Up until recently the power to make books resided in the hands of a select few, but Blurb set out in 2004 to change all that. Built for creatives by creatives, Blurb has made low-cost, small-batch book printing – and retailing – a reality. In doing so, the company unlocked the “long tail” of book publishing and attracted an enthusiastic audience of DIY creatives.
From Gittins’ perspective, “the hallmark of creatives is that they have strong opinions.” Rather than suppressing such differentiation, Blurb encourages it. Gittins says, “We’re not consensus people. It’s not a democracy. Sometimes a call has got to be made, and that’s it. But it is always a question of making sure people’s voices are heard, so they feel like they made a contribution.”
And when it comes to deciding what new features to roll out, the company takes a highly disciplined approach. Gittins explains, “We require a mini-business plan before a big new feature or product can even get to the table. And this can come from anywhere in the company… We really try to quantify the project: How big is it?” At the same time, the company has regular “product road map sessions,” during which they hash out what will make it into the pipeline. But capacity is limited: “If something gets added, another thing comes off.”
When asked about her own creativity – Gittins whose creative passion is photography – talks about seeing Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, speak at the 2009 TED conference. As Gilbert spoke about her struggle with writer’s block, Gittins had a watershed moment about storytelling. Encapsulating the realization, she says, “The story behind the story (or the book) is as important as the product itself. How are we going to support the creation of that story, and the telling of that story, and the sharing of that story, is a big story for Blurb’s future.”
It turns out there is a through-line between good books and good leadership: storytelling. If believing is art, so, too, is leading.