Terminator scanning environment from movie The Terminator, 1984.

“…[W]hat we conceive about our business is not sufficient to fully understand all the effects that are actually happening in and around our business…[W]e are completely unable to perceive of all the dynamics of our business environment because our conception limits our perception. Our accumulation of, and intense focus on, our knowledge controls what we believe. And, what we believe controls what we are able to see. What haven’t you noticed lately?”

Quote by Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, Information Highways Conference 2003, Keynote Speech delivered March 25, 2003, www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/EnterpriseAwarenessMcLuhanThinking.pdf.

Environmental Scanning and Scanning for Disruptive Innovations are Fundamental:

At the beginning of our Current Topics in Collection Development course, we were provided with some absolutely key fundamentals – the nature of environmental scanning and disruptive innovation.  So key are these concepts that they surely should be the primary practices that libraries (and library schools for that matter) should use in ascertaining collection development as well as the institutions themselves.

It is a technique that institutions and businesses should incorporate in their models.  I was quite struck by the Environmental Scan postings on the 5 OCLC staffed blog “It’s All Good.”

Environmental Scanning, Part 1

Environmental Scanning, Part 2

Practicing “unconscious environmental scanning:”

To say it struck me was to say it struck me like lightning.  What grabbed me was that I had practiced “environmental scanning” in my former business life without even knowing there was a formality to it.  In my previous life, I was a designer and product manager for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe (formerly Aldus), K2 skis, and others.  When I was designing, defining, re-designing, or coming up with a product, my colleagues thought I was crazy because what did I do?  I didn’t go to the drawing board, or read reports, or spend time in my business ivory tower, or spent inventive times in my head.  I broke out of the inside world and went outside.

“What should we be concerned about trees?”

This reminded me specifically from the blog of a comment of a librarian while the OCLC staff person gave a presentation on “environmental scanning:” Why should a “library organization…be concerned about trees?”

Practicing “Terminator” pattern recognition scanning:

Terminator scanning biker dude from movie The Terminator, 1984.

I went into environments to see what people did, what environments looked like, what was happening and watch that dynamic.  I told them I was looking for patterns and trends.  And where I got my greatest feedback oddly enough was in shopping malls and stores.  Oddly, I despise these venues and never go I can stand it.  But this venue allowed me to witness what was trending – watched people, how they acted, what they wore and carried, what stores were popular, what was trending in those stores, particularly book, music and clothing stores.  Each store provided me with a window on trending and interests.  (Even color palettes were devised in these spots!)

Disruptive Innovation:

Environmental scanning was also critical in identifying disruptive innovations or the trending of them (Netscape’s introduction of an internet browser that Microsoft rejected until it stared them in the face; Google vs. search engines, publishers, writers, mappers, online and software corporations, libraries (including disintermediation-),

From Hunt’s The Disintermediation Era, cc Creative Commons/Flickr

…should I say anymore?) This ability to practice environmental scanning provided me with the ability to design or re-design products relatively successfully, and most importantly to me, responsively to the users.

OCLC Environmental Scan:

“It’s All Good” blog points to how the OCLC produced their own wonderful OCLC environmental scan as “internal communication of external information” but fortunately the Board of Trustees posted the scan publicly.  This was done in 2003 (and unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that one has been done currently) and it still holds weight.

The environment consists of landscapes:

“Landscapes” were defined as social, technology, researching and learning, and library.

Within the Library Landscape, scans were made of the following categories:

  1. Major trends, the Social Landscape:
  2. Major trends, the Technology Landscape:

In context, social, economic, and technology landscape scans were done that identified the following:

Social Landscape:

  1. Self-service: moving to self-sufficiency
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Seamlessness

Economic Landscape (It would be nice to see this updated for surely the 2010 economy is vastly different from the 2003, but the trending is still helpful):

  1. Slow economic growth worldwide
  2. Worldwide education and library spending
  3. A silver lining—shared infrastructures
  4. Funding for the public good

Research and Learning Landscape

    1. Reduced funding
    2. Proliferation of e-learning
    3. Lifelong learning in the community
    4. The changing pattern of research and learning in higher education
    5. Institutional repositories, scholarly communication and open access
    6. New flows of scholarly materials

    Technology Landscape

    1. Bringing structure to unstructured data
    2. Distributed, component-based software
    3. A move to open-source software
    4. Security, authentication and Digital Rights Management

    “Outside-in” approach:

    Wonderfully, this in-depth environmental scan does what is termed in the blog – “outside-in.”  ‘Outside-in’ takes a very broad view of the environment and is intended as a long view of the world.  This is contrast to what often libraries tend to do, which is “inside-out.”

    Local library example of a misconceived “outside-in” approach which is more “inside-out” (Mad Hatter anyone?):

    I see a fair example of this in my own local library in Tustin, California.  I think they believed they were doing an outside-in approach in tearing down their original library and putting a new one in, but I believe the redesign has failed, and continues to fail due to not continuing to view the patrons within the library space.  The library has all the high-tech look and outer design – the library is modeled after mid-century clean lines, big windows and steel construction.  The space is open and airy.  Meeting rooms have been created.  A whole section of computers with printing capabilities has been added.  A huge section for children with playful seating has been devised.  However, its collection….uggh!  Where are the books and resources?  Most of the lovely steel shelving is devoid of items.

    Collection, you say? What collection? Environmental scan, please:

    It looks like Fahrenheit 911 took place here.  The concern about space and the shelves may be occupied by 8 books.  It this an idea for aesthetics?  Not only are the books depopulated, but the magazines, DVDs and CDs.  I couldn’t believe this.  The Tustin library had a popular and large collection of DVDs, CDs, magazines and a diversity of books.  When in the old library, DVDs were checked out in mass.  Also, paperbacks were hugely popular. I couldn’t even find these.  Oddly, they must have thought that the biggest consumers of their library were children because over half the library consists of children books – significantly more than the adult and reference section.  Having done environmental scans on the library, there were only 2 children in the huge children’s book section and they weren’t reading any books but playing with the furniture or on the fun-looking computers.  In the adults section, I found families and adults crammed in spaces.  The computers were all used up, the largest body of people were the magazine readers who were now crammed into a dark small spot with fewer magazines, several patrons were scanning the book aisles with glazed eyes and confusion, a couple of young people were in the private meeting rooms working on homework on their laptops, and the checkout line was long and huge at a small little counter staffed by one person.  Interestingly, they placed the Information Desk completely at the back of the room and it was used non-stop because patrons, including young ones, couldn’t find materials – including myself.  I’ve not gone back to that public library because I find it empty and useless, and surely they did not design it by doing a proper environmental scan.  They should probably call it the Tustin Children Library to be more accurate, with a small play area for adults…

    Libraries need to practice environmental scanning:

    So, it is wise for all institutions and corporations, but most particularly for libraries in this rapidly-changing information/technological environment, to practice and implement environmental scanning.  It can be fairly inexpensive or free compared to expensive research studies.

    Simply look, watch, and listen.  How profound is that?