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Printing Impressions-August 2001 Column
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
"I DON'T know anything about this desktop publishing stuff, so I'm here to look at presses," Steve exclaimed on the show floor at Graph Expo sometime in the late '80s. Although this was more than 10 years ago, I never forgot it.

Yet, it seems like something way too trivial to store in your mind for so long, doesn't it? Particularly, for a mind like mine that stores so little. Why then, would this stick with me? Simple: it's a typical example of the common mentality we all can lapse into-keep learning and looking at that with which we know and are familiar. After all, it can be frightening and intimidating to look into the unknown. Perhaps many years ago, when technology was static for long periods of time, you could get away with a comfort zone existence. But that's all ancient history. In today's rapidly changing world, those who allow themselves to slumber in the comfort zone will soon find either their careers or their company in the twilight zone. Steve's company went out of business a few years after his memorable comment. Was it all due to his inability to move out of his comfort zone? Not really; there were other factors. But I do know this: He had an inept approach to his company's desktop publishing system, which most certainly had a negative impact on sales and profits.

So the moral here is simple-when we go to a trade show pay more attention to the stuff we don't know. When we read trade magazines read the articles that talk about what we don't know. Yes, I know that all this sounds like the type of common sense that has been drilled into you for years. But we still fall into this rut. And we in the printing business are not alone. Hopefully none of you have had a serious illness. But chances are that either you or a loved one have had to navigate through the nightmare of the medical system. And what's one of the biggest problems? Doctors or hospitals that are not current. There may be many reasons for this, not the least of which is money. However, all too often doctors are too busy, too comfortable or just not motivated to keep up with the latest advancements in medical technologies. Those of you that put your total faith in a particular doctor may be overlooking this and it could mean the life of you or your loved one. Today, with the Internet, there is a wealth of information available; if you spend the time researching a particular illness you may find some significant treatment or drug of which your doctor is totally unaware. And I'm not talking about bizarre treatments, but new advances by recognized institutions. You can also find which doctors or hospitals are using these lifesaving new approaches, and which ones are proficient at it. We can all sympathize with the busy doctor who has to keep current with a wealth of new information, treatments and drugs that seemingly come out daily. But watch that sympathy quickly dissipate when you find that your trusted doctor was unaware of the treatment that could have helped your loved one.

We in the printing business have a somewhat similar problem in keeping up with the march of new technology. Luckily, we're not involved in life or death-at least in human terms. We are, however, involved in the life and death of our business. And don't think that customers won't start scouring the Internet for better solutions. So be honest. How often have you or one of your team members gone to a trade show and spent way too much time with Joe, your favorite machinery rep, at his booth. It's such a warm and cozy feeling to be with who and what you know, whereas venturing into that new booth as an ignorant stranger can be an ego-shattering experience. Doctors also fall into the same rut when they spend time with their favorite pharmaceutical rep and ignore some new rep who is trying to explain a new drug or treatment. And, I admit it, I plead guilty to the same tendencies. But I do try to venture forth into that mysterious booth that seems to be talking a foreign language. And yes, all too often, I feel that my questions probably are elementary and stupid. However-and industry vendors take heed-a good salesperson will tackle the task of educating you while keeping your ego intact.

OK, so you're a top company executive and you're good at this. But are your people? Does your pressroom foreman or supervisor go to the show and simply hang out at the booth that makes the offset presses your company uses. Perhaps he should be spending time investigating digital press manufacturers. You have invested money wisely in sending him to the show; now make sure that he is spending his time wisely. Also make sure that your whole company can benefit from his experience. Smart companies will send their key plant personnel to trade shows. They will also have each attendee compose a set of objectives that are reviewed in a team meeting prior to the trip, and then meet again to discuss what everyone saw and their impressions. This establishes a focus on learning and information gathering-not only for a particular individual, but also for the entire team. How will you know what each team member should look for at the show? Well, you know the answer to that one because you're reading this magazine. As you're aware, magazines like Printing Impressions are an invaluable source for information on what will be shown at major exhibitions. But do remember to allow some time for wandering and exploration, because you never know what you may find.

Why would a 10-year-old remark come back to influence a whole column? Because I still see it happen at every industry exhibition I attend. After more than 30 years in this industry, I know many people-bright individuals who should know better. Yet there they are stuck at a favorite booth, mired in the familiar territory that appeases their comfort zone. They haven't planed for the show, nor will they prepare a report after it's over. That's too bad because these events can be a great learning experience if used wisely.

If you want to meet friends and be in a comfort zone, go to your local country club or favorite tavern. But with the overwhelming amount of new technology that is surfacing daily, now more than ever, you need to capitalize on the complete trade show experience.

Harry Waldman

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Copyright 2001 Harry Waldman. All rights reserved.
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