September 24, 2010

Information Discovery and Design: Will We Be Laggards, Leaders, or Leapfroggers?

It is always hard to tell whether something is a fad or a trend. However, if we piece together some developments in the popular press over the past few weeks, it would seem that we are on the threshold of (finally) bidding goodbye to Web 2.0 and making the at leap into the next beyond. While there are no killer apps right now, shifts in the approach to web presence seem to portend important changes. While the most extreme viewpoint is are that the Internet is dead [see, for example, Wired’s discussion at], the less dire predictions still show major changes in how information providers are approaching the web. Below are some of the trends worth watching.

Continue reading "Information Discovery and Design: Will We Be Laggards, Leaders, or Leapfroggers?"

September 02, 2010

Corporate culture: vision and execution

There is an amazing slide show available that was produced by Netflix entitled "Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture." Sounds as if it would be boring. It is anything but.

In the Guide, Netflix notes that most corporate value statements are meaningless, and why theirs is different. They discuss their highly unusual approach they take to management: hire and retain only outstanding people and then trust your employees. Netflix believes most rules regarding employees are counter-productive and that there are only two types of necessary rules: those to prevenet irrevocable disaster and those that involve moral, legal or ethical issues. Specifically, Netflix eschews rules that attempt to control behavior. Instead, they seek to create the context for desired behaviors, and thereby to "increase employee freedom as we grow ... so we have a better chance of long term continued success."

Sounds good as a philosophy, but how do they live by it? Netflix realized that in our "always on" society outstanding employees are regularly doing work in many places and many times other than at work. They took their direction from a staff member who once said "We don’t track hours worked per day or per week, so why are we tracking days of vacation per year?" The result: Netflix has no corporate policy for exempt staff regarding vacation days. Take the time you need when you want, and just coordinate it with your manager. They also have no policy regarding travel expenses, just "act in Netflix's best interest" and "travel as you would if it were your own money."

From concept to implementation the approach is radical, innovative and gutsy. It challenges all of us to examine why we have rules and what would happen if we abandoned them. Is there a potential downside? Netflix recognizes this could result in chaos and abuse. Their solution is simple: since they hired outstanding people then these problems will resolve themselves. (If an employee engages in chaos or abuse then it is proof to Netflix that the person is not outstanding, and that person won't be with the company for long.)

The very readable full slides are available on slideshare.

Brief descriptions appeared in two recent articles. The first, "Netflix lets its staff take as much holiday as they want, whenever they want – and it works," appeared n the London Telegraph.

The second article, "Netflix vacation policy is only the tip of a radical compensation iceberg," covers some of the same and some different aspects.

Check it all out and let me know what you think.

August 27, 2010

Welcome to the Academic Year

Every new academic year brings a level of excitement as students and faculty return to campus, with great anticipation of the accomplishments of the new year. Through this process of renewal, our community rededicates itself to continuing intellectual growth through research, teaching and learning.

This is a particularly special year for me because I just arrived in mid-August. I return to academe after an eleven year hiatus. For the first twenty-five years of my professional life I worked in five different academic institutions (two in the Midwest, two in the Southeast, and one in the Mid-Atlantic). Most recently, over the past decade I worked in and with academic libraries in my work as the chief executive officer of a non-profit organization in New England and as a national and international consultant.

I return to university life with a new sense of vigor and enthusiasm. During this academic year the Kelvin Smith Library will develop a new strategic plan and consider important changes to our services both in our buildings and on the network. For our strategic planning process to be successful, I seek very wide active and personal engagement of all of our stakeholders. Please communicate with me in whatever way you are most comfortable: in person on the street or in the office, or electronically via email, online chat, Twitter, or Facebook. (All of my contact information is below.) I know that everyone on the staff of the Kelvin Smith Library would also welcome your involvement and communications as we build upon the strong foundation of the past to build an even greater Library for the future.

I wish you a highly successful academic year, and I look forward to seeing and speaking with many of you personally soon.

Arnold Hirshon, Associate Provost and University Librarian
Office: Kelvin Smith Library 212G
Phone: (216) 368-0688
Skype: ahirshon
Twitter: ahirshon
Facebook: Arnold Hirshon