I recently completed the Foundation level APMG Change Management course. It’s been an interesting course of study, with some insightful ways of seeing the world of work. Naturally, some of my thoughts as I worked through the training, exercises, revision and then the exam, turned to publishing as an industry, a profession and a set of theories. I’ve been looking too at mass communication and media and comms theory – helped along by Paddy Scannell’s book (which I worked on, at SAGE). Media and Communication offers a broad overview of much of twentieth century research and theory pertaining to ‘the media’, a term which in its current usage emerges from the thinking of Marshall McLuhan and other contemporaries.
Some of the most fascinating sections cover Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding framework and having this in mind as I think about what needs to change in publishing is especially useful. There’s a tonne of tacit assumptions made by those in power in publishing that need to change and managing this change so that it is structural, thorough and long-lasting is the challenge. Surface diversity initiatives won’t cut it and neither will attempts that do not start from the top. The guiding coalition that puts these changes into effect needs to be making them from a position of knowledge, activism and deep commitment. How much of that is in evidence? Have you come across examples of good change management in the industry that you want to share?
In his weekly note with the Riverford Veg box, farmer and activist Guy Singh-Watson notes that management loves the phrase ‘if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed’. In a wistful mood of late, his weekly missives have searched through the toolbox of how to approach building a successful firm.
He follows up with “though true and useful up to a point, this oversimplification can too easily morph into “if you can’t measure it, it isn’t worth having,” or even “it doesn’t exist.” The dogma has caused a huge amount of suffering and societal damage over its 40-year rule.”
Management theory has definitely been kicking around for longer than 40 years, and this mantra doesn’t always and hasn’t always ruled, but his point is well-made about non-measurables falling by the way side when we become too obsessed by metrics. Metrics reassure us. There is much that lies in between the data. To swing too far to the other side of course, is a lesson in How Experts Don’t Matter which is playing out in an all-to-evident climactic cliff edge. All of this swirls through our daily lives.
Change Management tries to tie measurement into manager’s goals in order to lever change into the beast, the mechanism, to try to best the inertia and (obviously important) main attraction of business as usual (BAU). It’s necessary to some extent as this is how you engage the management tier – this is how you achieve buy-in.
But the soft side of this discipline, and the ‘feelings’ side of stakeholder engagement is as crucial. And to misread and misremember and miscalculate (the irony!) of how it makes people feel is a category kill kind of an error, a kind of comedy where the people who are needed in order to make it happen will just say no. We must remember how people feel when we try to assign statistics to human problems.
A short update. Not entirely enthused by the lockdown sourdough mania, I have however made a successful Peameal ham. This went down very at lunch, served as a sandwich in Polish farmhouse bread with some Dijon mustard, raw Picarella pepper and Isle of Wight tomatoes. L heartily approved but did tell me off for using the chef’s knife on the cherry tomatoes. Len Deighton also warns against it, in his Action Cookbook, advising that whilst he didn’t know how or why, the tomato skins immediately blunted a sharp knife. He advises, much like L, the use of a serrated kitchen knife.
Included below are some pictures of the Peameal ham, cooked first in water with clove, cardamon and pickling brine (small dash), covered in polenta and maple syrup, and then hot baked at Gas 7, and slow cooked at Gas 1 for the amount of time it takes to drink two Stellas and one Guinness Foreign Extra.
Next time, I’ll continue to post about Change Management and publishing strategy.
To me, one of the obvious temptations of the change management course is to make it too much about yourself. That revelation in itself is part of the learning curve – for me. Clearly, much of the work in the course involves questions, reflection and further thinking, and those mental actions will need candidates to look back over their professional career. When reading through and thinking about aspects of the course such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the MBTI neurotypes, the natural tendancy for some is to reach into personal anecdotal history and past experiences. Is this healthy? It seems to be an unavoidable part of it (a feature, rather than an error) but should we strive to be as objective as possible? When the reflection turns into soul-searching and becomes subjective to the point it clouds the benefits, I would caution against proceeding and at that point mandate a step back. I’m not sure right now how you take that step back – read anew, after a walk, or breathe and reframe?
In the mode of a private journal, the work can veer easily into confessional, self-flagellation and opprobrium. ‘Mistakes were made’, as the saying goes, but there are likely many victories too. The section that looks at change and individual might not quite as useful to the candidate if the only individual you consider during the course is you. It is better, healthier and more productive to absent yourself as you learn, at least in the emotional investiture you put in. When you learn something and realise something that you might not like to hear, it can then be taken on board in a much less hurtful way.
I’m currently undertaking the Change Management Institute Foundation level course and formalizing the experience from the many projects and initiatives I’ve been involved with in my time in publishing. I started working in publishing in 2004, and it is fair to say that publishing has changed in that time – quite a lot. I personally have been part of project teams and trainer teams that helped the organizations I worked for move from point A to point B. Listening, learning and talking were always a key tripos in that process.
As I work through the course and the Effect Change Manager’s Handbook, I’ll write up some words that will hopefully be of use. The book starts out by noting how ‘interdisciplinary’ the field is and its fitting that my most recent post, as Publisher at Rowman and Littlefield International, involved heading up the editorial department at a interdisciplinary publisher – and striving to work out what that means, and how best to implement it in a concrete publishing programme. We sold, still, into silos – academic disciplines, third party wholesalers and distributors and the invariably tricky world of BIC and BISAC. So how might we improve? I’ll try to set out some ways we achieved that and some of the lessons I learned.
Ultimately, the days of the single function distributor are over, unless there is a pressing physicality or specificity around the type of item being sent out. If you send out fragile embossed glass or giant lead lining panels, maybe you need specialist gear. B and Q need their own warehouse. But to build a new, automated and robot assisted warehouse at great cost and to only ship out … books … is misguided at best and unprofitable at the bottom line. Amazon will ship books and high value electronics as the same ‘thing’ so the big box warehouses like MDL and Ingram are now competing with a company that will ship a book, a pair of headphones and a new watch, all for free, and all from the same warehouse tech. Add to this that Amazon has metadata and reporting that allows its self-published authors to see Unit by unit real time sales and be paid royalties by the book if necessary, and the publishing big box warehouses have … old systems that spit out CSV files.
I keep refreshing the news and Twitter until I feel slightly nauseous, my own sense of unease and powerlessness building. Leah Finnegan’s writing at The Outline seems to be to unusual perceptive and her piece, “The internet is making me sick” was a great read that I recommend you make time for. There was, quite obviously, something very unusual before this global pandemic about our relationship with the internet, with ‘new’ media, with the social networks. Much has been written, amongst the chattering classes and by theorists trying to work out what exactly the substance of these changes is. But now that state of unusual behaviour and its pathology in mental and physical illnesses is in overdrive, with every second a chancee to lever in an update, a hot take, a command or perform some moral piety via a tweet. The idea that two ideas could exist in the same space is steamrollered by a binary brinkmanship. The American Id, Donald Trump, rides the wave.
I bought a box of beer online, being as all the pubs are now shut. I have been working my way through them and trying to review them, and I’ll try to update here. I checking in to ‘Untappd’ of course, but somehow that isn’t enough. I need to laboriously detail the drinks in overwritten prose. I need space to talk about the resinous tastes and bitter hops, the sweet and sour ‘mariage parfait’ of the lambic sour. I’ll post artful pictures alongside them in the hope that my social cachet and intellectual standing will increase – which of course, it won’t.
I started with an IPA – it was called something or other, I forget. It tasted fine and wasn’t worth what I paid for it. I can’t really do this can I, in the face of such a huge moment in human history? Write a beer blog or update people on my DIY projects? Should I write purple prose, or carve out a novel that tries to synthesize the ‘lessons’ that I am learning? Is it okay to accept that this is perhaps beyond comprehension, and that the ordinary response is a sort of half-numbness, a slowness and heaviness in thought and action as the genuinely epoch-making actions of lockdown and quarantine bend an entire generation out of shape – perhaps permanently? I am sure that Frantzen and McEwan are hard at work writing the Great Q-Tine Novel, and there will be an explosion of literature out of this. But I am not sure I … care? I feel like we’re getting closer to the truth when I can be honest with myself about this. But the more truths that are uncovered, the more work that is done here, the harder it will be to row back.
New order of events, it appears. New way of thinking. In the dark twilight of the Western world, as the sun sets on the traditional superpowers, people cling to strongmen.
They do this despite the hurt it does their neighbours, their friends, their exotic friends from down the road. People need surety. They want Security.
So, we continue and we descend. This is the new normal, a spasmodic reaction to the falling living standards that are intolerable to those sold on the promise of eternal growth, sold on the promise of the sunlit uplands. Others, on their way to a comfortable middle class existence, won’t be told by the Western powers that their goals are unrealistic, dangerous, planet-destroying. After all, it’s bare faced hypocrisy, although quite plainly true that we can not have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have our planet and burn what we dig out of it.
Having tweaked the U-Sanz recipe it now works and smells fine so I can move on to the next task in hand, making sure that I drink at least once a day during this Covid times and don’t run out of whisky. I also slowly prepare my manuscript, Corona Poems, and work out if its okay to listen to that slabfaced racist Morrissey. Also, why did Bloc Party only make one good album and the rest were average to bad, why not space out the hits guys?
Today’s #DiversityInPublishing panel brought to you by Hodder Books