Hybridically Digital. Digitally Hybridic.

I attended the Tools of Change conference in New York, recently.

In lieu of an overview of the conference – which was both varied and same-y, and interesting and dull – I wanted to highlight a single presentation that struck a chord with me.

This was Hiring, Training and Managing the Hybrid Publishing Employee, a panel discussion hosted by Jon Bruner with Ian Singer, Bruce Upbin and Taylor Buley.

The panel defined the Hybrid as “those who can code and understand the editorial mindset”. I found this a limited definition – I’d consider myself a hybrid but I don’t code – but what really hit home was the focus on mindset. Understanding the mindset of the developer, understanding the mindset of the editor.

I have been in publishing for over sixteen years, fifteen of them in editorial. Recently I transferred out of the editorial team and into our digital group. The post I took up was designed to take advantage of my instinct and experience as a publisher and my knowledge of digital aspects of publishing. I had been interested in digital for a long time, and had started to learn and understand more about content architectures, ePub, HTML5 etc even while on the editorial side of the business. In addition, I started trying to conceive of new courses (we’re an educational publisher), new ways of thinking about how we publish educational books and I tried to encourage my colleagues to rethink how they commission.

As a hybrid, I brought knowledge of both sides of the business to both sides of the business; I carried (and am developing) a mindset that thinks like both, not just one. And this is why I take issue with the limited definition the panel expressed. That said, Buley went on to suggest that the hybrid has to be ‘a communicator, a convincer’ – I’d agree.

Surely then, within the hybrid is the nascent future employee? Surely as we progress and ingest ‘digital’ as part of the way we do business as usual, then the traditional boundaries of ‘editorial’ and ‘digital’ become hindrances rather than structures that continue to support our activity? Surely in the future, the current ‘hybrid employee’ will just be ‘the employee’?

Someone said – and no Google search will tell me who – “what got us to where we are, won’t necessarily get us to where we want to be.”

There’s no denying that we have been successful as book publishers and that we know how to do it well, that we have the skill sets and the right people in place to achieve this goal. But as we move to become more digital, more ‘blended’, we have to question how we operate and who we have – in terms of skills and mindset – within the business and let them develop to help us grasp the future.

And who are these people? I think the panel would agree with me: the hybrids.

And the managers?

What makes the hybrid successful – even though the panel never said it explicitly – was the engagement of the management team in identifying, nurturing and developing hybrid employees. Without that simple support structure, the hybrid could be marginalized or at the very least constrained. Singer insisted more than once that ensuring that we have the the ‘right people’ in the ‘right place’ was critical for any future-oriented publishing business – and he speaks as a VP and Group Publisher.

For me, where the hybrid employee really adds value is by becoming the initial guide ropes flung across a crevasse that allows the first shaky rope-bridge to be built. Or, if we’d like to dream (and I do), they are the ropes that allow us to drag the two mountain halves together and create a new whole.

This post can also be found on The Futurebook blog site.


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