Liminal spaces are a hallmark of literature. The hero walking a path in the woods, treading a narrow line of implied civilization through the wilderness. A child stepping toward adulthood. Doorways. Carnivals. The boundary between land and sea. These are the places where change happens, where growth occurs, where new life and new potential is realized.
We, in publishing, are quite used to liminal spaces.
The Harvard Business Review had an article this week about such in-between-ness, though they called it something else. Hybrid: the new liminal.
We, in publishing, are getting pretty used to hybrid too. And, like HBR points out so eloquently, hybrids aren’t always a pretty thing. More often, they are a purely functional thing, a physical manifestation of the growing pains of an industry, a concrete expression of the narrow path we are striving to walk between the past – solely print, stable, predictable – and the future we are rushing to meet – one that promises a multitude of media, subscriptions, and, undeniably, more change.
I appreciated this article because it celebrates this uncomfortable hybrid space, and I can relate fully to that celebration. Here at Macmillan Learning, it has been a source of daily enjoyment to imagine solutions for transforming higher education publishing. There is a post-it note on my computer monitor, a quote from a meeting I sat in during my first couple of years with the company. It repeats a question one of the guests asked us that day: “What does it mean to dominate a failing market?” I wrote it down not because publishing is failing, because it isn’t. What it is, is changing. And the answer I see to that question is that it is our responsibility, as an industry leader, to direct that change, to ensure that it is for the better, as much as we possibly can.
Our CEO, Ken Michaels spoke in Inside Higher Ed last week on the debate between print and electronic media. Specifically, he said that it doesn’t matter which one is selling better, so long as students are learning. Just as it doesn’t matter, at least to me, if our hybrids are a little bit inelegant, if our liminal space is a bit more like that battle between surf and sand than it is that smooth step through a doorway. Because hybrid to me doesn’t mean solution, and it certainly doesn’t mean we’ve arrived out our destination, at the end of the change. Hybrid means progress, it inspires excitement, it represents the search for something better. And, as Ken reminded me, it is our focus on students that drives our innovation. So long as that is at the heart of our work, we will be on the right path.