Strategic Thinking and Scholarly Publishing

I am currently reading (and enjoying) Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, and so I thought I would share John Byram’s (@jwbyram) thoughts on how Rumelt’s ten common strategic “blunders” can be applied to scholarly publishing. John is the Director of the University of New Mexico Press and has worked in publishing for over 25 years, so his insights draw on deep expertise and lengthy experience in the field.

This is a four-part series John originally posted on the Society for Scholarly Publishing Professionals Group on LinkedIn, a closed group. John has graciously given permission for me to share his piece in this open forum, and I will publish it here in its original four-part format. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I do.

Strategic Thinking and Scholarly Publishing, Part I

It is surprising how few academic publishers spend time developing formal, well-articulated strategic goals. By this, I don’t mean just the three- or five-year internal financial plan that most of us revise when required by our accounting departments, boards of directors, or host universities. While this item may be a component to a “where do we hope to go, and how are we going to get there” company roadmap, that is not the only planning exercise scholarly publishers need to regularly undertake.
The pressures inherent in today’s dramatically-shifting marketplace make a more comprehensive strategic vision all the more valuable (yes, even for publishers in the often hidebound, non-profit sector of the industry) as we are bombarded by a variety of challenges and opportunities, some false and some not to be overlooked. How do you encourage long-range strategic thinking in your organization, and how do you articulate this vision successfully to others?

For those of us who wrestle with cultivating, codifying, and refining this sort of strategic vision, it is critical that we carefully identify and avoid pitfalls inherent to the exercise. Over the next four days, I’ll be posting for discussion here a compendium of ten common strategic “blunders” identified by UCLA management professor Richard Rumelt (as summarized by military strategist Barry Watts in Krepinevich and Watts, Regaining Strategic Competence [CSBA, 2009]). I hope you will agree that these items are quite applicable to the scholarly publishing business environment. Let’s jump right into the list:

Common Strategic Blunders

1. Failing to recognize or take seriously the scarcity of resources

Today’s scholarly publishers are necessarily skilled at identifying financial constraints on their business plans in advance, but these same professionals often underestimate the amount of time (arguably the scarcest of all resources) it will take to bring important goals to fruition. Examples of other limitations to consider are the finite number of strong publishing projects, the availability of external funding sources, and review media opportunities. What other resource limitations do you take into consideration when thinking strategically?
[Part II follows tomorrow….]

Leave a Reply