Tom Peters, famous author of In Search of Excellence, coined the phrase “fast failures” which simply means corporations using modest amounts of capital to let employees rapidly test out new concepts, versus following a traditional deliberate corporate process to vet new product and service ideas. Fast forwarding to today, the idea of the “pop-up” has steadily been gaining traction in the retail and restaurant sectors as a way to quickly test the market, introduce new products and services, and gain some quick local market awareness.
When you think about it, the pop-up has been around for a long time, we just called it a booth at a tradeshow. What’s different now is the pop-up can happen anywhere, especially outside where people are walking, browsing, and congregating. In the tradeshow model you had to attract the people to your booth (one of hundreds) in a big event center. In the pop-up model you embed your story where the people are and often you are the only show at that location.
The pop-up is not just for big corporations. Any organization and any individual can pop-up their story on a budget that ranges from a table at a flea market in a mall, to an open-air stand at an art fair in a parking lot, to something more elaborate whether it is indoors or outdoors. The pop-up enables rapid prototyping (and fast failures), market introduction and awareness, brainstorming, customer feedback, crowd sourcing (“citizen-sourcing”), and more. And because it is such a cost-effective technique, we should encourage and enable pop-ups in our communities as much as possible because what we need in our communities is new thinking that leads to new companies and new jobs which can help backfill the substantial job losses we are experiencing by disruption across all sectors.
Just to pick one example, consider libraries which are being disrupted across the United States because of the digital revolution and declining state and municipal budgets. Public libraries across the nation are struggling to figure out how to redefine the mission of their libraries and develop a sustainable financial model.
The “elephant in the room” that people are afraid to talk about or step forward on is the question of do we still need to allocate that much space for books-on-shelves? It is such a revered and emotional tradition (some say “right” or “entitlement”) to have books-on-shelves in expansive quiet spaces, that some library directors have already lost their jobs trying to move in a different direction. But it will happen! We don’t need as much space allocated for books-on-shelves as we used to, so we will have to repurpose some amount of that library space and potentially have some of the space generate revenues which will help support the library.
A specific example of this is our own public library that has a 40,000 square-foot basement which is empty. The basement of our public library is nicer than the basement in my 90-year old home: well lit, dry, high ceilings, broadband wireless, plenty of power, smooth concrete floor, plenty of books and coffee and conference rooms and restrooms upstairs, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That’s a lot of space to be doing nothing when the library has been running a deficit budget for the last five years.
Why not mobilize the power of the crowd (the library patrons and the community at large) by letting them pop-up their ideas in the basement?
- Design lab
- Media lab
- Art studio
- Dance studio
- Co-working area for budding entrepreneurs
- Fablab, makery, hackerspace
- And the list goes on…
Give them some of that empty underutilized space, support them however you can, and unleash the creative energy of citizen-sourcing in your community because no single library director or board of trustees has the all-knowing crystal ball to build a roadmap to the future for their libraries. I have much more confidence in the power of diverse thinking from citizen-sourcing than I have in a library director either afraid of losing his or her job or stubborn to change; or a politicized board of trustees nervous about community blowback. I was on our library board so I’ve seen this group-think dynamic from the inside.
The library is only one of many institutions which are being disrupted (big university is another, for example) which we need to address, but we are failing our communities if we don’t fully utilize the power of citizen-sourcing.
Pop-ups are a great way to mobilize and tap the creative and problem-solving power in our communities and get on with it!
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A co-working space in a library might look something like this:
The co-working program can offer the following:
- shared-office space:
- desk, chair, power
- wireless broadband
- library card and books, lots of books
- conference rooms
- comfortable easy chairs for reading and napping
- a place to connect with other motivated:
- small business owners
- social-impact organizations
- help with:
- business support
- looking for mentors
- simply a collaborative space to brainstorm, design, create
My neighbor is a professor in computer science and he is developing a new Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) and I’m going to meet with him to find out what kind of ePUBS and/or POD documents he wants to offer students. The crazy thing about these Coursera courses is they get sometimes over 30,000 students worldwide that register for just one course. Take a look at the universities and other organizations that are jumping on this bandwagon: https://www.coursera.org/about/partners
Here’s a link to a course in “cloud computing concepts”: https://www.coursera.org/course/cloudcomputing. The course is free but you can earn a “Verified Certificate” which is part of a series of courses in cloud computing. It says that no textbook is required.
I think some of these instructors wouldn’t mind giving the global student the option of downloading some ePUBS and/or Print-on-Demand (POD) class notes and/or textbook. Many students still like to have a hard copy of something which they can carry around and annotate and doodle on.
The exciting thing about this is that each course can attract anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 students or more to register from across the world, and this is only going to grow as more and more hiring corporations value “skills verification” which can very cost-effectively be obtained via these MOOCs. The number of registered students is driven by the brand name of the professor and the demand for the particular topic. Clearly any topic that adds to a student’s “verified skills,” builds credits toward a degree, and ultimately leads to a good-paying job will be in high demand. Since the student is already able to take the course for free, the marginal cost to pay a modest amount for some E and/or POD publications is something many students would opt in for (i.e., pay for). So you have this massive captive market of students for each course, and right now it looks like there’s really no cloud-based platform for them to get course-related materials.
The “Verified Certificate” is one way they (Coursera and partner institutions) monetize the course. The cloud computing concept certificate is $49. Downloaded E and/or POD course materials would be a second way of monetizing.
Another interesting development is the “Amazon Campus” just announced: http://www.amazon.com/gp/campus/info.
Describe the importance of public libraries.
I often run past the UIUC underground library, and one day I stopped to read the words inscribed on the stone wall: “Let this be a holy place for the human spirit consecrated to the forces which magnify the soul,” and, “Books are alive to the man who knows how to use these sources of inspiration and power.” The clarity and truth in these quotes has made a lasting impression on me and emphasizes so well the importance of libraries.
Describe your background and what you bring to the board.
My background is a combination of engineering, entrepreneurship, and writing/editing. I have served on many for-profit and non-profit boards, so good governance is a special interest of mine. My family has lived in the same house for 30 years only blocks from the CPL, so this library has played a special role with our family and my kids growing up.
Tell us a little bit about your family, pets, etc.
My wife Karen and I have been married 42 years. We have three children and three granddaughters. I’m an avid runner, tennis player, golfer, traveler, reader, writer, and tinkerer.
What have you read, watched, or listened to lately?
Read: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Watched: The Golden Globes, mostly to see and hear the comedy genius of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I listen to NPR just about all day, every day.