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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 100 – What professional legacy will you leave behind

Stay hungry, stay foolish Steve Jobs

Or “how to live before you die”

When he was 17, Steve Jobs read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”
That was part of a commencement speech given by Steve Jobs back in 2005 to Stanford students, if you haven’t seen it you can find it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

Wednesday 5th October 2011 that day came, and the entire world it seems stopped to mourn the passing of a creative genius. And it’s not hard to see why; the legacy he left behind is phenomenal. This legacy is based on 10 principles, these are:

•    Go for perfect
•    Tap the experts
•    Be ruthless
•    Shun focus groups
•    Never stop studying
•    Simplify
•    Keep your secrets
•    Keep small teams
•    Use more carrot than stick
•    Prototype to the extreme
West Australian Newspaper (Friday October 7th 2011) p7

Personally I feel these 10 principles could and perhaps should apply to us all regardless of industry, regardless of whether we are mac aficionados or i anything users. I’d like to point out, I’m not, but my kids think the products are the best thing since bread came sliced – and they are not alone.

This of course, made me wonder and question my own legacy within the profession, which led of course to wonder and question – what is YOUR legacy, what mark will you make to your (our) industry?

We are fortunate to have our own pioneers and champions within our industry of course:
•    Those who share their time, expertise and knowledge at industry events – speaking, challenging, training us all to be better at what we do.
•    Those who share information through the list servs – not everyone HAS the money to go to as many industry events as they would like to (including me), but I am forever grateful to the list serv owners in particular Peter Green of Curtin who looks after the West Australian Information Network (WAIN) and the teams at ALIA (http://www.alia.org.au/) and RIMPA (http://www.rimpa.com.au/)  along with the many people who take time out of their own day to ensure the rest of us are well informed. Kerry Smith, also of Curtin, Glenn Sanders, Camille Peters, John (Not the National Archives), Peter Kurilecz and many more who make my job easier.
•    The people who give up their free time to be part of the Committees that organise the events, conferences, personal & professional development and look after our various constitutions – where would we be without all of these people?
•    And of course we follow a rich history of people who have made our professional lives easier – can you imagine life without computers in your library? Can you remember issuing books using the card issue system (I can), would we be able to do our jobs without people like Tim Berners-Lee, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jerry Yang and David Filo, Melvil Dewey or Andrew Carnegie – and that’s without the people who created the software, the hardware, the publishers, the writers, the distributors, the shelving companies and our patrons. The mind boggles doesn’t it!
So my challenge to you is to ask how you are going to make a difference to the professional world in which we work.

How can we make a difference? I personally think it comes down to a few simple things and in particular:

•    How can I be the best person I can be today? and
•    What difference can I make to someone’s life today?

What follows are some examples of how we can become better people, and not just in our professional spheres of influence, but across everything that we choose to do.

To be the best in your field:

To be the best in what you do takes time, commitment, energy, enthusiasm and in some cases natural talent, and not everyone has the capacity to do whatever it takes to get to the top. But there are some simple suggestions we can all use to become better in our chosen profession.

Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. This may sound like an obvious thing to say, but how many people actually practice this technique? Not many I would hazard a guess. Some people guard their jobs and their knowledge like a miser – “knowledge is power” after all, so it may take some skilled negotiation on your part to get some people to part with what they know.

Consider this – every person that you work with has something they can teach you. Given the size of most organisations – this on the job learning will never stop. Every person has a different set of life experiences and formal education they bring to an organisation, so take the opportunity to speak to as many as you can. Ask the question why? Why is a great word, kids use it all the time. Why? Because they are learning all the time.

There is also another aspect to this – be willing to teach as well as learn. In doing so you will learn new things about your own role and the tasks that you are being asked to do.

Read as much as you can. But don’t just read the literature directly associated with your field of expertise. We can borrow so much from other disciplines that we could read 24 hours a day and not have enough time to take it all in. Read as much as you can, don’t just read the easy stuff, be willing to challenge your thinking and your prejudices. Be willing to go outside your current level of reading comfort to get to the nuggets that can improve the way that you do your job. Management, Marketing, IT, Human Resources and a myriad of other disciplines can be applied to our world. If you’ve ever wondered why we cover topics from Occupational Health and Safety to Marketing of Library and Information Services in these newsletters, well now you know.

Go to as many events as you can. This has a double effect for you. Not only can you meet more professional people, you also get to ask lots of questions. You can also share your knowledge with others. But – and this is the key, remember you have to be willing to listen to the answers you received. Be remembered as the person who asked the great questions, but also gave the speaker your full attention as they spoke to you. Few people manage to do this, and if you can, you will be remembered for all the right reasons.

Do all that you can in the time that you have been allocated. Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. “Busy” work is not productive work. If you use a “to do” list then you will have a list of things that you need to do sitting right at the top. Why are these important? Well you wrote the list and the most important things usually come out of the thought processes first and into the top spots onto the paper. Of the remaining items on the list, some are there because you feel they need doing, and other items are there because someone has asked you to do them. Now these delegated tasks may also be important, so it is up to you to determine which tasks need completing first. And it usually comes down to what is important and urgent as opposed to just “urgent”.  

In allocating time to these tasks – it is important to plan ahead and that is where both time and project management come into their own. In order to do more, you have to manage your time and guard it from outside influences. These include other people wanting to offload their tasks onto you because you seem to be able to get things done far more efficiently and effectively. That may be the case, but being the best at what you do should not include bailing everyone else out.

Be willing to share your knowledge. Write articles and papers. Be known for providing quality information on relevant topics in your field. As you read more, you are able to share more, as you share more, there is more capacity for you to learn more, and so the cycle of learning energy goes around again. Take part in mentoring discussions. If you are a seasoned professional, be willing to give your time to the next generation. Think back to when you were first starting out on the information ladder. How much time did your colleagues and peers spend talking with you, sharing ideas and knowledge? But even if you are new to the profession, you too have something of importance to offer. You have been given the most up to date theoretical knowledge. You will have written articles and papers and gained credible marks for your efforts, so consider taking an aspect of these papers and using them as a basis for articles and papers for the wider community. Be known early in your career as a person with something of use and value to say, and people will respect you as an authority on the subject. You may have noticed here that the word author has the same stem as the word authority. Be an author-ity of your own learning.

Be a people person. In today’s working environment you need to be able to collaborate with a wide variety of people from all walks of life. If you don’t “like” the person, however, then crucial conversations don’t happen. Worse still you don’t really listen to the information you are being given. If you are not listening then you are not learning. In fact most people think they are thinking, when all they are doing is rearranging their prejudices.

Be willing to embrace change. Change is inevitable. It is a fact of life, we either change by choice or we change by force. However, there is a third group – those who are unable to change through either willingness or force, well the new IR laws introduced by the government will take care of those people quite nicely thank you very much. We’re also not talking about change for change sake. But can you work better, smarter, differently. Do you waste time on activities that have no real benefit? Do you really need to do them? Will people notice if you stop doing them? Can these tasks be modified so they benefit more people than the one or two who do currently benefit from your hard work? Going back to your to do lists just for a minute. If you do meaningless tasks for a good proportion of your day, how on earth are you going to complete those items that you are supposed to do today?

If you enjoyed this, please feel free to share it with your colleagues, any comments can be directed back to me at Lorraine@iea.com.au.

Thanks and regards
Lorraine