Congratulations on your forthcoming book, which I really enjoyed. It’s called The Book of Mistakes, but it’s actually about success. What motivated you to write the book—and why from the mistake angle?
When I was growing up, my parents opened our home to people in need, often those who were abused, addicted, or abandoned. Some stayed a few days and others for years. So I studied how some individuals would succeed and get back on their feet, while others continued to struggle. And, as my career advanced, I continued to study success. I’ve interviewed over a thousand unbelievably successful people ranging from politicians to news anchors to sports heroes. My goal with this book was to pack all of this learning into a story that would inspire and encourage. And I wrote it from the mistake angle because I actually learned as much, if not more, from people talking about their mistakes. All of us make mistakes, and the wisdom from these mistakes is often more valuable than advice from the super-successful.
I still remember a great keynote you gave at Tools of Change in 2011—the message, as I recall, was “Don’t be afraid to fail—but fail fast.” When you look back at that period in our digital transition, what do you recall?
That was definitely a key part of the message. And for a few years before that, I was arguing that print would thrive, while many were arguing that e-books would dominate by 2017. It’s interesting to see that e-books are falling slightly in favor of print. Back then, I also talked about the emergence of location-based services, personalized content, facial recognition technologies, biometrics, gaming, on-demand, and virtual reality, and all of these technological advances continue unabated. My speeches back in those days were always about the fact that technology doesn’t doom you, but enables change. Technology [intensifies] your current position—if your position is stagnant, that will become more obvious. If you’re forward-thinking and innovative, new opportunities will emerge. And it’s been like that for hundreds of years.
A decade ago there was talk in some quarters that libraries and publishers were doomed in the digital age, but both institutions have had shown their staying power. How do you think libraries have done in adapting to the digital age?
Libraries have actually led much of the digital change. For example, we were using complex Boolean search algorithms and wrestling with big data before anyone. And I see incredible examples of innovation in libraries around the globe: Libraries are offering 3-D printing and digital video and audio studios. They are helping their users manage their digital lives, whether that’s parents wanting to digitize a life’s worth of photographs or scientists looking at new research tools. Libraries today are engaging more actively than ever before with the creative lives of their users and communities. They’re providing ESL and citizenship courses for those new to the country. They’re hiring on-staff nurses and social workers to help guide people who have fallen through the health care net. Academic libraries are supporting digital scholarship, data mining, research data management, and so much more. So libraries are thriving. And that’s because librarians never stop thinking about what’s next.
I think [Sourcebooks CEO] Dominique Raccah said it well at BookExpo a few weeks ago: we still have the opportunity to create our own destiny. But I am encouraged by the vibrancy of publishers pushing into new areas and trying new ideas. I think publishers know that library users are their most loyal customers. So there shouldn’t be too much concern about a few lost sales of books to library users in the short term. Libraries and publishers can and will continue to find ways to succeed together over the long term.
Skip Prichard is CEO of OCLC and a past CEO of Ingram Content Group. He also writes the Leadership Insights blog, where he interviews authors and thought leaders and shares his views on a range of topics.