Change, Challenge, and Response
I had an article nearly finished for this edition of the Standard, and took the article to my “day job” today to finish the last ten percent. Today turned into an exercise in how to make smooth transitions between crises and the article went unfinished. After dragging myself back home I reflected on the day and found that it illustrated some things that I was struggling to explain in my article. Following one of my numerous credos—“never be afraid to throw it away and start again”—I did exactly that and wrote a new article based on my day. At first glance it may not seem related to bookselling or the IOBA, but, if you’ll indulge my rambling, the meaning may be clear to you by the last word.
My favorite author is Dr. Seuss, and just as his Cat In The Hat introduced you to Thing One and Thing Two, I’ll do the same.
Thing One: I have a day job. Like many of your day jobs, mine has nothing to do with bookselling. While acclimated to bookselling by temperament, previous ownership of an open shop, an illogical affinity for the general public, and simple desire, my financial situation doesn’t allow full-time participation. Life dealt me some cards, some I chose, but it all adds up to the hand that I hold and it doesn’t allow me to have an open shop for the foreseeable future. If you get a daytime missive from me it’s because I’m leaned over the keyboard and a plastic tray of Lean Cuisine’s finest during my lunch break at the job that pays the bills.
Like being a full-time owner of a bookstore, my situation is tenuous. I’m a contractor who manages IT projects for one of the largest hospital systems in the US, but being a contractor I’m always “on the bubble” of being bumped out of my current situation if my work is done, or I’m not needed, or any number of other reasons.
Thing Two: My day job was one long series of crises today. Just when it seemed like things were getting under control, a car hit a utility pole a block away and cut off power to our office where all IT operations occur. On emergency power only, with no lights in a generally windowless building, and late in the afternoon, it was rational for me to just give up and go home. I was certainly willing to do so, since my day had consumed most of my energy and good will.
At that point my pager produced its hysterical beep and suggested that I bring my laptop computer to the café down the street. I did so and met my boss and his boss, not to partake of the specialty of the house, but to continue the workday. We logged into the house’s free wireless Internet service, hopped from there to our own network via a secure connection, and continued the day’s efforts. Undisturbed, we produced a rough draft of a plan we’d been working on. It was easily the most productive 1 ½ hours of our day.
So what on earth does any of this have to do with bookselling or the Independent Online Booksellers Association?
Thing One: The odds are good that I’m like you, given that most online booksellers have a primary job unrelated to bookselling and are part-time booksellers. As the incoming president I represent not just the majority of IOBA members, but the majority of online booksellers. I have experience that enables me to understand the needs of the high and low ends of the trade, but I’m working in the same manner as the majority and that majority is the group that drives and directs the trade.
I see my presidential task as a project management task, specifically to support the full spectrum of online sellers while strengthening the part-time majority that may feel threatened by changes to the trade.
Thing Two: I’m familiar with change on short notice. When circumstances turn for the worse I’m as adept as anyone at wringing my hands and emitting whining noises, but that doesn’t make anything better. When electric power went away there was still a way to change how I worked and made progress. When the IOBA is faced with change and crisis there is still a way to navigate through it and find an appropriate direction. 2007 is a year that will bring questions and decisions.
The IOBA faces change. How might we offer more tangible benefits? How can we increase membership? What kind of organization are we today? More importantly, what kind of organization should we be today and what kind should we be in five years? The long-range answer will give us a definite direction for our short-term decisions.
I appreciate the opportunity to work beside a capable, energized board of directors and appreciate the responsibility of improving our members’ collective lot. Let’s get busy.
Michael Watson email@example.com
Michael Watson operates 20 Ants out of Indianapolis, IN and can be contacted at http://www.20ants.com.