Monday, 1 July 2019

UHMLG Summer Conference: Failing to Succeed – How to Learn From Failure

I haven't been to a conference in a while so this last minute arrangement was an exciting opportunity to network. It was a relief to find that the first day of the conference started at noon which meant I didn't have to get out of bed at Crazy O'Clock to get there. It was held at Teeside University in Middlesborough (Yes, Middlesborough. Someone asked me where this was and I was proud to use the wealth of my geography knowledge to respond "North"). The idea of discussing with other professionals how they deal with failure intrigued me.

This all inclusive event (conference, accommodation, and meals) started off with attendees having a really lovely lunch at the Holiday Inn Express. After this, it was a short walk to the University where we saw some exhibitors including Wiley & Mark Allen. Iain Baird, UHMLG Co-Chair, went through housekeeping and introductions before handing us over to Rosie Jones, Director of Student and Library Services, Teesside University. She stressed the importance of being okay with failing and learning from it, experimenting and pushing boundaries. She regaled us with her biggest experience with failure which involved alternate reality gaming about 150 engaged students out of a probable 4000.The response was to communicate how the project failed and why, making recommendations on what works and what doesn’t. The sharing experience enabled her to make contacts which she still has today.
  • Do not fear failure.
  • Take risks.
  • Embrace failure. 
She encouraged attendees to visit the University Library spaces and described it as playful.

Andy Priestner led a workshop on failure and the importance of being realistic that it is going to happen and accepting that. He focused on the fact that responding and reacting to failure positively can lead to productivity. It can be hard to foresee success at the end of failure and how we learn from it. He talked about how knowing you learn from failure doesn’t change how it makes you feel and also stressed that failure is in the eye of the beholder as what constitutes failure varies from one person to the other. Elizabeth Day’s Podcast on “How to fail” was highly recommended. Andy used his own experiences as examples and encouraged attendees to do the same in pairs.

Andy went on to discuss how failure can transform into something positive once you have had the opportunity to process it as well as how unprocessed failure can be damaging especially when it may be beyond our control.
  • Failure will happen
  • It is just part of the journey
  • Putting pressure on ourselves is damaging

He talked about how fear of failure can lead to risk aversion in libraries and librarians thereby resulting in caretaker management. Just doing the same and going through the motions.
  • Not taking risks can be dangerous
  • Not Innovating
  • Not responding to user needs
Andy then presented on Libraries and the Ux where the Target is for a prototype and not a permanent solution. In this, failure is part of the process and you only invest after testing it out and adapting it. You failure fast but fail cheap as not a lot is put into the prototype. The idea generation process involves embracing failure and you may come across some common discouraging remarks when it is not embraced such as "that’s silly", "that’s too expensive", "that’ll never work", "we tried that in 20....". It is important to be creative and imaginative and individual ideation is often more productive than groups. 

Some tips on reacting to work-based failure 
  • Consider how people’s failure affect their feelings in your teams
  • Verbalise that failure is ok
  • Eradicate culture of blame
  • Emphasise teamwork
  • Encourage innovation and risk
  • Stop overreacting to failures
  • Try to be more realistic about what is at stake and behave accordingly
  • Recognise that we are all different with different abilities and strengths
  • Be honest about your own failures. Share them and you will be respected for it
The day was wrapped up with dinner at the Bistrot Pierre. On day two, Tom Roper from Brighton and Sussex NHS Library and Knowledge Service, and Eli Harris from Bodleian Health Care Libraries led a presentation on Imposter Syndrome. It started off with what attendees consider "imposter syndrome" to be and went on to offer recommendations on what can be done about it. 
  • Talk about your feelings
  • Sharing feeling with others
  • Role play
  • Make statements of affirmation
  • Keep a log of big and small successes
  • Get support from a mentor
  • Talk in pairs about your impostor syndrome experiences
  • Clear induction plans
  • Clarity of roles and expectation from staff
  • Share your own impostor experiences
  • Provide opportunities for informal support like buddying system
Alan Fricker from King's College London gave a Lightening Talk on a some of his own experiences and what he learnt. It centered on making adequate preparation before undergoing projects. Dr Anne Llewellyn, Deputy Director in Student and Library Services at Teeside University, talked about how challenges facing the Library sector affect what we do and the impact of such uncertainty on staff well being. She noted that change impacts on our ability to feel safe and comfortable but should prompt us to take advantage of opportunities to innovate and put libraries at the heart of the academic environment to provide a sense of value

Caroline Plaice from the University of West of England gave a Lightening Talk on successes and failures experienced when offering coaching support. Samantha Gavaghan from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust also gave a Lightening Talk on the challenges faced in providing outreach for mental health over a wide geographical area. The final presentation was on "Anxiety" by Olivia Remes from the University of Cambridge. She stressed the importance of recognising anxiety as a risk factor and the impact on the individual and society at large. She also offered some examples of coping strategies and recommends picking out one or two strategies to do consistently for 3 weeks 
  • Feeling like you are in control of your life by doing what gives you more control
  • Forgive yourself. Don’t be self critical. Be kind to yourself. You wouldn’t want a friend who criticises you all the time.
  • Finding meaning and purpose in life – do something with someone else in mind
  • Mindfulness meditation – Head space app 
  • Don’t focus on the worst 
  • Wait to worry – dedicate a slot time to worry each day 
  • Gratitude – focus on what went well and why they happened 
She also referred attendees to a ted talk which goes into more detail on the topic.
I completed my day with a tour of the recently refurshed Teesside University Library which proved o be a season themed, diverse space with 24/7 access and offers quieter spaces as you move up the building.

I went to this conference prepared to reflect on my failures and adjust how I respond to them. The conference stretched my mind to consider how I react to the failure of others both personally and professionally.