Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Opposable Mind

Just started reading Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind. Seems like a quick, insightful read about one brand of successful strategic thinking. Here's an attempt at a succinct summation of the premise:

"Human beings ... are distinguished from nearly every other creature by a physical feature known as the opposable thumb. Thanks to the tension we can create by opposing the thumb and the fingers, we can do marvelous things that no other creature can do - write, thread a needle, carve a diamond... All those actions would be impossible without the crucial tension between the thumb and fingers" (6).

Similarly, the creative tension generated by holding opposing or multiple viewpoints in mind, despite all the messiness it can entail, can create the conditions for breakthrough solutions.

OK, that's slightly abstract, but let me map that back into the library context and onto a conversation I had with my colleague Brian Shepard the other day at lunch at Jimmy John's.

We were talking about overdue fines. We know overdue fines are patrons/users #1 irritant related to using libraries, yet many libraries (especially public libraries, including my own) still charge them. Here's the evolution of the discussion:

We could get rid of fines, and go to some kind of system where users would not be allowed to take out additional items if they had an item overdue. That would please a lot of people, but there are still many others who don't mind paying a small fraction of dollar if it allows them to keep their items a few days longer and checkout a few additional items. Which system to go with - what to do?

Opposable mind breakthrough: Why don't we allow patrons to choose which system they want to partake in?

Most ILS systems should allow any library to create different patron categories that treat different sets of patrons in different ways. We could let some people do away with fines in favor of some other system, and we could let others choose to pay fines (or perhaps rebranded "extended use charges") to keep the items a little bit longer. And we could let them switch back and forth as often as they would like.

Admittedly there are potentially many other relevant factors that would inform an individual library's decisions related to whether or not they charged fines (revenue streams, overdue points, recall systems, no overdues at all!, details about what the alternative system would entail, etc), but hopefully the above example helps illuminate the concept of opposable thinking - a system characterized by "integrative" "and" thinking as opposed to "or" thinking, especially aided these days by all the opportunities technology can afford.

Incidently, does anyone offer their users the opportunity to choose whether or not they pay fines?

Happy Holidays!


Karl E said...

This is frick'n brilliant! I can't believe no one is doing anyone doing this...does it make too much sense? The "rebranding" is long overdue and the patron choice is empowering. Kudos to your opposableness!

Nick said...

Our library has fines for students and blocks for faculty, but we've never considered mixing the options.

Part of the problem with eliminating fines is that people will keep things out forever. If someone recalls the item, how do you force the first patron to bring it back without a fine?

Patrick said...

Sorry this response response is tardy, but your question made me think of something I read a while back in book I would recommend to everyone Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small .

The authors' suggestion for motivating people in these types of situations is to set up a system such that individual transgressors "feel the consequential pain" of their actions on others.

In this case, perhaps instead of charging fines when an item has been recalled and not returned - the transgressor would not be allowed to check out the next item they trigger a recall on for the same amount of days their previously offending item was overdue (feeling the pain the inflicted on others).

Perhaps not a solution for all (or any!) libraries, but maybe "the feel the pain" concept can point the way to a better solution.