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Panpa Bulletin : September 2010
For more information and iPad demo videos visit www.woodwing.com iPad Tools available Now Cross-Media Publishing by WoodWing www.panpa.org.au The PANPA Bulletin | SEPTEMBER 2010 | 21 Failure lurks on road to success NEW research from the Australian School of Business claims organisa- tions will often rationalise failure to make it a success as a coping mecha- nism when things don't work out. It offers an interesting framework for newspaper companies to explore their behaviour. The research is called The Logic of Deliberate Structural Inertia by Gavin M. Schwarz from the School of Organisation and Management at the University of NSW. It has a much catchier title in the online summary -- "Organisational Failure: how lousy results become optimal outcomes" (see http:// knowledge.asb.unsw.edu.au/article. cfm?articleid=1156). It claims failure is part of every organisation's lifecycle -- and that rather than studying success, our attitudes to failure are more informa- tive. Schwarz argues most organisa- tional change research is based on the idea that businesses are rational and logical. And they will always make decisions that allow them to reach desired goals. This is not as good as one might presume, apparently. Schwarz says: "Striving onwards and upwards is the main game, al- though it does not always work." Some businesses suffer from "de- liberate structural inertia", preferring not to change their proven methods. "They may not be nimble enough to keep up with the pace of change -- and so they fail," Schwarz asserts. He quotes the example of General Motors, which in 2007 announced a goal to make alternative energy powered vehicles commercially vi- able by 2015. Within months, GM shelved its plans in the face of a record US$38.7 billion loss. At the time, the deci- sion to abandon green power was regarded as sensible. It came back to bite them when they filed for bankruptcy in 2009 -- and were regarded as a dinosaur that had failed to embrace change. Could our equivalent of the elec- tric car be the challenge to monetise new digital platforms? Could some publishers, regardless of their ge- ography, risk being dismissed as dinosaurs, too? This is a common criticism of US publishers, who have spent the past 15 years trying to dodge the Internet bullet, only to be shot between the eyes -- 160-plus newspapers closed and around 10,000 jobs lost. Co-author Bernadette Watson claims that while change starts as a hot topic, it loses heat as it filters down the ranks. "Inevitably there must be a cham- pion leading the change. If no one owns it, the groups will let it fail," she says. Objectors "do not buy in if it's not their core business. And when it fails, they rationalise it, claiming it was 'for the best'." Unfortunately for this piece of aca- demic writing, it assumes all change initiatives come from the top. And that's not true. A strength of our industry today is that both management and most staff are hungry for change and we want to see our journalism on all platforms. It doesn't mean we, or our read- ers and advertisers, have fallen out of love with print. But there are new and emerging alternatives -- and we want to be part of this. Now. The research says "people adopt spontaneous strategies to simplify complex problems and this allows failure to be rationally defended." Too many newspaper companies have done this over the past 10 years, claiming digital media were niches and could never produce the revenues of print. Analyse the revenues of the New York Times Co, Axel Springer and the Financial Times, and you'll see print ad revenue is now no longer the majority of income. Change to our business models is happening all around us, right now. Newspaper publishers, regard- less of their size, do not have the privilege of waiting until nimbler competitors prove there really is a market for digital media. Surely, in Australia, we learned this lesson from Seek. More than a decade on, and neither News nor Fairfax has managed to steal away that start-up's No.1 position in the online jobs space. Our digital future cannot -- and will not -- be denied. Inertia is the enemy. Not our newspaper rivals. Image: jbcurio, Creative Commons Kylie Davis is chief of staff at the Sydney newspaper, the Sun-Herald Our digital future cannot -- and will not -- be denied. Inertia is the enemy. Not our newspaper rivals" " lie Davis Opinion