Case Study: Case of Inevitable Change

Even though we experience change every day—especially in this industry—it is rare we think of change as a process. When we do think about change it goes sort of like: “I’m here and should go there, but I am comfortable and moving would be a pain, so I’ll hang around here until something really makes me go.” Then, splat! We end up being pancaked as road kill on Change Street. We don’t like change. We don’t want to change. But we can’t control change; it will forever be with us. So all we have left to control is our reaction to change.

I recently found myself sitting near a printing salesman in a restaurant. Our chat led to a discussion about change, especially in printing. I said we had to embrace new technology or we would die. We were in agreement, and then he said, “Nothing can replace printed newsletters. I don’t care what they say.”


The Reality Is…

I bleed print, but we won’t survive by denying reality. You can sell with the Internet, but you can’t sell against it. It costs very little for an association to send a newsletter via email. Given that reality, are you really maintaining that nothing can replace a printed piece? Of course not. That would defy logic.

In the early 1900s Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet all sold cars. Then around 1918 Dodge and Chevy began selling pickup trucks. Ford didn’t have them until 1925, according to my sources. Can you image being a Ford salesman during those years? “Hey, you don’t need a pickup truck. You can put your hay and cattle feed in the back seat and trunk just as easily.” Ford didn’t do that. Rather, they began building pickups as well, which is what we have to do.

We have to be the enlightened printers who go to our customers and offer novel solutions for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness by combining print and email broadcasting.


The Nature of Change

Suppose you want to change, learn, and compete. There’s still a problem, and that’s within us. How can we prepare ourselves for change?

The technical side is straightforward, so most of today’s computer-based typesetters and graphic artists can learn how to do email broadcasts. All that’s lacking are the direction and resources from the owners. When we owners fail to provide the time and tools, it is often because we are afraid of the unknown.

Here’s another way to look at it. From the outside, change occurs in a straight line: there’s the need to change (Dang, there’s got to be a better way to keep track of inventory than all these punch cards!); then there’s the exciting middle, when competing processes duke it out and everyone is optimistic they will win (Beta vs. VHS); and then there is the final or mature stage, when the product or service becomes like a commodity (Dell vs. Gateway). Then a Google or a Facebook comes along, changes the game, and the cycle repeats itself.

This may be the history of how an industry changes, but that’s not how we change our business.

William Bridges, author of “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”, describes what happens to people in change. His model also has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but he sees them occurring in a different order. To be specific, he says the first or ending stage is where we need to leave something behind. Most often it is what’s known to us and where we’re on solid footing. Often we have a sense of frustration over the loss of the old way of doing things.

To help clarify what’s really ending, let go of old assumptions and actively seek closure on the old ways.

What is ending? The duplicates are going away, like those newsletters that we stick in the mail for the customer. Also, we’re losing business cards (lost to smartphone devices), brochures (PDF files or interactive websites), maps (GPS), books (eReaders), and even reports and specifications (searchable PDFs). That doesn’t mean the function is going away, though. The news still has to get out to the association members even though it’s not printed and mailed.

So customers turn to email broadcasting and, interestingly, they find that it’s not always the easiest thing to do. What if we just provided a convenient way for them to get what they want (email broadcasting) along with a reduced printing schedule? Aren’t we still performing the same function?

Our function always has been to make something look pretty (compose, typeset) and then duplicate it. The function of making things pretty certainly will still be here, even though the duplicate will be a PDF file or HTML code.

Clarify what is ending and acknowledge it so we can survive to change and make it to the other side. Don’t stand in the road saying the truck isn’t coming when it is. Continue to print, but don’t buy yourself a new 36" four-color press.

Then we jump into the middle stage. That is where we feel we are free-falling, as if we parachuted from an airplane. During this stage of developing new skills it’s easy to become disoriented. Looking to other printers in this stage isn’t always good, for they don’t necessarily know more than you.

On the flip side, we have to remember to make a living as change occurs. Know about, use, get familiar with, play with, and experiment upon the shiny new thing. But don’t forget to earn money by continuing to provide real printing in a timely manner to those who continue to use it.

Don’t clamp down in the face of the new reality. Accept ambiguity such as the fact that there is not a perfect price for what you do. Do your best, breathe, and move on, but learn.

The Payoff

Finally you will see the beginning stage, or I should say the new beginning stage. That’s the landing zone. You reorient yourself as things come into view. Questions get answered. How do I sell these new products and services? What do I charge for them? What kind of customers do I want? Everything seems to move from uncertainty to an increasing stability as you come in for a landing.

One of these days you will have left behind a lot of competitors. The bad news is that as you come in for a landing you will see new competitors who got there before you did. The only good news in all this is you will be alive—still earning and competing—instead of being road kill.