Go Easy on the Spice
I recently learned that the phrase “variety is the spice of life” comes from a six-volume, blank verse poem written by William Cowper in 1785. The poem is called The Task: A Poem, in Six Books, and it comes in at about 150 pages—and that is about 150 pages longer than any poem should ever be allowed to be.
I do not use the phrase “variety is the spice of life” very often. I understand the sentiment but I find that it isn’t always true. Properly seasoned food can be wonderful but when too many spices are used the results can be quite displeasing. Carefully managed landscaping can make a beautiful yard but excessive lawn ornamentation can be disastrous. Often, simple is the best approach.
Francis of Assisi understood this when he wrote: "Do few things but do them well, simple joys are holy." This is something all in-plant managers should know and understand. When it comes to the services we offer too much variety can be a liability.
A good friend of mine who managed an in-plant at another college learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago he took note of the high volume of offset printing his institution was outsourcing and decided to purchase a 4-color offset press. He reasoned the introduction of a new service would yield cost savings and increase revenue. However, the press he purchased could not accommodate all of the variant sizes and complexities of the work that was being outsourced. He was only able to bring back in house a portion of the outsourced work and the investment was a losing venture. The in-plant closed within a couple of years.
I once visited another nearby in-plant that offered an incredible array of services. Besides basic copying, bindery, and offset printing they also offered engraving, printing and installing vehicle wraps, forms printing, die cutting, and fabrication of displays and packaging materials. Their shop seemed to be built as an attempt to become the sole source for every possible printing need their parent company could ever want. Sadly, they too are no longer in business.
My last blog was about risk taking and about living life at the edge of ourselves. I wrote about the inspiration I find when I see people accomplishing great things. Inspiration is meant to be a life-giving experience. In medicine, inspiration is described as the taking in of air by the lungs. Inspiration is something that literally breathes life into something else.
If you are an in-plant manager looking to grow your in-plant, you need to be certain the new services or products you are hoping to incorporate will likewise breathe life into your operation. Variety may be the spice of life and variety can spice up your in-plant. However, as leaders we need to be master chefs and we need to understand what we are adding and why we are adding it. Inspiration is not an excuse to dismiss knowledge and experience.
To put it another way, I have crafted for you this poem, which should take you far less time to read than Cowper’s 150-page masterpiece:
They said that I needed to grow
They said to do more than I know
“Transform and Expand!”
“Core business is bland!”
But variety shut down the show.
Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu