Well, of course you're going to get a six if you hold the bat like that • 13 July 2007 • The SnowBlog

Well, of course you're going to get a six if you hold the bat like that

I've said it before: Snowbooks isn't a 'scalable' business. If you haven't sat in as many corporate 'stradegy' meetings as I have*, you may not think much about scalability. But it's a big deal to a lot of investors and business planners. To my mind, retail chains are the ultimate in scalability, because if you can clone a particular shop a thousand times then you make a thousand times as much in sales, with a lot less than a thousand times the costs. I'm not saying it's commendable, just that the economics stack up nicely. We've already talked about how having our editors only work on subjects they're already experts in and/or contributors to wouldn't work if we wanted to hire a big team and put out five hundred titles a year. Well, we've just encountered another limiting factor on our growth: our picky-picky perfectionism. Recently we had a networking sort of job to do (the people kind, not the computer kind) and, not having the right experience in-house, we allowed ourselves to be talked into getting some third-party help. Time went by, currency changed hands, and eventually we had an opportunity to see what we'd got for our money. Eeeek. It turns out we've accidentally paid quite a bit of money to spread around the idea that Snowbooks is run by slow-witted plodders with no sense of aesthetics. At least that's the impression we'd get if we were on the receiving end of it. We'd hoped for something imaginative, something creative, something all-together more impressive to be done in our name. More Ellen Macarthur, less Jade Goody. But, to return to my original point, that's one of the problems with our kind of business. We have the luxury of getting things right - refining what we do until we're happy with it. And when we hire someone, it's not because they're good, it's because they're fabulous. And naturally there's a limited number of people like that. Or to put it another way, not everyone is above average. Which means there are plenty of people to whom you can't just say: create something original and amazing. All of which puts me in mind of a revelation that dawned on me after a few years in retail. A big retail chain can easily employ ten thousand people and you can't expect them all to have mesmeric people skills and think like rocket scientists. Neither could you afford to pay them if they did. So in a truly scalable business, the trick is not just to get the job done; it's to get the job done with ordinary people. Now *that's* where the real management skills come in. Management skills we don't have and don't expect to develop. And to be honest, we'd much rather cheat and only hire miracle workers.

*Note: I wasn't necessarily permitted to speak in many of those meetings.


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