The 100 Years War – An Evolution of the Library Customer

By: Clark Swanson

Clients frequently ask, “What is the future of libraries?” Much to their frustration, I respond, “I haven’t a clue.” Their question, I think, misses the point. The real question relates to their customers. That is, how will your customers evolve and change in the years ahead?  That’s a question we can answer. The following represents an effort to do that in the broadest of terms, defining the future customer.

Friday afternoon provides the OrangeBoy team a welcome break from the demands of our week. Client e-mails, texts, and calls slow. Those who spent the week traveling return. Frequently, the most interesting conversations take place during this time. Jack and Erin occasionally break out in song on Friday afternoons, sometimes accompanied by dance.

These conversations provide a window to view a generation’s consumption behavior. In this sense, they serve as our Lucy. One can reasonably expect they will shape the forces of consumerism for the next 100 years through their children and grandchildren. A glimpse of their passions and proclivities tell us much about how we might shape our service offerings in the long years ahead. I want to introduce you two of our team members who serve as a generational proxy.

Erin, age 23, hails from Chicagoland. On her desk sits two cell phones, a Nokia Windows Phone and a Samsung Android. She moves seamlessly from one to the other, even while responding to e-mail and Lync messages on her laptop. Erin has accumulated thousands of followers on Instagram. At home, she and her significant other each have their own X-Box.

Shelby, age 22, came to us from Marietta College with degrees in Physics and Math. She recently purchased her first car, an electric blue Ford Fiesta. Shelby carries only one phone, an Android. She loves music and listens to Spotify most of the day. When not at OrangeBoy, you may find her involved in a local theatre production.

My business partner Sandy once called Erin “self-supervising.”  Shelby loves nothing more than solving a problem. She makes so little noise that one hardly knows when she arrives or leaves. We love them both, and Sandy and I take much enjoyment watching them establish their lives.

They move about this task in ways we find foreign but quite interesting. The most obvious involves something we talk about with our clients frequently—mobility.

Many mistake mobility for the use of a mobile device. At times, I carry as many as five mobile devices — three pads, a Windows Phone, and a jet pack. Yet as Erin and Shelby both know, I lack mobility. Mobility relates to ubiquitousness. Erin and Shelby live in a world where technology exists as part of the scenery, and they take no special notice of it. I make technology a conscious choice.

You see this as Erin shuffles effortlessly between phones, or as Spotify follows Shelby where ever she ventures. In either case, the devices they use understand what they want at any particular time. It just appears. They think nothing of it.

Their immersive technologies leave Erin and Shelby with an altered syntax. A different operating system drives their world. Shelby characterized it this way: “I applied for and received student loans online without ever talking with a person, but to get a library card, I have to show up at a specific location, at a specific time, with specific forms of identification. It makes no sense.”

The operative phrase here, “It makes no sense.”  Erin’s even more earnest:  “I simply don’t understand libraries.”

Their point, I think, relates to how their generation moves through daily life. Contact with people, whether bankers or librarians, have been engineered out of the systems they use. Conditioned to this, they view such interactions with a befuddled look, as to say, “Why would I do that?”

I have seen that look many times, and it still garners a double take. Yet as Sandy once asked, “Who has to change?”  Her question went unanswered, but we both knew the answer.

Sandy’s question relates to a third element of their lives. They expect service whenever and wherever. Shelby returned from apartment hunting one Monday miffed that leasing agents required Saturday appointments. Even within the realm of the physical, Erin and Shelby expect something beyond convenience. They expect the world to mold to their schedules.

Their desire for “right now” comes with an implied understanding they readily accept. This only comes in yielding their privacy. Or, as Erin put it, “I don’t expect privacy.” Erin and Shelby fully understand the personal data they consciously or unconsciously contribute may flow to unexpected places. They do so, however, with the belief that this “contribution” yields greater choice.

Choice strikes at the heart of their lives. They expect it. Perhaps more than any other generation, this one has lived with the consequence of choice longer than any other. It started early in the lives with standardized testing, culminating in the SAT. They chose a college. They signed student loan papers. Why now should they surrender this? They won’t. Like Frank Sinatra, they intend to do it their way. Shelby calls this do-it-yourself couture. Translated, you make your own life.

 

It’s Time to Go

By: Clark Swanson

Last week, OrangeBoy duties took me to Kansas City, Missouri, where we work in close contact with Kansas City Public Libraries to help improve literacy services in their community. The trip was expected to last a few days; just down and back. There was a chance of snow in the forecast, but based on meteorological accuracy, I wasn’t exceptionally concerned… Until the storm came early, and I tried to make it out of town before it arrived.

I have seen news footage of such moments, but last week, I found myself living it. As I attempted to make my way to the airport, the I-435 – I-29 split was littered with abandoned and stalled cars. Their drivers, at least those who hadn’t walked way, were at a complete loss. We could see the road ahead was clear. Yet we were frozen, literally and figuratively. There seemed no way out.

Kansas

Then I saw a man, who unlike me and the others was well dressed for the weather. As he walked by my window, I rolled it down, and he asked, “Do you have four-wheel-drive?” The Escape I was driving had all-wheel drive, but it wasn’t the time to debate the point. “If we can clear a few of these people out of the way,” he said, “I think we can get through.”

He went to the mini-van blocking me and asked her to pull in front of me; requiring her to move headlong toward the berm. We formed a “T” at this moment. At the same time, a thought came into my head, “Do you really want to do this? This is how you got here in the first place.” Three hours earlier I had taken a calculated risk. If I could get to the airport before the storm grew to full strength, Southwest promised I might make it home to my wife Sandy. Although I got within eight miles; I lost.

The thought didn’t last long. I didn’t even answer it. I put the Ford Escape into reverse, backed-up, and then pulled around the mini-van. I squeezed between a semi and another car, twisting and turning between two others. A small pick-up was the last obstacle. He sat between an abandoned car and another semi. I stopped the Escape, and with the help of four others, the truck was manhandled. We moved it maybe 12 to 18 inches. I got back into the Escape, pointed it toward the gap, and drove through. It didn’t fishtail, drift, or slide.

I plowed through the gap, heading to the open road. The gentleman who started the chain of events waved as I passed through, but I had no intention of stopping or going back.

That evening, as I stared out my hotel window, it came to me that this was the metaphor for our business and the opportunities ahead. When the opportunity presents itself, we have to take it without much thought or fear, regardless of previous failures.

If those three days showed me anything, it’s that a golden gap lies before us. We just need to drive through it. Yes, sometimes it takes a little help from others and a bit of luck, but it’s out there.

It’s time to go. I hope you’ll come along with us.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo from kansascity.com

Above the (Big Orange) Clouds

By: Clark Swanson

It came finally—my Southwest Companion Pass. This hard-earned jewel entitles a selected companion of my choice to fly free whenever and wherever I fly for the next year. For our clients, this means they will have the rare opportunity of seeing both Sandy and me, since we can literally travel for the cost of one. For me, it is a big deal. I spend far too much time away from my wife and business partner (Sandy), and the Companion Pass means we can spend a bit more time together.

I earned the Companion Pass by amassing 110,000 frequent flyer (Rapid Rewards) points on Southwest over the past nine months. That translates into roughly 100 flights—no small feat. I would like to thank the Southwest flight attendants for the kindness extended to me, from free drink coupons to the ever-present smile. Thank you. I can’t think of anybody, other than Sandy, I would rather fly with.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Dashboard deserves much of the credit for my Companion Pass. This handy tool, located on the Southwest website, kept me apprised of my progression toward my goal on a minute-to-minute basis. It estimates the value of one flight compared to another, allowing me to maximize the points earned for each dollar spent. No matter the time of day, or my location, the Rapid Rewards Dashboard kept me on the pathway toward my 110,000 goal.

OrangeBoy dashboards do the exact same thing. They keep our clients squarely on the path toward their goals—working much like an instrument panel on an airplane, serving to inform the pilot of flight conditions and the functions of the aircraft. OrangeBoy dashboards display gauges that indicate real-time activity. Clients have the ability to gauge progress toward their goals on a minute-by-minute basis, 24-hours a day, regardless of their location. It falls from the orange cloud.

Sandy and I both came from industries that measured success or failure with a very narrow band of numbers. It was very much like the Olympics—we had to stick those numbers, without a bobble or wobble.

It’s no different today. Our bank, Huntington, measures OrangeBoy’s creditworthiness using the debt payment ratio. Proudly, we passed another year, which allows us to keep our lines of credit. We also track our time, sales, profitability, and body weight. (The OrangeBoy team lost a total of eight pounds last week.)

We track these things because they measure our success as a company (with the exception of body weight, which is a measure of employees’ personal health success). It’s the same for our clients. The metrics we track on our cloud servers help them understand the performance of their business. Each number represents a different aspect of their business, and taken as a whole, their dashboard provides them the ability to navigate toward their goals—all from our big orange cloud.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

My Vision of the Library of the Future

By: Clark Swanson

I see it in my mind’s eye, just as clear as day, a library—not the library you know, but something altogether different.

It appears there aren’t books on shelves—only those you’ll find on your mobile device available for download 24/7, providing access to information all hours and days of the week.

Precious real estate turns into technology featured spaces with Librarians that have specialized skills in copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Mostly, you will see technologists—not those that could tell you about the inner workings of a personal computer, but those that concern themselves with CAD systems (computer-aided design).

This library includes three odd-looking spaces, a cross between a meeting room and a sound stage. From here, customers hold live video conferences with collaborators from around the world. In addition, these spaces will allow customers to produce audio and video productions. You will also see a number of smaller meeting spaces, each complete with cameras and audio.

You’ll see computer screens, but they’re devoted to CAD systems and software that translate CAD-based designs to 3D printers, the library’s centerpiece, not social networking. These printers, which literally create three-dimensional objects using ink-jet printing technology, allow people who could never before make or manufacture anything enter the global economy.

My library of the future serves as the cradle of a revolution that allows individuals with virtually no formal education to become titans of industry.

Sound impossible? It’s not. It could happen tomorrow. The technology exists today. But more to the point, this is the path Andrew Carnegie lived and embodied in the libraries he built.

A bit of savvy and the right tools can get you a long way in this world. While libraries can do little about the former, they can the latter. At least my library does.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

Reminiscing about the Summer

By: Clark Swanson

My seersucker suit makes its final outing of the season today. That means only one thing–summer’s end.

Sad as it may be, what a summer it was! Our small band of consultants crisscrossed the nation, from New York to Albuquerque, Oregon to Maryland, and most points in between. We endured our reasonable share of early morning flights, sometimes awaking at 3:30 AM to catch the 6:00 AM flight to the next stop. We can tell you from personal experience, Southwest Airlines had another banner travel season, with every flight packed from stem to stern.

Good times.

Summer’s close gives me pause to think about some of the wonderful things I have heard and seen during the season. Let me rattle off a few:

  1. A very unscientific poll shows Southwest flight attendants overwhelmingly prefer printed books to eBooks. This owes to three factors. First, they can read their printed book throughout the whole flight. The FAA requires them to turn-off all e-readers for the first and last 10,000 feet. Second, have you ever seen an electrical outlet on a 737? Finally, they cannot trade eBooks with their fellow crewmembers. (Yes, even pilots like a good read.)
  2. Upstate New York is one of the nation’s biggest hidden treasures. Beautiful, comfortable, it possesses a growing technology sector. Even with all this, the clerk at the Hilton Garden Inn urged me to wrap-up my work there before the end of October, if possible. (There is a reason those fire hydrants have five-foot reflective markers attached to them.)
  3. Great clients make great consultants. Our clients continue to amaze me. They possess a strong desire to make their businesses the best in class. That alone makes all the miles and early flights worthwhile. It is truly inspiring to spend time with them. Thank you.
  4. For those who think libraries are a dying breed, come spend a week with me. This summer, we witnessed traffic levels in these institutions that would surely baffle ardent critics. Yes, libraries must continue to evolve, and they will continue to, but there is a lot left in these venerable institutions.
  5. The retrofit of Southwest’s fleet of 737s is very nice, but I sure do miss those big, thickly padded seats.
  6. Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) is my favorite airport. And, the BWI Hilton my favorite hotel. Both know their business well.
  7. If you ever stay at the BWI Hilton, make sure you cross the street and visit the National Electronics Museum. Those people at Northrop Grumman are incredible.
  8. I saw one of the best historical programs ever (and my wife Sandy can tell you that I have seen many) at a library. It was one of the most improbable things I ever expected—an audience of nearly 400 people simply transfixed for two hours, watching history in the form of an interview between the Library Director and an actor playing William Clarke Quantrill.  If you ever get a chance to see one of these programs at the Kansas City Public Library, I highly recommend it. It is that good.
  9. We have witnessed organizations transform themselves and their services by analyzing data that is readily available to them. Our clients have found that the hard work of discerning micro-trends is far more beneficial than using macro-level pronouncements, which further signifies that the real answers are in the data you already have.
  10. Finally, I simply marvel at how a group of strangers can become fast friends by simply sharing an experience. A recent two-hour delay at midnight in one of the country’s busiest airports proved to be an amazing experience. Simply exchanging one’s life stories can really make a difficult experience a wonderful one. Thanks, guys.

As I close, I see a flock of geese heading South and a little Southwest 737 making its approach to CMH. Ah, the two constants in life— the change of seasons and the Boeing 737, both equally are amazing in their own way.

It was a great summer folks.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

Curiosity Drives Exploration

By: Clark Swanson

I was a wee lad leaning against my father on the living room sofa as we waited for Neil Armstrong to leave the lunar module to take those first steps on the moon in 1969. It was July, and despite my best intentions to stay awake, I could not. Sleep washed over me and that moment was lost.

Some 43 years later NASA provides another opportunity to witness history—if only I can stave off sleep this time. In the early hours of August 6, NASA’s Curiosity rover will begin its descent to Mars. If my father were alive today, he would sit and savor every moment because this mission is about exploring rocks on the surface of Mars.

My father appreciated the technical achievement of Armstrong’s flight, but he was all about the rocks. He wanted a glimpse of that first moon rock, as fuzzy and grainy as it might look in black and white. Those rocks were the deal. An avid amateur in his early years, he never lost his fascination for rocks. (His rock collection is housed at Missouri State University, his alma mater.)

I don’t believe my father ever attached any philosophical meaning to his rocks. He simply loved their beauty, marveled at the natural forces that created them, and sought an understanding of how our physical work formed. For him, the Curiosity rover could prove the mother lode. I can imagine him sitting intently, watching and waiting for Curiosity to drill into the first outcropping to reveal the true nature of the rock underneath.

For me, the fascination with the Curiosity rover and this mission is about exploration. Space is the last frontier of discovery for today’s Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan types, having already tackled nearly every square inch of land and sea on earth. The rover is aptly named Curiosity.

In fact, curiosity is one of the words we use to describe our company OrangeBoy. We even named our latest OrangeBoy office cat George, after Curious George—the character in a series of popular children’s books. Instead of mining soil, rocks and other formations, we are mining data. And, what a rich resource that is!

So, if you are inquisitive enough to watch Curiosity land on Mars next Monday, think about applying that interest to your business. How can you explore the data you collect, the observations you make, and the behaviors that describe your customers?

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

Libraries as the Conduit for Renewal

By: Clark Swanson

Over the past four weeks, I have visited nearly 100 libraries throughout the United States to conduct observational studies for clients. I describe the last set as being similar to the 737’s in the Southwest Airlines fleet—they take a pounding every day.

The 6:00 AM flight this morning gave me a few minutes to think about this a bit further. My thoughts were placed in context by something Thomas Friedman wrote in his most recent column in The New York Times:

America today is poised for a great renewal. Our newfound natural gas bounty can give us long-term access to cheap, cleaner energy and, combined with advances in robotics and software, is already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America. Web-enabled cellphones and tablets are creating vast new possibilities to bring high-quality, low-cost education to every community college and public school so people can afford to acquire the skills to learn 21st-century jobs. Cloud computing is giving anyone with a creative spark cheap, powerful tools to start a company with very little money. And dramatically low interest rates mean we can borrow to build new infrastructure — and make money.

It occurred to me that all of these people I observed over the past four weeks were using their libraries as the conduit for their renewal. Whether it was learning English, studying for a test, or using broadband to access cloud services, the library was a tool they employed to leverage their American Dream, regardless of its form.

We sometimes get caught up in all of the data, trying to figure out what is circulating, who is circulating it, if circulation is up or down, and so on to make decisions, that we forget the premise of why people use libraries. It is important then, I think, to focus intently on this context. It seems to me that the use of a library is a technology in its classic sense – a tool that enables one to generate value more efficiently.

The more I see, the better I begin to understand Andrew Carnegie’s dream of free libraries for the American public. They are more than a community resource—they serve to bring people closer to living their American Dream much like Carnegie himself.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

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