How many of us have sat through presentations where the presenter goes into detail about the following stories of corporate failure? Kodak – how did they not see the digital camera coming? Blockbuster – how did they not see Netflix? It is easy for all of us to look in the rear-view mirror and judge what seems so obvious now.

How many of us are looking in the mirror today and saying, what am I missing about what’s happening to my industry, business, market? Not enough.

The print industry; like all industries is in the midst of massive disruption. Communication is changing and since print was a dominate communication methodology for decades, it’s being disrupted by new communication methods. You’ve heard all that before.

What I want to focus on is what massive disruption does to “expertise” that was based on yesterday’s methods, technologies, and the past economic standing of the print industry. When it comes to expertise in the technology space; software developers are constantly gauging the popularity and utilization of programming languages because nobody wants to become an expert at a dead language. Software developers monitor this monthly because there is no getting around the fact that modern software programming continues to evolve, change, and adapt to the market.

Expertise used to move more gradually, you built your expertise over decades and then you spent decades getting paid for that expertise. I experience that with many medical professionals, many of whom seem to be still relying on what they learned in medical school. The internet provides us all with the ability to learn about our health; I never go to the doctor until I’ve diagnosed myself doing my own research. Often I’ve known more, not because I’m smarter but because nobody is going to care more about my health than me.

For those of us on the back side of that expertise curve; where twenty years ago we would have been expected to simply live on the expertise we gained in our early careers – that reality is no longer working. I laughed out loud (while on mute) the other day when a customer asked if a resource of mine had a college degree. This individual is doing complex support for a gigantic web-to-print deployment (80,000 active users). What would he have possibly learned in college more than twenty years ago that would be relevant today? Even college is coming into question as the best way to prepare ourselves for a career in constant change.

Expertise doesn’t work that way anymore and it’s downright upsetting to most people.

In the face of massive disruption, we all have to be comfortable being beginners again. This isn’t easy for many people. This isn’t easy for people who at some point in their career were way ahead of the market and now find themselves either in the pack or well behind. Constant change which forces constant learning isn’t everyone’s favorite activity.

There is an education gap in our industry because there is a lack of acknowledgement that most of us need to go back to “school” to learn how print operates in a technology first world. Our live events are still centered around selling and buying machinery which is not based on our current reality but on the industry reality of a decade ago when capacity, speed, and quality were our main differentiators. I walk around tradeshows and wonder if I’m personally part of this collective delusion (seriously).  We have an educational gap. We are not actively providing the education needed for printers to remain competitive.

Technology conferences are all about education (the main dish), the tradeshow is always on the side. People go to technology conferences to actively learn and network. We are still creating events where the tradeshow is the main event and education is in the back corner (barely attended).

How are we going to keep up with the technology changes if we don’t have industry wide learning events? When will our events evolve from capacity shopping to learning about how to become data-driven businesses using the latest technologies to build workflows that solve customer’s problems and generate print revenues?

In a time where many print industry events are struggling; this may sound crazy. I think the industry needs a pure educational event that isn’t about selling at all – stop the vendor sponsored events where the education is disguised under a full-frontal sales assault. Create an event where nobody sells anything but knowledge about how to tackle the challenges of operating a print business in the internet age. This event isn’t free – it’s rather costly because we reject the subsidization by vendors in return for the sales assault. Printers need to learn, printers need to network so they find peers who they can collaborate with to solve common challenges. This space is being created by small peer groups across the country, it needs to scale so that more printers are exposed to more educational activities on a regular basis.