For its 30th anniversary conference, the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP; aiip.org) chose Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Once dominated by the steel industry, Pittsburgh has rejuvenated itself as a technology hub, its skyline dominated by sleek the glass turrets of modern buildings. The city provided an excellent venue for AIIP conference delegates to explore the theme of partnering for success.
AIIP is an international association for business owners, with members in the USA, Canada, Europe, Israel, Australia, and South America. Their entrepreneurial activities revolve around information—but under many guises. Legal research, patent searching, competitive intelligence, corporate due diligence, private investigations, market research, current awareness services, prospect research, website development writing, editing, and coaching are some of the services offered by AIIP member companies. Many of the business owners, but not all, come from a library/information science background. And most work alone as "solopreneurs."
The conference programme offered a mix of talks from invited outside members and from association members. It also alternated between formal speeches and networking activities. Although advice offered by non-AIIP speakers centred on the mechanics of running a small business, any small business, the discussions among members tended toward actual examples of lessons learned from their personal experiences. Information businesses have unique characteristics. Practitioners must explain the value of their services and provide needed information that meets the expectations of their customers, not unlike what librarians face in their jobs.
The future according to Peter Drucker
Bruce Rosenstein, a former news librarian and author of two books about Peter Drucker, delivered the annual Roger Summit Award lecture. His library degree and experience led him to his current independent information role as author, editor, and speaker. It was particularly exciting to have Roger Summit, the founder of Dialog, in the audience.
Rosenstein introduced what he considers the ten elements of the future, based on Drucker's thinking. He identified these as mindset, uncertainty, creation, inevitability, present moment, change, reflection, remove/improve, innovation/entrepreneurship, and risk. A professional identity framework should include who you are, what you do, what you stand for, and where are you going. Information professionals and librarians should look for serendipity and aha moments; recognise the power of questions; package and sell relevance, curate data, information and knowledge; and accept that introverts can muster a great deal of authority. Self-author your life and create your personal brand, he said, noting that Drucker has become a brand. Have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset and adopt growth to have a chance to succeed.
Flawless consulting and common mistakes
Jeff Evans, a trainer with Designed Learning, a Peter Block company, presented on flawless consulting, the title of Block's book (Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. 3rd edition. Pfeiffer, 2011: 368 pp.). Even for those who don't consider themselves a consultant, several of his tips resonate with all information professionals. Consultants sell commodities, solutions and relationships. For information professionals, concentrate on the solutions and relationships. Flawless consulting means behaving authentically, being compassionate and understanding, completing the business of each phase, and being a model for the way you want things to be. Authenticity without compassion, he added, makes the relationship rebellious and difficult.
After spending 33 years with IBM, Leona Mitchell moved into academia. She is now a visiting professor of practice at the University of Pittsburgh's iSchool and applies her background in business, entrepreneurship, technology, sales, and leadership to the library and information world. "We hear a lot about digital transformation," she said, "but transformation is about information not technology." Consultants and information professionals are a bridge between expertise and process. She provided solutions to common mistakes made by consultants. Benefits and outcomes should come before pricing. Focus on solving the right problem by asking lots of questions. Find the true buyer, the person who can authorise payment. Guard against scope creep. Find good partners.
Partnering with AIIP members
Very popular at AIIP conferences are roundtable discussions, called the Tips session. This year Lynn Strand, Outside Knowledge, explained her "Five Ps to Success" as planning, partnering, personality, parties and perseverance. Jennifer Burke, IntelliCraft Research, LLC, covered tools to maximise use of cloud services, while Beth Plutchak, Beth Plutchak Consulting LLC, provided time management tips for those who don't work a standard 9 to 5 day.
Primary research was the topic explored by Judith Binder, RBSC Corp. She delved into the why, here, what, and how to find out what interviewees really think. Tom Wolff, Wolff Information Consulting LLC, led a discussion about how to protect confidential client information.
More formal talks included a case study of a partnership between two AIIP members, Marge King, InfoRich Group, and Joann Wleklinski, Wleklinski Information Services, that resulted in a newsletter, Prospect Research Review (prospectresearchreview.com). They discussed how they came up with the idea, decided on a workflow, structured the partnership, and produced the actual newsletter.
AIIP is the association for information entrepreneurs, but librarians and information professionals who don't own their own businesses glean much of interest from the conference presentations. Particularly those in corporate situations, where billing back to internal departments is the norm, find they need the mindset of an entrepreneur. Proving the value that information professionals bring to the table is another important shared skill set.
Next year's AIIP conference will be in New Orleans, 18-21 May 2017.