Data-Driven Decision-Making vs. Discovery-Driven Planning (don’t measure a butterfly using the metrics of a caterpillar)

July 23, 2012, 3:48 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about caterpillars lately. I read the Very Hungry Caterpillar to my son every night and it always makes me think of organizations going through transformative change.

What’s fascinating to me isn’t just the physical transformation that occurs. Obviously sprouting wings and becoming more colorful is amazing, but the internal composition changes too. Their appetites change. Their digestive systems change. But what really gets me is the perception-shifting that must occur. Imagine you’re stuck crawling on the ground and slowly climbing trees, flowers and bushes then suddenly you’re able to fly–to move nimbly. Imagine the cognitive transformation that first day when life is about exploring a much wider universe.

You think ARL will be ok with me citing a children’s book? I also want to pitch Willy Wonka as the role model for R&D. That’s for another day.

So… I’m working on a paper for the Assessment Conference and I keep getting distracted by our profession’s desire for change to be data-driven. I prefer change to be human-driven. I’d much rather enable people to become more successful rather than focusing on making the numbers look better. Perhaps it boils down to a question of helping lots of  people just a little bit vs. helping fewer people but more significantly. Anyway, that’s not even the direction I am heading with all this. This isn’t about one’s service-persceptive but assessment-perspective. What do we want/need to know to enact change? Or taken further— to foster innovation?

What gets me is that we’re entering (have already entered?) a disruptive period in the history of academic libraries. New publishing models. New learning spaces. New pedagogies. New technologies. New attitudes. Libraries have changed and we are still changing, and will change even more, and then change again. And if you zoom out—higher ed has changed and is changing too. (and here too)

While things are in motion (dramatic disruptive change) we can’t use the old mindset to describe the new mindset. We can’t use current processes to accomplish new processes. We can’t measure a butterfly as if it were still a caterpillar. The event of change requires us to also change the way we view ourselves, our roles, and our processes.

I’ve been rereading Innovator’s Dilemma and here are two quotes to illustrate this point:

“Strategies and plans that managers formulate for confronting disruptive change, therefore, should be plans for learning and discovery rather than plans for execution.”

Discovery-driven planning, which requires managers to identify the assumptions upon which their plans or aspirations are based, works well in addressing disruptive [changes.]”

That’s the argument that I am trying to build around. We are at a point (nationally? globally?) where we are trying to discover the future of libraries, so we can’t rely on current data, current methods, and current mindsets to build something that doesn’t exist yet. Old data has a role but it should not guide the transformation– otherwise we’ll just change into a new vision of what we’ve always been: a caterpillar that changes into a caterpillar. That’s the problem I’m poking around with in this paper.

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