Too much assessment…

September 26, 2012, 2:43 pm

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter then you’ve heard me talk about the paper I was writing over the summer. It’s for ARL’s Assessment Conference and at one point it was over 14,000 words.


It was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve written because of time (3 months) and space (5,000 word max) limitations. The background reading was amazing; I skimmed 30 books and read nearly 50 articles, blog posts, and reports. I immersed myself into R&D culture. And sadly there was so much material I couldn’t use and even worse, so much material that I just didn’t have time to read.


I had two objectives with this paper:


  1. I wanted it to be a follow-up or sequel to Think Like a Startup. That paper resonated with a lot of people, so my working title was “operate like an R&D lab.” I took the section about assessment and gave it it’s own platform. I even used the same telescope metaphor to connect the way of thinking.
  2. I wanted to be provocative. The conference tagline is “Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment” and I wanted to challenge that. I feel in an era of disruptive change we need assessment to be discovery-oriented, discontinuous, and growth-driven.


I am not sure when ARL will release the proceedings but I’ll have my version out around October 22. I’m working with the designer from Startup to give the paper a similar look and feel.


Ok, without further comment, here is the Preface


In the early 1600’s telescopes were some of the most powerful instruments in the world. It wasn’t distant stars that people were searching for, but rather financial advantages. Aspiring entrepreneurs stood on hillsides monitoring the shoreline for incoming trade ships. This ability to see the future before others enabled them to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Famed venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki champions the telescope approach for forward-looking organizations. He believes that people generally waiver between two dominant mindsets: microscopes and telescopes. Microscope-thinking focuses on understanding and improving existing processes, whereas telescope-thinking gazes outward at new possibilities.

We’re at a critical point in the history of libraries. Now is the time to raise our telescopes and scan the horizon. While we invest in numerous assessment measures, we tend to use microscopes in search of small improvements rather than bold new directions. I propose that by adopting Research and Development (R&D) models, metrics, and mindsets, academic libraries can position themselves to discover and implement changes, resulting in new and greater value.

Thinking like an R&D lab prepares and empowers us to face the uncertain challenges ahead. The concepts described in this paper serve as a launching pad for the future. The central theme: assessment initiatives need to be about more than sustaining our current practices—we need them to lead us to growth.

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