Bordering on Extinction

Greetings.  Like most people I know who spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the 1970’s, I have a very close connection with Borders—the company that once reinvented the world of bookstores.  Started as a used book shop in 1971 by a pair of brothers, the original store would quickly become one of the most successful and cherished independent bookstores in America operating out of a convenient two-story building on State Street.  Filled with the latest titles, the coolest posters, abundant sale tables, and lots of quite corners and comfortable chairs to get lost in, it was one of my very favorite hang outs during my years as a graduate student. This was a place that made the joy of books and reading come alive.

Several years later this original store would move to a larger vacated department store a block away and, from my perspective at least, begin to lose the very heart and soul that had made Borders such a special place.  But this new formula would become the start of the current company and its chain of several hundred big-box stores filled with books and a lot of other stuff.  And even though they lacked the special feel I'd come to love, these new stores would become an important part of the cultural landscape of the cities, towns, and strip malls where they sprouted up.

Just as a powerful transformation was taking place…

So the announcement that Borders was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection came as no real surprise to me.  I’d seen the signs, read the tea leaves, noticed the obvious change in the world of book buying—both as an author and as a regular customer.  The rapid growth of on-line book selling–which the company failed to embrace, the emergence of electronic books–which Borders never made a serious investment in, and the presence of new competitors like Walmart offering the most popular books at even steeper discounts had all conspired to change the game that this remarkable business had invented.  And it now lacked a brilliant response or sufficient resources to reinvent itself again.  And it's unclear whether Chapter 11, in the absence of a more compelling strategy, will enable the company to survive. In fact, it's unclear whether a better positioned Barnes & Noble has a long-term future in the bricks and mortar book business.

It’s always possible that Borders will find its way.  In some new and smaller form with a clearer and more meaningful value proposition.  Because there’s still room for real bookstores that capture our hearts and imaginations in ways that no on-line retailer ever will.  The power of the written word and the tangibility of a real book are just too important.  But bookstores of the future will likely require a new business model.


We win in business and in life when we pay greater attention to the world around us and figure out how to remain relevant in a time of great change.  And when we embrace the full potential of written and unwritten words.  


Credentials That Matter?!

Greetings.  I take a lot of kidding from our children for being a "Dr."  Or, more specifically, a "Doctor of Philosophy."  It's a degree that does little to enhance my ability to heal the sick unless their malady is philosophical in nature.  But it did require several years of study and even "practical" field work, not to mention long evenings of being compelled to develop my beer drinking skills with classmates and professors in the wonderful city of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  So whenever someone is injured or feeling ill, the kids instantly turn to Mom who is not only a nurse and an educator, but incredibly calm and reassuring in the face of any calamity including the sight of blood. 

There are, however, times when my not-so-medical credential has come in handy. In fact, I'm often asked to be a judge at middle school science fairs–even though my Ph.D. has very little to do with science.  (Though my experience suggests that many of the projects also have very little to do with science.)  Plus, many of my customers and prospects find it to be a source of credibility and even confidence. And, in some cultures a Ph.D. is a title worthy of reverence.  But let's face it, my wonderful mother–may she rest in peace–regarded education as one of life's most important gifts and opportunities.  And since she also dreamed of having a son who was a doctor, who was I to let her down.  Kinda sorta.

Which brings me to a remarkable email that somehow evaded our spam filter in order to become a blog post.  It was titled "Online Doctorate" and came from a place called Liberty University.  Now I'm fully-committed to liberty and generally have the highest regard for universities, but this offering seemed to question the very foundation of study, discipline, research, creativity, time, dissertating, and mental and psychological abuse that are required to earn a doctorate at a place like the University of Michigan or another leading institution of higher learning.  And the details of the email were even more troubling:

"Want to put 'Dr.' in front of your name?" the email inquired.

If so, "Find leading online Ph.D. programs.  Study anywhere anytime."

"Find your degree in 30 seconds or less" in the fields of:

  • Business
  • Computers and I.T.
  • Education and Teaching
  • Health and Medicine
  • Science and Engineering
  • Social Sciences and Criminal Justice

Through a course of "self-designed" study.  Wait a minute!  Is that all it takes to be a doctor in today's web-centric economy?

To think that I spent the better part of five years following an overly rigorous and not particularly self-designed course of study.  And, at the end was tired, slightly disillusioned, and still unable to tolerate the sight of blood that wasn't my own. What was I thinking?

And then I realized that the key to any credential or any type of experience that we hang our hat on is the power of the journey itself, and the way we decide to challenge ourselves to learn, understand, and grow.  Learning, understanding, and growth that adds real value to the organizations we work for and the customers we choose to serve.  Maybe that comes from an advanced degree and long hours spent at a university.  Or maybe it comes from rolling up our sleeves and immersing ourselves in a discipline that matters.  But it definitely involves hard work and passion.

On line degress
We win in business and in life when we are passionate about learning. And when we earn the right credential to make a difference and, hopefully, please mom.  Will you continue learning in ways that really matter to those you have the privilege of serving.  It could be your greatest advantage in today's economy.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!