February 13, 2015

One Size Doesn't fit all

Sarah Pavey


Before I joined Mind Tools as an editor in 2012, I worked in book publishing.

There are many similarities between more traditional and online publishing, but there are also several important differences. Particularly, when you send a book to press there's no turning back. In a few weeks, you'll be holding a physical copy of the result of your hard work, and it's too late to make any changes. Working online, however, gives you the welcome opportunity to amend content right up to your deadlines… and even afterwards.

For me, receiving a delivery of new books is incredibly nerve-wracking. What if you spot a typo? Perhaps you calculated the jacket size incorrectly? Maybe you mistyped the ISBN? Unless the printer has made a mistake, a reprint is generally out of the question. And your book (and error) will be out there for everyone to see.

Of course, this is the worst-case scenario, and these issues very rarely occur. There are processes in place to ensure quality, and you know you wouldn't send a book to press without personally making sure it was perfect. However, committing a mistake to print is still a terrifying possibility!

Early in my publishing career I learned that, when an issue does arise, you need to review the situation carefully and take action based on your assessment. In other words, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and you'd be unwise to apply one!

Consider these scenarios:

Imagine that you're designing a book and have put several illustrations in a chapter. However, you discover that the next few position indicators to show where the images should appear are absent from the text. In fact, you realize that there's a large chunk of the chapter missing. In this situation, the solution is obvious and your next steps are clear: you would check the author's original submission, and contact her to request the material.

However, what if there was a problem with the references? You're in the process of checking the numbers in a chapter against the sources at the end of the book… but they don't correspond. This situation is slightly more complicated, and there are several possible solutions. For example, you could ask the author for clarification, review previous versions of the text for any discrepancies, or even obtain the source material to check the references yourself.

Picture this scenario: an author has provided images to illustrate his book, but hasn't obtained the correct permission to use some of them. You only discover this after production has begun, when you scan the images and spot a copyright notice. This situation is more complex. Will this hold up publication? Can the author obtain permission? Should you start planning alternative material? It's not clear what the "correct" solution is, so it's wise to wait until you have more information before you take action.

Finally, imagine that advanced copies of a book have just been delivered. You open the box, flip through a copy, and discover that one of the 32-page color sections has been printed in black and white. The book is due to be shipped from the printer to the warehouse tomorrow, and then out to retailers. You need to act fast in this chaotic situation. Has the printer made an error? Did you specify the incorrect page to be printed in color? Did you send the right file to press? In this scenario, it's important to act fast to address the urgent issues, and then take steps to identify some possible solutions.

As you can see, each of these situations requires a different problem-solving approach, based on the specifics of the scenario. This is where the Cynefin Framework is useful. This model helps you make better decisions by assessing the situation you find yourself in and categorizing it into five domains: "obvious," "complex," "complicated," and "chaotic," which allows you to identify the most appropriate response.

Question: How has tailoring your problem-solving approach to your specific situation helped you? Let us know by commenting below.

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2 comments on “One Size Doesn't fit all”

  1. I look at what the end result is that I want and then I work backwards. If I want something to be done by a certain time and look at time now, I calculate how many hours I need. Then I look at what has to be done and what can be left in order to concentrate on meeting my deadline. What can I delegate? What can I do differently? How can I help myself reaching the deadline? Working backwards, I will know what I need to do right now, later today, tomorrow etc. to reach the result.

    1. Hi Mika,

      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you're a master or prioritization and delegation! Working backwards is a great plan... just don't forget to factor in "contingency time" in case anything unexpected and urgent comes up.


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