The Inefficient Library

Over the years, I’ve learned to read for insight as much as knowledge; allowing the mental space to make connections through what I read as much as absorb it.

Right now, I’m enjoying David Weinberger’s excellent “Everyday Chaos”.

He makes an interesting observation. It takes $150m a year to run Harvard’s Library, but every year only around 4% of the material it holds is checked out.

Some material has never been checked out.

For those with a market mentality, this is hugely inefficient. For those with a broader perspective, it contains a powerful truth.

If we only create stuff we intend to be consumed, we are both limiting ourselves and missing the point.

We are all unique, and have a tale to tell. It’s worth telling, even if there’s a real possibility nobody ever reads it.

Somebody might. And if they read it at the right time, in the right frame of mind, it could change everything.

Creativity and Love do not have to have an ROI


Generally speaking, it seems that most of the posts we see on business or personal growth fall into two categories; therapeutic, or instructional.

The therapeutic works on the basis that we’re somehow not good enough, that we’re flawed, failing and need help.

The instructional works on the basis that we’re insufficiently trained; that we need to be taught, by those who are better than us.

Both have their place, up to a point, but only if we believe the purpose of our life is to fulfil others requirements of us.

If, on the other hand the purpose of our lives is to use the unique gifts we have been given, the unique perspectives we hold, the intent we have for our lives to use them to leave the world a better place than we find it, then they don’t.

Our lives have an expiration date. Between now and then, we have a choice to make.

What do you do when there’s no proof left?

We’ve been brought up to be able to prove our answers. QED.

As leaders and managers, we have proven models, case studies, market research. We have cultures that do not look kindly on being wrong.

And yet; the chances of being wrong are increasing by the day, and if we limit ourselves to actions where we can demonstrate proof, we find ourselves right smack bang in the mediocre middle, with all those others who have proof.

We have forgotten how to trust our intuition, to read the landscape for clues, not proof, to trust that our own unique understanding has a place.

If we do the work to develop mastery of our subject, answers will appear in those liminal spaces – those areas between the things we know or can prove. This is where advantage, and sometimes genius lies.

Technology is really good at the known stuff, but not yet at the emergent, at the level of insight or inspiration. In other words, the stuff of humanity.

I like Annie Duke’s book, Thinking in Bets. There is no 100% proof on anything really worth doing or exploring – it’s all a bet. And sometimes we will be wrong.

But when we’re right, despite the odds, that’s when we know the joy of being human.