Are We Drinking Our Own Bathwater?

The printing industry is very much a closed network, an insular community dominated by those who have worked in it for decades. We recognize the same faces each time we return to drupa, GRAPH EXPO, or the Gold Ink Awards.

These longstanding industry relationships provide lots of benefits, including trust and a strong ecosystem to track reputations. Knowing many of the same people, we can more easily do the diligence necessary when hiring. Because we “speak the same language,” we can reduce the amount of management required on projects or in departments.

But this type of network comes with a side effect of groupthink. With groupthink, an etiquette filter generates an echo of what one thinks the other person wants to hear. We’re too polite. (Though some might assert that I am the exception here!) We don’t want to offend or contradict another’s previously held opinions, so we parrot what we believe will help us connect. We pander.

The result within our community is not the truth, but everyone’s polite interpretation of how they think they should play into others’ preconceptions. It becomes pathological, and it’s how we drink our own bathwater.

It’s a condition that is paralyzing. It prevents new ideas from taking root. It handcuffs line workers into performing the same tasks in the same way because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” It kills thought and turns humans into robots. Groupthink creates ignorant certainty—black-and-white delineations of the “right way” and the “wrong way.”

Last week, a client sent over an inline imaging self-mailer and provided gluing instructions. Knowing the client was sophisticated, customer service neglected to question or verify the directions.

An hour into the makeready, the sales rep saw the piece, questioned its design, and brought it to our postal liaison. It was incorrect—the job would not have qualified for automation discounts and it would have needed to be reprinted. Fortunately, someone lifted his head out of the bathwater long enough to recognize the problem before it became an even bigger one.

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC

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  • Michelle Garrett

    Dustin, once again, your perspective is refreshing, well thought and on point! Remember thought shifters often encounter challenges not seen by groupthinkers, but do reap rewards in time, often by garnering the loyalty of clients served, educators and business peers (not colleagues).

  • Warren Seidel

    Dustin, you are wiser than your years. This is a fantastic topic to explore, especially with the overwhelming explosion of information that is available today. Unfortunately, the more information I explore, the more I desperately try to find the appropriate or logical mental file folder to put it in. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism of human nature to do so. I guess I will practice point #2 tonight!

  • Sharon H.

    This could not have been said better. I am one of the many veterans of the printing industry, however I agree with everything you have said. I have been recently moved into the position with the ability to build my own team. Thinking outside of the bubble is what we do, now to figure out how to get the others to follow. Thank you, I needed to hear this after a long day.

  • Meera

    I agree that outsiders like me, who had nothing to do with printing earlier, can bring fresh perspectives. I am not afraid to exhibit my ignorance since I am not "expected" to know much, but at least 50% of the time, I am instrumental in our getting the solution. Within a year and a half of joining I could take over as CEO!!! Point 2 also works as I have recently joined a group and have met many people whom I can trust to help out with new business / solving problems with no ulterior motives.

  • Jim T

    Or, if you’re like me and you try to buck the "groupthink" mindset, you’re punished and told that "the way you are is bad for your career." Groupthink is not something that you can overcome alone.

    I don’t use this word often, but this is truly a brilliant column.