Posted by: Memo | November 7, 2007

Pegasus – It’s about radicals

On my second day here in Seattle at the Pegasus conference I’m starting to make the theoretical connections between the various sessions. Concepts like systems thinking, conversation as a radical act, personal relationships, organizational gestures, etc., are words to describe the current that charges our personal view of the world, and our place in it.

One of those words that resonated with me was Debra Meyerson’s keynote speech, “Rocking the Boat…without going overboard,” which is based on her book Tempered Radicals (of course, most speakers/presenters have their books for sale at the conference). According to Meyerson, Tempered Radicals are:

  • People throughout an organization who walk a fine line between challenging and upholding the status quo
  • Tempered radicals express their differences and fit in, effect change and maintain their legitimacy, deviate and conform. They want to rock the boat but don’t want to get thrown overboard.

Did you feel the frisson of recognition? Yeah, you know who you are out there in libraryland. It’s such an awesome term, this “tempered” bit, which to me speaks of honing and precision; of working within and without the librar…er…system. It’s about working on shared visions with your own individual spark. And the radical part–well, that’s the cool disruptor of normal (idea, personality, attitude, the zing) that keeps things interesting.

Of course, there are dangers and barriers to those who step out of the norm. Tempered radicals can wither in an environment of poor psychological safety, or their actions may be perceived as dangerous, or they may be reduced to a conformity level of total silence. So how does a radical start to build the building blocks for positive change? Meyerson lists 5 points:

  1. Changing informal structures – bridging people & ideas from outside the fold
  2. Identity moves – acts of self expression that deviate from taken-for-granted notions of “normal”
  3. Negotiated turns – using problematic interaction or situations as opportunity to name and reframe the issue, to dialogue, and to create learning
  4. Opportunistic small wins – small wins as mini-experiments
  5. Organizing coalitions – create alliances based on shared interest or identity

And, leadership behaviors that promote safety psychological safety:

  • Reduce perceived status of barriers
  • Look for expressions of deviance and inquire about them
  • Celebrate instances of courageous behavior

Debra Meyerson’s speech set the tone for the kind of positive change those of us in SPLAT and ICFL want to achieve in our libraries and beyond.

Let’s get our radical library folk to engage and get involved in conversation. In the words of Meyerson, “Look for people who disagree with you, listen to tem, try to understand their experiences, learn something every day…” Or, what’s your radical idea?


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