Friday, February 11, 2005

Tipping Point Existentialism

Partially inspired by my participation in a study circle of Tricollege IT and library staff that I helped to start, I've been doing a lot of reading of books like the Malcolm Gladwell's most recent stuff and Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. It has been fascinating reading, but so much thinking about spreading ideas and making decisions is starting to give me a case of the existential manager heebie jeebies.

So maybe we can learn to spread ideas by manipulating the environment and exploiting special talents of people in our organizations, just as Gladwell suggests in The Tipping Point.

Million dollar questions: what ideas are worth trying to tip? Are there any big ideas that I.T. in higher education is (or should be) trying to tip right now? Or is our job just to make the trains run on time and keep everybody more or less out of harm's way?

Million dollar questions, continued: how much mindspace should we legitimately occupy for the people we serve? Do we add complexity to people's lives by constantly trying to spread new ideas, features, services, practices, versions, tips, etc.?

Million dollar questions, also: how much behavior can we reasonably hope to shape? Given the effort involved in just trying to modify very basic behaviors (like practicing good password security or backing up files regularly), is there enough mindspace that an I.T. organization (or library) can occupy to spark more interesting epidemics? See also: opportunity costs.

Million dollar questions, they just keep on coming: are I.T. organizations populated by innovators and early adopters, or are they agents of the conservative mainstream culture, seeking to minimize risk and protect the status quo?

I keep coming back to the thought that these issues are really about organizational leadership. Connecting workers' daily to-do lists to broader organizational goals. I wonder if collegiate information services organizations generally have our eyes on the ball, or if we're mostly just getting through semesters putting out fires and trying to stay on the good side of a demanding clientele. Are we a "maven" culture that truly helps to translate good ideas into something that broader constituencies can use?

I think I need some less thought-provoking reading for a few weeks! Congratulations to you on your interpretive powers if any of this puzzled rambling made sense.


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