I

once read an interesting description of a group exercise for executives. The exercise aimed to build trust and team spirit among people accustomed to holding the reins tight. Each executive had to fall backward, relying on his colleagues to catch him before he hit the ground. They all found it terrifying.


We go through something similar every single week. And every now and then we realize just how terrifying it can be.
This past week, our print liaison was examining the ready magazines at our Israel printing headquarters before shipping them out. The packages felt suspiciously light. They were supposed to be extra hefty, with a stand-alone recipe supplement included in the package. He ripped open the packages and confirmed the worst: no recipes.


Our production coordinator jumped into frantic action. Mishpacha is printed in two separate locations, by two different printing houses — an American printing house for the US and Canada, and an Israeli one for Israel, Europe, and the rest of the world. The American printers had printed and packaged the supplement as per our instructions. For some reason, the Israeli printers hadn’t. This, despite the fact that their print order (every week the printers receive a precise order from us) included a listing for the supplement, and they had received three reminders about it — including one on the previous day.


The first priority was getting the supplement printed, while simultaneously getting in touch with our distribution departments in both Israel and Europe. Store deliveries and subscriptions were delayed while the printers did the emergency run. Additional staff was instructed to bundle the supplement into the packages and add an extra layer of wrapping around them. Arrangements were made to fly the supplements to Europe, where our distributor reconfigured distribution plans.
Then we focused on tracking what had gone wrong, why it had happened, and how we could make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The episode ended with relief — the mistake had been caught and corrected, and everyone got their recipes in time to plan their menus and shopping lists accordingly. But it also ended with a sobering message for all of us as we entered the Yom Tov crunch. It was a lesson in the limits of control, the inevitability of mistakes, and the bottom line that we are not ultimately in charge.
Because no matter what your position in this business, no matter how invested you are in the product, at some point you have to do something very painful. You have to let go.
If you’re a writer, you have to click “send” and hand over your carefully written piece to your editor, knowing the version that appears in print will bear the fingerprints of someone other than you.


If you’re the text editor, you have to give the polished piece over to graphics. You know that they will give it colors, fonts, shape, and form. That words or phrases will be emphasized. That it will take on an appearance and personality that might not reflect your own vision.


If you’re the proofreader, you know that once the graphic artists update the text to incorporate your corrections, from that moment on, a stray mouse click can introduce errant characters into the final version.


If you’re the production manager, you know that even after you’ve reviewed every page, every ad, every margin, once you give your okay to the printers, mistakes can still happen. The screens might be calibrated a bit differently, resulting in less-than-optimal print quality. The printers might use paper that doesn’t showcase the contents properly. (They might forget to print the supplement you included in the print order.)


You might think that the really professional publications don’t harbor these fears. You’d be wrong. One of our editors used to work at one of America’s top ten magazines, the kind that sells millions of copies per month. She described a project they’d spent months working on; the team had hoped to win a prestigious prize for the final product. Every detail was analyzed and discussed, their top talent was put on the project, the final drafts were reviewed and re-reviewed by everyone involved. When they got the magazine back from the printer, a drop cap was missing. Imagine a word missing its first letter entirely! It was a small but gigantic detail. The prize had slipped through their hands.


We know that no one’s immune to mistakes. The control freaks among us — or even those with a healthy sense of responsibility — check the closed files every week before they’re approved for print. We send lists of last-minute changes to the production department, have the staff reclose the pages and only then check them off as approved. (Some of us check them again after that, just to make sure.)
But at a certain point we have to trust. Trust the other players on this team, and trust that the process we’ve built — with its checks and double-checks — is a solid process.


Most importantly of all, we also have to accept that we aren’t in control. Mistakes can and do happen, and our most intense efforts will never guarantee perfection. Because even the best people, the best players, and the best process are subject to a Divine Hand.