A silver lining in the circumstances we have all experienced is that we are fast forwarding through the necessary disruption our industry has been resisting for the past decade. The Great 2020 Time Warp will be remembered for necessitating widespread unconventional thinking, leading to a newer, better, and more resilient industry.
There are no new trends which have been borne out of our present condition. The wormhole has just accelerated existing trends. Work from home? E-commerce? Our habit of self-quarantining behind technology and social media? All not new. My contention that it is a silver lining (a positive in all this mess) rubs some people the wrong way because of the economic catastrophe caused and the real impact on humans. I’m not being insensitive- I realize the real toll this has extracted from us all. But the economic pain was never avoidable, at least for the print industry. Now at least we can get it behind us, quickly, and we can get on with focusing on unconventional thinking about the future of print, instead of our convention of obsessing about its past.
This is an important tenet which we hold very close here at APTech. For several years, APTech has been evangelizing that innovation in the printing industry must not only come from the technology that printers purchase and deploy, but from the forward-looking business models these same companies develop. Looking around the industry the past 6 months, it is evident that the companies and businesses who are achieving success (which is defined as offering unparalleled value to customers) are doing it because they have new ideas, not new technology.
This does not mean our equipment manufacturers and suppliers do not help lead the industry and their customers forward. Their creativity and technological skill has moved printers forward by leaps and bounds. Their technology has brought ideas to life.
And therein is the point. Technology enables new ideas to come to life, and the resilient industry we are all looking for is based on new ideas. Ideas come from humans, not machines. And we are an industry that has starved itself of new ideas. We have stripped ourselves bare of creativity, thinking with our hands rather than our brains. A result is that we have surrendered creativity to people, agencies, marketers, and others who are not nearly as creative about print than the print industry (that means you printers!) itself.
Conventional thinking does not lead to new ideas, creativity and innovation. And there is nothing that gets us OUT of thinking conventional than an existential crisis. We have had to abandon our traditional brainstorming processes which usually lead to pedestrian improvements in products or services.
We also have had to really adjust our mindset around business planning. Successful companies over the past 8 months have lived for the moment. They are embracing the work the moment is giving them, even if it is outside their traditional scope, and turning them into longer term opportunities. Struggling companies are the ones who are waiting for the moment to give them something they are comfortable doing. Or even worse, they are waiting for something to come back. Bad news for them: it won’t.
I hope when we look back, we’ll see that when we popped out of the 2020 wormhole we finally will have moved print out of the manufacturing space into the creative space. We will have stopped measuring our industry on the volume of pages printed and started measuring ourselves on the value we create. We start thinking about our customers outcomes, not the solutions we offer.
The truth is, change is terribly hard, and 2020 will go down as a very challenging year. But I also hope you will agree with me, that there is no better time to be in the print industry than right now. The future belongs to those with ideas, and I think we have a lot of them.
Thayer Long, President, The Association for Print Technologies
Thayer Long is the President of the Association for Print Technologies (APTech). APTech serves as a voice of truth and optimism for the print industry, and is dedicated to broadening our members’ exposure to new people, new opportunities, and new ways of thinking. We develop content, research, and business opportunities for all members of the print supply chain. We think there is no better time than now to be in the print business.