Monday, August 24, 2015

Innovation Tournaments: what are they and what can it mean for your library or organization as a whole?

by Corrine Vogel

I’m so grateful to DALL to have been able to attend this year’s Annual Meeting with the financial assistance of a DALL grant. As part of that experience, I had the opportunity to go to the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Summit on Saturday before the official start of the conference.

Karl Ulrich, the Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania led our innovation tournament. By innovation tournament Ulrich explains, you are trying to create a new match between a solution and a need you have, with that need being broadly defined. It is helpful to illustrate this need by envisioning the knowledge of need on a Y-axis with values ranging from an existing need to a new need, and the knowledge of solution on a X-axis with its values ranging from existing solutions to new solutions. Closer to the origin you pair existing solutions with existing needs in a new way, and as you travel further from the origin you pair new solutions with new needs. Ultimately all of these are considered “innovation” -- it just depends on what innovation you need.

At the Summit, we ran through our own innovation tournament, seeking innovation as it pertains to the question “What deliverables can librarians provide to strengthen their firm’s relationship with current or prospective clients?” We took the following steps:
(1) Gather ideas;
(2) Discuss these ideas with others;
(3) Screen what is valuable and what is not (this should be a low bar at first); and
(4) Continue to make new assessments about those ideas over time -- essentially filtering down to the best ideas.

While we only completed part of an innovation tournament, there was a theme among many of the ideas as well as more unique ideas that stood out. Many of the ideas focused on conducting research for clients and informing them of those opportunities, or having a standard checklist of research conducted for prospective clients or new matters. One unique idea included debriefing attorneys that have returned from  working in-house with clients -- to keep that knowledge preserved and use it to generate new ideas/initiatives within the firm. Creating a social responsibility partnership portal to serve as a connecting point for projects important to the firm as well as clients to assist the community was also proposed.

Ulrich offered suggestions on how to make innovation tournaments more successful:
(1) More ideas lead to better ideas, so make sure to include a lot of people.
(2) The specific people involved in the innovation tournament matter! Ulrich shared an example of one individual contributing six out of ten final ideas that rose to the top of the Wharton School of Business’s Branding Tournament. This means you should solicit participation from proven high performers and those with intuitive understanding. This is inherently hard to identify, so being more inclusive than exclusive with the people you involve is critically important.
(3) Variance is optimal. You want to get diverse ideas -- while law firms typically tend to limit variance, you can miss one amazing idea. Ulrich posits that it’s better to have 99 bad ideas and one amazing idea than 100 good ideas.

To implement this in your library, consider if you want to keep the innovation “closed” to professionals in the library, or if you would like to open it more broadly -- an “open tournament”. In a law firm this could mean including attorneys and other staff members; in academia perhaps including law students and faculty. Finally, in court libraries this might mean including judges, interns, staff, etc. while public law libraries could consider involving public patrons who frequent the law library.

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