The Infinity Gauntlet at Comic Con 2010
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Everyone wants to find new ways to compete while they also keep the machine oiled and running. The planners of the 2011 SSP IN Meeting have been wrangling with this duality between big ideas and practical requirements for weeks.

A recent story in Information Week pinpoints the need for executives to have the skills to evaluate, prioritize, and sell ideas in order to take them from the drawing board to the market.

Companies are attempting to codify the processes through which innovation can be nurtured. More important than ideas, which quite frankly are cheap, is the ability to pick which concepts are worthy of the heavy investment of time, money, and corporate mindshare required to take them to productization. — Alexander Wolfe inTop 5 Tech Trends for 2011″

But keeping things running is what’s keeping people up at night as well, as a colleague found out when she spoke with a handful of society publishing directors recently (under conditions of anonymity). Their concerns are:

  • Competition on price and availability: New ways to deliver content, which are taking shape on the web, threaten publishers because they compete, not on quality, but on price. Our journals are costly to produce, the subscription model is threatened, and it getting more challenging to compete and retain market share with more inexpensive, “good enough” content.
  • Pressure from consolidation: Users are getting irritated with all the interfaces. Suffering from information overload, our users are saying that they prefer fewer, better, go-to resources. How will smaller publishers compete with the behemoth databases, especially in an environment of acquisition and consolidation? Is PubMed Central be the model for the future? No journals, no branding, just data-based information?
  • Workload and resource demands: The workload of accepted papers is increasing but publications revenues cannot keep up with increasing demands for services and programs by other areas of the society that either do not produce revenues or are not self-supporting.
  • Changing membership: Making our publications program more relevant to new members, who may not have terminal degrees, without devaluing journals for academic authors and reviewers.
  • Journals cuts: Our discipline is facing challenges — many departments have been closed or merged with departments for other disciplines.  In some places, the subject is being taught by people without a discipline-specific background. There are scientists doing pharmacological research who identify with larger practice areas, not sub-specialties. With fewer people to speak up in defense of journals, it has become easier for them to go on the chopping block. Also, how to compete with big package deals — journals are significantly less expensive than their commercially published competitors but are easier to cut than larger packages. Most, if not all, consortia will not bother with small numbers of journals, so we get squeezed out of that market.
  • Keeping pace with technology: Semantic tagging is important, but I have neither the money nor the time to implement it.  My editorial boards are seeing new technologies before I do — and want to know when I’m going to adopt them.  The pace of change seems to be quickening. Staying informed is a challenge and arriving at ways to implement technologies is more difficult. At the same time, my resources are shrinking.
  • The squeeze: What if subscription sales decline and scientists’ research grants can’t support publication charges?
  • The bottom line: What keeps me up at night? The need for more sustainable business models.

SSP members were also recently asked to vote for three strategic issues (of eight identified by the SSP Board of Directors) that they felt would most would significantly impact them — and about which the society is positioned to take constructive action. What they flagged:

  1. User expectations that they can get information in variable shapes, sizes, and prices (especially free) challenge existing publisher/librarian roles and business models (128 votes)
  2. New products and technology require new skill sets from employees, straining traditional career progression and job descriptions, and requiring constant revamping and retraining (123 votes)
  3. Publishers’ increasing reliance on multiple, unstable revenue streams places a premium on business agility, adaptability, and collaborative partnerships (104 votes)

IN Meeting organizers have incorporated feedback from SSP members about their strategic priorities throughout the planning process. The dual purpose of this 2.5-day meeting is to give attendees new ideas and experiences and to help them translate what they’ve heard into practical, needs-focused actions — as moderator Mary Waltham has put it, steps they can take “within the first 10 days back in the office.”

The SSP IN meeting was conceived of to reinvent SSP’s Top Management Roundtable in a format that would drive INspriation, INnovation, and INteractivity. Meeting organizers are now revisiting their formula and seeking new ways to meld visionary thinking with practical instruction. As Wolfe points out, even the most thought-provoking presentations will not generate action unless ideas can be prioritized and grounded in relevant guidance and processes for implementation.

The program itself, which starts September 18th in Alexandria, VA, will begin with talks by Mary Waltham and leading-edge executives on “three pillars” of modern-day publishing — globalization, innovation, and collaboration. After that, attendees will then break into smaller working teams to work through detailed publishing case studies, with expert facilitation, to:

  1. Discuss and digest new information and ideas
  2. Prioritize and target audience segments and their specific needs
  3. Identify vehicles for viable transformative action
  4. Collaboratively develop roadmaps that applies the above elements in a ground-level change process

Participants will share ideas and expertise throughout. In the end, we’ll learn whether IN has succeeded in helping SSP members find solutions that enable them to sleep better at night. Attendees will judge whether IN has succeeded in translating ideas to action. The gauntlet has been thrown — leaving it up to our members to seize the glove and accept the challenge.

Thanks to the very significant efforts of all of our volunteer contributors.

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2 Thoughts on "Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Moving from Ideas to Action"

Great posting Alix … and some great work behind the scenes for the whole team planning IN 2011 …

If you want to know more about the 3 pillars of publishing, SSP IN 2011 is definitely the place to be at, registration open NOW for Sept 18-20. Being part of the meeting planning team I have to say the theme and speaker line up is excellent, with Mary Waltham as the keynote speaker and meeting moderator … I’m not sure there will be a better meeting to attend this year !

The meeting will be interactive with key speakers and group sessions focusing on the “three pillars” of modern-day publishing — Globalization, Innovation, and Collaboration.

Registration is limited to 70 people, more details can be seen at

Suggest you sign up quickly it will sell out …

The idea of going from gurus to action items makes a lot of sense, if it works. In my experience gurus tend to be part of the problem. They have so many ideas and these are so big that they are paralyzing.

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