the curse of knowledge

I highly recommend Made to Stick.

Over the course of the last six weeks or so I’ve been working to get up to speed on a renewed area of responsibility at my day job: marketing communications. My boss brought in his marketing textbook, which I keep as a reference on my desk, but then he suggested that I read Say It and Live It: 50 corporate mission statements that hit the mark and Made to Stick. Both were extremely helpful and I wish I had read them before I wrote the chapter on community engagement. Ah well, it was the first book and there will likely be more chances to pull in all the things I’m bound to learn tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

At home I’ve been working with Aaron on his new project at citycrops.org. We set up his domain, used a word press template to set up his site and blog, and even hosted with LIS host (where Blake was again extremely helpful in getting our site set up when I was too bugged out to remember you have to load word press before you load the theme). But you would not believe how easily, relatively, the concept, brand, name, and even the tagline came to us. Because citycrops is new and we’re essentially building the concept into a brand from scratch, all it took was a little brainstorming over maybe 10 days and Viola! 

At work I came into an organization with an existing name and brand. We updated our brand to a more “grown up” and “professional” though some would say “corporate” look and feel last summer when we relaunched our platform. Now we’re working hard to *refine* our messaging in an attempt to crystalize and effectively convey what we do, why it’s different, and why it matters. My colleague Sharon Streams (WebJunction Content Manager) has been extremely helpful in this process – not only is she the kick-ass-est of copy editors but she keeps reminding me of the principles that underly those clear, consistent, and memorable messages. Michael Porter is also reminding me whenever he gets the chance – we have to be concise, or there’s too many words. 

The reason that I need these reminders, at almost every turn, is because I am the Czar of WebJunction Knowledge. And when it comes to “making it stick,” too much institutional knowledge is like a solvent. I’ve been with this organization since 2003, before we even launched our first website. What WebJunction is “about” is like oxygen to me. How we are different and why it matters is in my blood. But having passionate knowledge and interest in your project, turns out, doesn’t help you write a mission statement that’s worth it’s weight in bytes.

Which got me thinking about libraries. Libraries have been “what we do” for many hundreds of years and “why we’re different” and “why it matters” are questions that we can get defensive about when called upon to answer them. If I’m the Czar of Knowledge at WJ, and that’s more of a liability than it is an asset, then what when we’re all Czars of Knowledge (it’s part of the professional identity)? I’m thinking that this makes it even more difficult for us to get to what Made to Stick authors call SUCCESS in our messaging about library missions.

If your library is revising your mission statement, or you think you need to look at it again for accuracy and effectiveness, I’d recommend going back to those three questions that Sharon reminded me sit at the core of any mission and vision: 

-What do we do?

-How is it different?

-Why does it matter?

And again I say, read Made to Stick. I’d love to hear what you think and if you’re applying it in your library.