The General Theory Of The Translation Company
Interview with Renato Beninatto, CEO, Nimdzi
Simon Hodgkins, Editor in Chief, VTQ
Congratulations on your new book “The General Theory of the Translation Company”. What inspired you to write the book and did you enjoy the writing process?
There is a saying that there are three things every man must do in life: plant a tree, raise a child and write a book. I had already done two of those things… I’ve wanted to write a book for 20 years but just hadn’t found time to sit down and do it. Every time I would leave a company or finish a project, I would tell myself that I would sit down and write, but I was never able to sit still long enough to do so. I’ve tried working with different writers, but could never find somebody who could really capture what I was trying to say in a way that sounded like me. I wanted it to be informative.
I wanted it to be insightful. But most of all, I wanted it to be entertaining. One day it hit me — I should call Tucker, who I had worked with before. He has tremendous experience, he’s organized enough to put some structure to my stream of consciousness, and he’s funny. Tucker is a guy who gets it.
We worked together on the outline, basing it on a course that I teach at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. After reviewing the first drafts together, I knew that I had found the right partner.
I’ve had these ideas bouncing around in my head for decades. Together, Tucker and I were able to not only capture what I was thinking but to put Tucker’s own spin on these old ideas to give them fresh life.
It was incredibly rewarding to see it come together and to read the final copy and think “that’s me!”
In chapter one, you describe that this book is not about the “how” and state that it is about the “what” and, most importantly, the “why” of the language services industry. Can you expand on this a little?
We didn’t want to write about the “how” for two reasons — it would be boring, and it would be presumptuous.
There are books written on “the how” of the industry. They might be great, they might be horrible. Most people will never know, though, because they will not be able to finish reading them. They are BORING. We didn’t want to write a set of instructions… It would be presumptuous to claim that we have all the answers and can tell YOU how to do YOUR job in localization. I talk to people all the time in this industry and I never see somebody doing it “wrong”. People do the best they can with what they have and they get results!
Everybody’s business is so different, that it would be impossible to write an instruction manual that would be relevant for everybody.
One of the premises of this book is that lack of information is one of the biggest weaknesses in this industry. Nothing discourages availability of high-quality information more than a “know it all” attitude. This is an industry that, at its current stage, will benefit much more from people asking the right questions than from “experts” stating their opinions as facts.
We say throughout the book that we don’t want to give the answers. We don’t even want to ask the questions. We want to provide the reader with the inspiration and the means to ask better questions. And then we want to give our readers a common framework and terminology in which they can have better discussions that will encourage us all to think more critically about this industry.
You mention that the book will help any and every employee working for a language services provider better understand how he or she adds value to the localization process. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
We all have a part to play. Sometimes it is hard not to feel like a meaningless cog in the system. Or perhaps we get too hung up on what our job title is, rather than thinking about what our job function is.
The reality is that we all play an important part towards adding value to the translation process by either enabling or directly executing the three core functions of the Language Service Provider (LSP): Project Management, Vendor Management, and Sales.
What are the key messages you really focus on in the book?
The main focus of the book is The General Theory of the Translation Company. It is not just the title. It is the actual theory that we are presenting as our master thesis for this publication. The theory has three parts that we look at in more detail.
Firstly, there are the Market Influencers, which are the external forces that influence the language services industry. We talk about each one and some of the factors that contribute to these forces.
Secondly, there are the Seven Support Activities of the LSP. These are the activities that an LSP must carry out in order to function.
Lastly, there are the Three Core Functions of the LSP, through which an LSP creates value. All value created by an LSP is created through these Three Core Functions of Vendor Management, Project Management, and Sales.
I could talk all day about The General Theory, its components, and how they all fit together, but I think it would be actually quicker to just read the book than to sit and listen to me talk for hours!
You described the book as a user manual for the language services industry. Do you intend on updating the user manual as the industry changes?
I sure hope not, I’m too lazy for that. I would rather be working on the next thing. However, this is not to say that it will not be relevant in years to come. We went through great pains to write this book in such a way so as to future-proof it. We talk about technology as a market influencer, but we don’t talk about any super specific technology that will be outdated next year.
We can talk about machine translation because it has been influencing the industry for decades and will continue to do so decades in the future.
What we have written in this book are universal truths that have not changed over time and will not change in the future. If I had the time and the patience, I could have written this exact book twenty years ago. Likewise, I could have waited 20 years to write this exact book, and it would still be relevant.
This is your second published book. Do you see a third book in the pipeline?
Yes, we are very excited about our next book. I’ve already got an outline and Tucker is onboard for Round 2, which makes me happy because we worked very well together during The General Theory of the Translation Company.
Right now, we are both a little busy as Nimdzi Insights (our company) is really taking off and we are excited about the level of interest we are seeing already. So, our top priority right now is servicing our growing list of clients, but as we continue to get our groove with Nimdzi, we will be diving in head first with our next book, which will be a relatively significant departure from TGTOTTC, focusing on a broader audience, but still very relevant to those in Language Services.
What advice do you have for LSPs working in this rapidly changing industry?
Buy our book and find out! I’ll comment on just one of the tips we cover in the book… Think Big. Too many companies limit themselves by thinking small. We have an inferiority complex. Remember that as an LSP, YOU are more important than the client.
YOU are the expert because YOU are the one that knows how to get things done. LSP’s need to stop thinking of themselves as just small little players and start realizing just how much value they bring.
That is one of the recurring themes of this book, to help us all realize just how and where LSP’s bring value to the process at each stage.
With technology advancements such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, what impacts do you feel these will have on the wider language industry?
These technologies are already influencing the industry, so we don’t need to wait to find out. It is happening now. But right now, we are still at the beginning of the hype curve for these emerging technologies. This isn’t to say that they are not influential… just to say that the HYPE is more influential than any practicality they bring into our day to day lives.
When I talk to LSP’s, I tell them that they need to be talking to their customers about artificial intelligence, neural machine translation, machine learning, stuff like that. Notice I didn’t say they need to be DOING these things, but they absolutely must be talking about them. These are the hot topics that everybody wants to talk about and explore, even though there are very few companies actually using them.
One of the points we discuss in the book is that ANY advancements in this industry will necessarily have to come from technology. Translators are not getting any better at translating. Project Managers are not getting any smarter. Engineers are not working any harder. The only way to drive efficiencies in this industry is through technology.
Another point we make is that development of disrupting technologies will always come from the client side. LSP’s like to think that they are driving forward the latest innovations, but that is usually not the case. Not because they are not really smart and really good. Just because LSP’s don’t have millions of dollars to dump into R&D. Those millions of dollars will come from companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft…
With Machine Translation improving how do you feel this will develop the industry over the coming years?
We are already seeing the effect now. MT will not replace translation, but it will allow us to translate way more than we used to. The question of whether MT will replace translators is not the right question. MT has ALREADY replaced translators. Yet, here we are. We are still employed and loving working in this industry. The industry will evolve, and we need to be open to that.
Too many people would rather complain and fight against innovation, which is doing a disservice to this industry and a disservice to themselves.
You recently published a blog post entitled ‘Welcome to the localization jungle’. What advice would you have for someone starting out in the localization industry?
Welcome! You are going to have a blast! My advice to newcomers to this industry is simple. Balance. For the new generation, who I call the “new guard”, of professionals that are coming into this industry, the challenge will be to find the balance between ambition and humility.
Ambition is important. This industry is long overdue for a major disruption. Any such disruption will be driven by the new guard, not me and my generation. That is why it is important to stay ambitious and driven. Ask tough questions. Challenge the status quo. Think outside the box.
However, this ambition will be best served if tempered with a degree of humility. Learn what you can from us old hands that have been around for a while. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t challenge the status quo, though… But in order to challenge the status quo, you need to first be able to learn about current best practices so that you can go about improving them.
Nimdzi Insights is a company you recently set up. Can you expand on what services this company delivers?
Certainly! We are an insights company. This means that we do not just provide market information, but rather careful analysis and insights into what the trended data is saying about our industry.
Practical information to make practical decisions. This is what the industry needs right now.
The industry is growing at a faster rate than it can produce experienced people to lead it. The rise of education programs that we see such as MIIS (Middlebury Institute of International Studies) are doing a lot to educate the new guard coming into the industry, but demand is still outpacing supply.
This means that there is a gap in the market for knowledge and experience. The industry needs a scalable way to produce and share high-quality information and provide meaningful insights to help guide it. Market research, consulting, industry analysis… these are the services that are in short supply and this is what Nimdzi delivers.
What are the best aspects of running your own insights company?
I love the people and I love that I am constantly learning. The people are amazing. Everybody that I talk to teaches me something new, and it is a great privilege that I get to travel the world and learn from so many different people.
I would say that you should always be suspicious of somebody who claims to have all the answers…
Running an insights company doesn’t mean that I have all the answers myself. It means that I can be constantly investigating and digging and finding answers from all the brilliant people in this industry.
That means I get to draw on Tucker’s experience managing large-scale localization programs. I get to learn from Konstantin Dranch, our Chief Researcher, who is a genius at market research. And most importantly, it means I get to talk to all sorts of companies. Companies like Vistatec, companies you work with, companies you work for, and companies you compete against. I meet people at conferences, I visit them in their offices, I travel around and get the privilege of learning from so many brilliant people, that I really feel fortunate to be in the position I am in.
Running an insights company like Nimdzi, though, means that not only do I get to be constantly learning but that I get to be constantly sharing what I learn.
Nimdzi gives me an avenue to share what I know, what YOU know, what we ALL know, with the rest of the industry. I talked previously about the lack of quality information causing so many problems in the industry. Nimdzi gives me an opportunity to do something about it.
This article first appeared in VTQ Magazine.
Read more: https://vtqglobal.com/