Friday Fable. Three dainas* (foksongs.)

Posted by jlubans on March 29, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Latvian harvest landscape.

“I grew up,
To song I lived through my
With songs I shall be lain
In a mound of white sand.”

The lyrics speak to me about the fate of any small country and its unique traditions towered over by Leviathan neighbors, eager to absorb and obliterate – it’s the Brobdingnagian's manifest destiny, of course! - a native culture.

“A wolf drove me to Riga
For father’s tobacco.
Pull, wolf, though it makes
you weep,
Why did you eat my horse?”

Related comically to my first comment: The burden and shame of the "conqueror".

“Smoke is rising, bread is
being baked
In this little farmstead,
I like warm bread,
I like the baker herself.”

What is charm? See above! There’s much to be said for brevity – music and poetry aplenty in these bucolic words.

*From: Latvju Dainas: Latvian Folksongs “favorites” in English, Russian, German & Latvian. Compiled by Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923) Riga, Latvia, Writers Union of Soviet Latvia. 1984.

Too Much Fun (Books2Eat, Riga, Latvia).

Posted by jlubans on March 27, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

As the Trace Adkins song goes, “I Ain't Never Had Too Much Fun” and that applies to the good work by my students on their team projects, Books2Eat (B2E)*.
When we diagnosed how the four team projects went, it did cross my mind that when groups are having this much fun, it might get in the way of fully understanding the team theory, dynamics and development. It’s like you have to suffer a bit to really grasp the concept. Well, I’ll take fun over suffering. It is possible to learn while enjoying what you and your team are doing.

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Caption: About to break into song after producing the torta! (Taken from their team's video production.)

The team plus/deltas (What worked? What Could Have Gone Better?) were highly positive, with only a few suggestions for improvement. Along with the fun, it seems that extensive team building took place and that most, if not all, were well satisfied with their role and the result of the team effort. (I should note that on the B2E day, I kept the teams together on another, unrelated assignment. Their behavior was close knit, leaning in, everyone contributing, no one holding back. I would suggest that these dynamics were a carry-over from the B2E experience.)
This is my second time using the B2E process to teach team concepts in Latvia.**

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Caption: Students doing a post-prandial plus/delta
This year I added a personal plus/delta. These were somewhat more introspective than the team plus/deltas. I found the individual plus/delta valuable in helping the student diagnose just how she contributed and what she would do differently:
Most were quite pleased, even proud, with their contribution and accomplishemnt, e.g.. “Singing, what I rarely do.”
Here are some quotes from the What I would do differently side:
“Worry less.”
“Listen more to my team members.”
“I would maybe choose another team, because person needs to be able to work with different people and that is experience. “
“Speak up (more) in meeting.”
“Don’t speak when it isn’t necessary.”
“Don’t rely always on improvisation.”
“I would tell more about what I am going to do (to my team mates before doing it)”.

* The selected books and the B2E production:
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Ēriks Ādamsons. Čigānmeitēns Ringla (Gypsy girl Ringla)
The product:
20130327-+Ringla kukas close.jpeg

Caption: Thematic analysis of the Gypsy Girl Ringla.

20130327-joka cover.jpeg
Joka pēc alfabēts (just for fun alphabet)
The product:

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Dzidra Rinkule-Zemzare, "No kā visi izbijās" (Who Scared All?)
The product (A marzipan yellow balloon!):
20130327-+scared balloon.jpeg
20130329-scared cutting.jpeg
Caption. No longer scary. About to be consumed!

20130327-+Ezis un kuka.jpeg
Hedgehog's Wand

20130329-zane un laura o. cutting up.jpeg
Caption: Like I said, there's no such thing as too much fun.

**The Assignment: Books2Eat Team Project
(A global bibliophilic and gustatory celebration of literature!)

Teams of 3 or 4 students will plan, produce, and present a Books2Eat entry representing a Latvian children’s book, folk tale or folk song.

Besides the creation of the baked and decorated item, the team will select the title, describe the chosen book or folk song – with a full English description of book/song and author – gather ideas from previous entries displayed on the Books2Eat “The Annual April 1 International Edible Book Festival”) website, design the cake or cookie, test the ingredients –– and, prepare the product. And, present the entry at our class on Day 6.

Each Books2Eat entry must display one or more of these qualities:
Cleverness in overcoming adversity.
Leadership by a least-likely follower.
The Golden Rule applied.
Collaboration, working with others to succeed.
Speaking up when others are too afraid to say anything.
Using resources wisely.

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE DOGS AND THE LION SKIN”*

Posted by jlubans on March 21, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

“Some dogs found a lion's skin and were tearing it to shreds, when a fox saw them and said, 'If that lion were still among the living, you would see that his claws are stronger than your teeth!' 
This fable is for people who attack a man of renown when he has fallen from his position of power and glory.”
Translator’s Note: “Compare the Biblical proverb, 'A living dog is better than a dead lion'.”

We’ve all been there. Shortly after an accomplished colleague left a job – shall we say, not in the most amicable way – there appeared a snide Internet posting, from a stranger, questioning why Google searches under her name still brought up an association with the former employer. I guess she had forgotten to tell the search engine industrial complex not to link her name to this former relationship. Imagine, if you can, Google’s non-response to any request to somehow repress search results.
However, the small minded stranger’s imputation was clear – my colleague was somehow trading on the “good name” of the former employer. This was risible since the very opposite was true. That organization had changed from pro-active to re-active and she was embarrassed to have her name linked with it.

Announcement: This week I was added to the Fulbright Specialist Roster, making me eligible for grants in a number of countries to collaborate in teaching short classes on the Democratic Workplace, or other subjects we find of mutual interest.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

Sleepless Nights and Prozac Prescriptions

Posted by jlubans on March 20, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

A frequent request I get, like I did after my talk at the Estonian National Library, is to provide library examples of democratic workplaces*. That’s an interesting question to answer since there are no all-out democratic libraries, quite to the contrary. Other realms** offer up examples, like New York’s highly successful Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or, in Brazil, the highly successful and productive Semco Group as described in one of my class readings: “Thought Leaders: Ricardo Semler Won’t Take Control.”
There have been some democratic efforts in academic libraries – I had a leadership role in one – but these are parochial and circumscribed. One research library claims to be team-based and that does appear to be true, but when I inquired about their rationale the official response was similar to other tentative efforts: to make staff feel more involved in the organization, and, from that engagement, to derive greater job satisfaction. That’s commendable but I would have preferred a public statement that the teams will improve on what the library does, will develop new services and will, quantifiably, increase productivity.
I have always held that a re-organization needs a substantial rationale. Shifting people around into a new, feel-good assemblage is not enough. Some good may come from re-organization, but the dozens I have witnessed - including a huge one underway right now - show more imbroglio than improvement.
I have not much history with the Semco Group but from what I read and observe, many executives the world over admire Ricardo Semler, the owner-founder. Few, if any, want to duplicate his democratic workplace. Semler says - facetiously, I think - that there are two reasons for this: That 80% of business people will not give up control. And that the other 20% do not trust mankind, on its own, to do good. Does this absolute ratio, however tongue-in-cheek, apply to libraries? Probably.
I certainly recall a multitude of queasy feelings when I surrendered control over a bevy of departments. Because compensation and status is based on one’s place on the hierarchical ladder, a flat and ladder-less terrain may induce sleepless nights and Prozac prescriptions. Worse, some leaders egotistically do not believe staff capable of self-management (people need supervision!) and/or that none can replace their most excellent leadership. They are certain that the democratic way of work is utopian and naive in the real world of the hierarchy!
Yes, I did find - at some personal cost - that democracy in the library workplace is not for everyone. Indeed some of the library work groups I supervised were unhappy with empowerment and were very passive about sharing power. They abhorred the notion of limiting a boss’ power and freeing up people to do their best, to be all they could be.
Because of this intransigence (plus libraries are almost never stand-alone institutions which further restricts their autonomy) my book
and blog are meant to stimulate and challenge individuals, not to vex hierarchical dinosaurs. So, I encourage the individual - leader and follower - to think about democratic concepts and to apply democratic ways of working to his or her local situation. If you are a department head that believes people work best when trusted, respected and free to make decisions about how to do a job, then be democratic in leading. Or, if you are a hard working follower, then support and practice democratic concepts in working with others.
Even if your workplace is the most constipated and untrusting hierarchy, you can be democratic in what you do and think. If you are required to take part in the ritual of formal performance evaluation, you can coach and advise people separately from the paperwork.
I think the democratic work place appeals especially to the younger, newer professional. Our new librarians – the best ones in my classes in the US and in Riga - are demanding a say, they want something more. We should be paying attention.
There is a glimmer of hope on the library horizon.
A colleague at a conservative research library tells me administrative attitudes about command and control are shifting. Her term for what she is seeing is the “post-departmental” library. Her meaning: the hierarchy is frequently by-passed and that a more matrix-like organization is emerging. While departments remain, library-wide task forces - composed of staff and supervisors - are used to set policies and to avoid departmental turf battles. While this library has a long way to go on the democratic continuum, it may well exemplify what is occurring in other large libraries.
From what I know of my friend’s library, I can well imagine that the executives pine for the good old days of command and control, but they have had to make concessions. If they resist during these difficult economic times, they might discover that their power only exists as long as those whom they supervise want them to have it. I am optimistic that many reluctant administrators, like the room full of managers I spoke to in Estonia, actually may come to like a democratic organization.

*As defined here:
Many leaders.
De-centralized power.
Open “books” (finances and personnel).
Planning involves everyone.
Team-based, flat organization.
Many effective (independent and critical thinking and action-taking) followers.
Managers do “real work”.
No formal performance appraisal.
Workers help define individual perks, from parking to pay.
A proactive organization.

**For more examples of democratic organizations, there is the WorldBlu (Freedom at Work) web site for its list of “Most Democratic Workplaces.” There are no libraries or academic institutions on that list, but it is well worth looking at since those on the list are carrying out and helping define what it means to be democratic.

Friday Fable: An old dog barking

Posted by jlubans on March 15, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The sheep know.

Early on in my talk this week at the National Library of Estonia in the capital city of Tallinn, I invoked an Estonian proverb: Ega vana koer valet ei haugu. (An old dog barks not in vain.)
I like the proverb’s humorous insight and, of course, I hoped it would break the proverbial ice when a stranger espouses strange ideas to a group.
Also, I wanted them to think a bit about why an “old dog” - who no longer chases squirrels - with a 40-year career in academic libraries would be promoting democratic ideas about leading and following.
Here are some pictures of the National Library, a massive limestone structure, a cathedral of bibligograhy and culture and a fortress of wisdom.
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Caption: Interior on the entry level, third floor. Grand enough to stage a production of Tosca!

Captions for pictures below: Views from the top floors, a gorgeous stained glass window. Texas music. Snow views - no, the snow is not as high as the 5th floor, but it did pile high on the roof.
20130315-stained glass.jpeg


20130315-5th floor view roof snow.jpeg


“Freedom is in the heart.”

Posted by jlubans on March 13, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

My class recently discussed Ants - Little Creatures Who Run the World, the NOVA DVD about Edward O. Wilson’s research.
I blogged about my decision - freely made, by the way, not predetermined or decided by chance - to use this film in my Democratic Workplace class. My point was to demonstrate how a leaderless group like ants or the much more likeable honeybee and several other creatures, cooperate to gain advantage and to survive. These were my discussion questions:
“According to Dr. Wilson humans’ inherent weakness is to emphasize the needs of the individual over the needs of society. Do you agree that this is a weakness? In what ways a weakness or not a weakness?

Will the “eternal paradox, a tension between individuality and self-serving, on the one side, and the needs of the society on the other,” prove fatal?

Is there then good reason to rely more than we do now on democratic organizations in which extreme individualism is subordinate to what is good for the group? Is that possible?”

The discussion went in a direction I’d not anticipated, but I am glad where it went. While the students noted the ants’ ability to cooperate, to be mission-focused, and to sacrifice-self for the group (“one for all, all for one”, they were not convinced that an ant-like society, however wonderful the cooperation, would be an improvement over present human society.
There are lessons, the students believe, to be learned from the ants: “Ants example proves that people need to cooperate and “try” to work in groups.”
I was particularly sensitive to the discussion because I’ve been thinking about what democracy means and along the way have encountered the eternal arguments about free will and questions about man’s need or desire for freedom.
The Ants movie emphatically illustrates that humankind is different from the ant. The student discussion did not miss out on the difference. “Ants are little ‘robots’, but people not!” The ants follow instincts, not emotions, a minus” in student eyes. “Human cooperation is conscious.” “It is not a weakness to think about the individual needs.” “Humans have progress because of individualism, a plus”
Man is far from perfect, however. “Ants preserve nature, a plus. Humans do not see limits of destruction of nature, a minus.”
And, “People (human) need to learn from ants: how to make a democratic society!!! We are trying to do our BEST!” And, “we must find middle way between individual needs and needs of society.”
That these students live in a society only 22 years out of Communist oppression – “an all-knowing, all-caring, all-providing Soviet” – makes them more acutely aware than most about what subordinating people to some coordinating power really means. It’s totalitarian, regardless what you label it. And, if you buck the system, you are deemed a traitor and on your way to a Siberia not of your choosing. At least that is how I interpret the students’ response.

Shortly after the discussion, I gave a mini-lecture about Maslow’s “hierarchy of human needs” – many in the class were familiar with Maslow – and I think it was helpful to compare ants to humans on this hierarchy. (It’s helpful to remember when Maslow wrote about the needs hierarchy: during and after the horrors of the 2nd World War.)
I pointed out that the ants “selflessness” and sacrifice gains them the first two and a half steps up the “needs ladder”: Biological and Physiological needs, Safety needs, and maybe, Belongingness. Still, we quickly see that ants miss out on the higher needs of esteem and self-actualization. That’s probably OK with the ants, but it does not make for anything approaching a human life well lived. To fulfill only biological and safety needs kills in most people - although there are remarkable exceptions – the desire for a better life.
If “freedom is in the heart!” as one student stated, is not totalitarianism then only going to permit people an ant-like existence? In other words, to achieve the esteem and self-actualization the individual has to have freedom to choose.
Before I become incoherent, I’ll try to link the discussion to the workplace. In the democratic workplace, the worker has a say, she helps make decisions and is encouraged not to hold back. It is through the collective wisdom of those people doing the job that we make improvements and produce better services and improve our productivity. That can only happen with freedom.

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s "The Fox With His Tail Cut Off"*

Posted by jlubans on March 08, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by Randolph Caldecott in Some of
 Aesop’s Fables.... “The Fox without a Tail”, London: 

"A cunning old fox, of plundering habits,
Great crauncher of fowls, great catcher of rabbits,
Whom none of his sort had caught in a nap,
Was finally caught in somebody's trap.
By luck he escaped, not wholly and hale,
For the price of his luck was the loss of his tail.
Escaped in this way, to save his disgrace,
He thought to get others in similar case.
One day that the foxes in council were met,
"Why wear we," said he, "this cumbering weight,
Which sweeps in the dirt wherever it goes?
Pray tell me its use, if any one knows.
If the council will take my advice,
We shall dock off our tails in a trice."
"Your advice may be good," said one on the ground;
"But, before I reply, pray turn yourself round."
Whereat such a shout from the council was heard,
Poor bob-tail, confounded, could say not a word.
To urge the reform would have wasted his breath.
Long tails were the mode till the day of his death."

The fox’s sales pitch to mitigate his personal loss reminds me when a library I worked in was hectored to join a major library automation effort. We knew that it was one library's pet project but were told it was only a matter of a year or so before the pilot would be ready. We, unlike the fox’s brethren, went along, persuading ourselves that this bit of automation was somehow better if done locally rather than by a large development firm. As you can imagine, the project dragged on and on, burning cash from grants and lots more cash from member library staff budgets. Finally, enough was enough, we stopped development and cut our losses and salvaged what we could. Fortunately, the home grown version was soon overtaken by superior commercial products. Maybe we did gain some experience and insights into project development but it came at a high price in lost creativity and productivity. No doubt a few of the participants yet wax emotional about some unique bell or whistle never to be replicated in the more robust, far faster, more intuitive, and highly effective versions.

*Source: "A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine" by Jean de La Fontaine, London; New York: John Lane Co., 1900

“Broda nie czyni filozofa.”

Posted by jlubans on March 06, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

On March 4, I gave a talk in the new Warsaw University Library in Warsaw, Poland. The title was:
"Working Together: Ways of Organizing, Old and New.” Or, musically, "I Borrowed the Shoes, but the Holes Are Mine!" (Not exactly Chopin!)
My talk was the first of a two-part program that ran from 2PM to 4.30PM. The second half was led by Sheryl Anspaugh (my wife), speaking about her perspective on American libraries and what she has learned about leadership from working in a variety of types of libraries.
The program was sponsored by the Polish Librarians Association:
and the University of Warsaw Library.
The program was largely organized for the PLA by its Treasurer, Joanna Pasztaleniec-Jarzyńska of the National Library in Warsaw.
And, the moderator was Dr. Henryk Hollender, former director of Warsaw University Library, now Library director of Lazarski University in Warsaw.
From the start, I cautioned the audience that a Polish proverb might apply: “Broda nie czyni filozofa.” (“If the beard were all, the goat might preach.” My accent was so bad, I had to give them the English translation so they could understand what I was trying to say in Polish!
I touched on the following:
Leading from the middle/Workplace Democracy
An Organizational Continuum exercise
Examples of Workplace Democracy and its implications:
Honeybee democracy
Leaderless orchestras
The self-managing villages of Vermont
Southwest airlines’ values
Teaching how to lead from the middle.
(This last item related to the ways I teach the principles of the democratic workplace in my Riga, Latvia classes).
Our presentations were followed by several questions, including some provocative comments.
Here are several pictures of the venue:

Caption: The new UW Library. It features a much-heralded roof garden and re-uses, as sculpture, an old core stack (in purple)

Caption: Interior of the new library from the second floor. Below, on the main floor, are card catalogs of an unique design. About half the collection is in the e-catalog.

Caption: Four pillars tower above the main floor, under the ceiling, and make for a grand staircase. The four are famous Polish authors.

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Caption: Looking up from the main floor of the library into a vast open space. Heavily used.

Caption: Unique catalog card drawers.

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Caption: The "old" UW library. It sits on a hillside well above the new library, which is on a plain below this hill. The historic UW campus (which includes the old library is just off Nowy Świat Street, the “Royal Way”.

Caption: A library user waiting for the "old" library to open. I shook his hand.

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “The Ploughman and his Sons”*

Posted by jlubans on March 01, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A hand colored Steinhowel illustration. University of Munich

“The farmer's patient care and toil

Are oftener wanting than the soil._
A wealthy ploughman drawing near his end,

Call'd in his sons apart from every friend,

And said, "When of your sire bereft,

The heritage our fathers left

Guard well, nor sell a single field.

A treasure in it is conceal'd:

The place, precisely, I don't know,

But industry will serve to show.

The harvest past,
Time's forelock take,

And search with plough, and spade, and rake;

Turn over every inch of sod,

Nor leave unsearch'd a single clod."

The father died.
The sons--and not in vain--

Turn'd o'er the soil, and o'er again;

That year their acres bore

More grain than e'er before.

Though hidden money found they none,

Yet had their father wisely done,

To show by such a measure,

That toil itself is treasure.”

Is the notion of work as treasure merely quaint? In an age of connectivity, of electronic entertainment and diversion for every waking minute, of never being “alone”, of endless sessions with Angry Birds or other games, the idea of digging in a field may not be among your favorite apps. But, that is to miss the point.
An assigned reading** in my Democratic Workplace class is about Taoism, the philosophy with the quirky conundrums, like this one:
“Shape clay into a vessel;
 It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room;
 It is the holes which make it useful. …. Usefulness comes from what is not there.”

Another one is “Practice non-action. Work without doing.” I’ll ask the class to suggest what that means. “What is ‘real work’ to the Taoist?”
We know there is drudgery, a type of work that appears to accomplishes little if anything. Fortunately, there is another kind of work, the real thing, that challenges us enough to keep our interest and focus on alert. We may even achieve a sort of “flow” in doing interesting work. And sometimes, we have to pass through the drudgery to come out with a renewed appreciation for work. The sage farmer tricks his sons into working and they learn about the benefits of hard work, of caring for your resources, of having the daily discipline to work and stay on task. Tricked our not, they are the better for it.

*Source: "A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine" by Jean de La Fontaine, London; New York: John Lane Co., 1900

** Marshall, Peter. “Taoism and Buddhism” excerpted from his book, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, London: HarperCollins, 1992. Pp. 53-60. Please note this excerpt only discusses Taoism. For further background read: “The best leader leads least.