what others are offering, and building off it. It’s hard to do that when your gums are flappin’.
Don’t talk about doing it, do it. Be specific. In Improv there is a “bias for action”. I’ve also seen the term “bias for action” listed as a common trait of effective leaders. Why? Because active choices move things forward. The more specific the choice the better. Specific choices are committed choices. Specific choices move things forward and allow others to respond to and build off of your offers.
In improv we are taught to express whatever is coming up in us at that moment. To do that we have to learn not to censor or judge our own thoughts, which requires some major rewiring of the brain… The only value we bring to the scene is our honest response to what’s happening.
The only thing we can control are our own choices. Realizing that we are not in control of anything else is the key to de-stressing and getting into the flow. And the flow is where we are creative. The flow is where we are productive. The flow is where we are connected to others. The flow is where we are happy. [an aside] Interestingly… What happens when we stop focusing energy on things that we can’t control? That energy gets focused on things that we can control, and ironically, we end up exerting more influence.
Earlier I said that we have to be willing to make mistakes. But moving beyond that, we learn to not see choices as mistakes. In improv, there are no mistakes or bad ideas, there are only interesting choices. We respect all the choices (aka offers) made by others, and find ways to build off of them, no matter how challenging they may be. There are no mistakes because everything can be built upon. Everything that happens is an opportunity.
Learning improv we learn to trust ourselves. We trust our impulses and our choices (which we can do because there are no mistakes, and we are not alone.) And we learn to trust in others (to “justify” our “interesting choices”, build off them, and weave them into the fabric of the scene.) When learning to trust our ideas, it helps to remember that ideas are infinite. So no matter what strange hole it seems we’ve dug ourselves into in a scene, there are an infinite number of ideas that can help dig us out.
We’re all in this together. No one person is responsible for the success or failure of a scene. It succeeds, or not, based on our ability to work together. This requires strong individuals making strong choices, who trust each other and themselves. As a group, we learn to focus on solutions. As individuals we learn to focus on getting results (i.e. moving the scene forward) instead of being right, or angling for attention or credit. We rise, or fall, as one.
So there are the big 10 principles of improv as seen by an improv newbie. But I’d like to conclude by mentioning one final improv principle. It’s a principle that runs through all the others and infuses improv with it’s spirit. This is the principle of “Yes, and”. “Yes, and” means that we accept everything that happens as an offer, as a gift. It is our job to bring our unique perspective to bear, and build off of whatever is given to us. “Yes and” implies acceptance, but not acquiescence. “Yes and” acknowledges the reality of the moment, but also inspires us to create the future.
In the end, “Yes and” is a powerful attitude of affirmation. It is an attitude that affirms ourselves, and therefore gives courage. It is an attitude that affirms others, and therefore inspires trust. And it is an attitude that affirms what is and therefore inspires hope and excitement for the possibilities of what may be as we join together to create our shared future.