Change In Publishing : Systems Thinking

The Publishing Change Manager is on holiday! We’re visiting in-laws in Canada, near the Niagara fruit belt. It’s where some of the icewine that you see in the shops come from – vines that are left to ripen on the plant, and then harvested after the frost. It’s sweet and delicious. It has been a revelation to eat some of the season produce here : corn on the cob, peaches, tomatoes and now, in September, the first of the apples. We will likely leave before the pears ripen.

Photo by Brianna Martinez on

I picked up a book whilst here by Christian Masotti (who was taught by my father-in-law whilst at high school). It’s called Social Competence for Manufacturing Supervisors: Three Phones and a Radio and covers people management in manufacturing, which isn’t exactly my go-to genre, but I thought I’d take a look. It offers a take on people management where people don’t necessarily remember what you made them do, or what you said, but do remember how you made them feel. Its linked to a body of work taught by Civility Experts and adapted to the rough and tumble world of manufacturing plants.

In this book, one of the four cornerstones of developing this skill, as offered by Masotti, is systems thinking, which comes up widely in the APMG change management course I am taking. Peter Senge is widely known as a pioneer of systems thinking for management and change initiatives within the corporate organization. He published his book The Fifth Discipline in 1990, and founded the Society for Organization Learning. Part of the theory involves viewing the organization as an organism, and predicting responses to stimuli to be similar to that exhibited by an organism. If you give the organization/organism the correct nutrients and the appropriate environment to grow, it will do so in a healthy manner. If you deprive of the same, it will atrophy, grow in unexpected ways, or simply die.

I am sure you can think of examples of publishing houses where this is true. There are companies where the growth has been steady and predictable and based on good manangement and acquisition principles, and others where haphazard new lists have been slapped on at random and forcible ingested into the whole. A company I know well did this and it forces, to name just one side-effect, the staff to accomodate the new practices, metadata and force these to fit into their existing workflows. It’s painful and damages the bottom line immensely. A bestseller at a house used to slow and steady can destabilize the best laid plans – a sudden influx of cash and outside interest meaning rapid but unplanned growth.

Other companies, when engaged in M&A activity, will look ahead and look to see what data they need, and in what format this data should be to minimize the shock of ingestion. They will form coalitions of change and project management teams to ensure the process is smoothly managed. They will identify and talk to stakeholders from the top to the bottom of the company and get their views on what should and shouldn’t happen. They will gather requirements. In this scenario, the company flourishes and both old and new can live together in a state of excitement for the future. And it isn’t hard – and does not involve that much extra expense. The amount it saves down the line is incredible. A mantra we repeated at Bloomsbury was “Metadata Is Everyone’s Responsibility.” Do you have examples that you’d like to share? Any useful mantras for the modern office? Please do get in touch.

Published by gurdeepmattu

I’m an author and publisher. I live and work in London and am the author of “Sons and Fascination” (2011, Paperbooks). It's available here:

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