Why? Why Not?

One of the concepts mentioned in R. Toby Greenwalt’s article It’s All Around You: Creating a Culture of Innovation is Creating Prompts. What kind of prompts do you think might work (or have worked in the past) for you in trying to kick start your own creative thinking around innovation

At my job in Resource Sharing we are always looking for ways to improve the department. Some improvements are to save money, and others have been made to improve staff wellbeing and attitudes, but we strive to find areas that can be improved. R. Toby Greenwalt wrote about library prompts as a way to get some creative juices flowing by asking questions such as “what’s the most relaxing spot in the building?” (Greenwalt 2014). While we do not pass around prompt cards there are two questions that consistently spark innovation in my department: why, and why not?
Ares looking confused

These two questions are as basic as they come. Ares, my 3-year-old daughter, knows the power of these questions to get to the root cause of almost everything in her life. She asks “why are we going to the store?” “Why do we need groceries?” “Why do we eat?” These questions are sometimes very annoying, but they often lead to conversations about the basic reasons we do things which greatly improves Ares understanding and gets me to explore a new perspective.

At work asking why and why not can get us thinking about new ideas by showing us that we are sticking to a workflow for the wrong reasons. For example we had always shipped UPS packages using a carbon copy shipping book. We would copy the library name, address, ILL number, and shipping insurance amount into this book, by hand, for every packaged shipped. I asked my coworker why we did this and her answer was, more or less, because it was how we had processed UPS for the last 16 years. We then asked ourselves, “why not a digital solution?” This lead to using UPS’s free software to print labels and save the information for each library into an address book for future use. UPS takes a fraction of the time it used too.
While this isn’t exactly a super innovative idea, most libraries use printed UPS labels, it was innovative to our library. Asking ourselves “why” and “why not” has lead to many more improvements in how we do things. We switched to printable bookband slips with reusable bookbands when we asked ourselves “why do we handwrite the bookbands?” We are quietly testing out a Pull and Scan program for our patrons because  “why not scan the article if we are already checking the shelf for it?” By consistently asking why we gain just enough distance to look at ourselves from a different perspective.



Greenwalt, T. (2014). It’s all around you: creating a culture of innovation [web article]. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2014/02/its-all-around-you-creating-a-culture-of-innovation/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s