Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Paradox of Excellence

Six color offset press image from Maisa Gonzalez's Portfolio
The printing industry, like many other industries is in the midst of a major technological change.  Book publishing is shifting from print to tablets, large catalogs have been replaced by smaller catalogs intended to drive buyers online, and mass mailings have been replaced by mailings that are smaller, targeted and personalized.  Last week, Printing Impressions Magazine forecast that by 2015 paper usage for publication will fall 12 to 21 percent from 2010 levels and could fall another 40 to 50 percent over the next 15 years.

People who work in printing companies and related industries have an urgent need to change their business models and sales approaches. Ironically, those with the highest levels of performance in the current models may have the most difficulty adapting to the new reality. High performers have developed a set of skills that have worked well for them and successful images to preserve. Instead of embracing change, they focus on the familiar routine and miss the opportunity for personal growth.

In the June 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Thomas and Sara Delong identify this phenomenon as the Paradox of Excellence. They explain that “many high performers would rather do the wrong thing well than the right thing poorly. And when they do find themselves in over their head, they’re often unwilling to admit it, even to themselves, and refuse to ask for the help they need.”

In the printing industry, this paradox manifests in focusing on the high volume, offset segments which still generate the highest volume of revenue. However, these segments are shrinking, commoditized and a long-term dead end. The future belongs to high value printing, targeted short runs, variable data projects and personalized book publishing. Print is now one element of multichannel marketing campaigns and print professionals need to master new sales, marketing and manufacturing tools.

High performers need to set aside their performance anxiety and be willing to accept some mistakes as they learn new approaches. They need to admit that they need help at times and seek out colleagues who can help them grow and learn. Most of all, they need to focus on the long term and invest the time and effort to learn new skills.

Do you consider yourself to be a high performance professional?  Are your fears of making a mistake holding you back?