Keep the Change


Don’t you wish you could just tell them: “Keep the change?!” But it just keeps coming, faster than death or taxes. In leadership, you’ve got to look for change and work to help others see it…though they’d rather you just keep the change.

It’s sad to watch Borders sucked down the vortex of liquidation.  If there was one general principle that doomed them it was their terrific inability to adapt to change. They passed up the challenge and opportunity of the the internet by turning their product over to Amazon in 2001. They didn’t jump on the eReader bandwagon until the Kobo came out in early 2010. They bought Waldenbooks, the juggernaut of the big malls of the ’70s and ’80s, instead of moving into the millennium. As their cost structure got impossibly upside down they found themselves stuck with many leased properties with 15 year terms. They were heavy and slow.

I try to avoid easy judgments of others. I’ve made too many mistakes, and my life has been pretty simple and blessed. I don’t castigate Borders because I could have done better, or to make you and me feel better. I raise them because they stand for the principle that should be so obvious us to us in our time: Change or Die.

America is IN a time of massive change. Not if, not maybe, not soon, now. And it’s not slowing. It will affect both our taxes and our government benefits. Change IS happening to newspapers. To churches. To schools. To medicine and health care. To how we communicate with each other. To how we learn. Men are changing – and must. Families are changing.

What can you do?

First, refuse to close your eyes. Do not expect that your company or even your industry will be in five years what it looks like today. Second, look out ahead. Ask people: Where do you see change coming?  Third, ask:  who’s doing it better than us? (Amazon, Wal-Mart, Apple, somebody across the hall from you, somebody in a different field altogether, your 13 year old on the computer.)  Fourth, develop skills for different possibilities of what’s ahead. Fifth, know that technology will keep changing things and you can’t ignore it.

In some ways, Borders situations WAS simple: people were buying stuff in different ways and places, primarily online and at lower costs.  So, whoever’s buying your stuff – be it education, wisdom, coffee, salad, or legal services – you better pay attention to just where and just how they’re buying it.  You have to change if you’re going to

Lead with your best self,


  • The Philidelphia Story and The Little Foxes have as a common theme – change. In both plays a new kind of business and approach to business arrives on the scene to take away wealth and power. Both new approaches are rough and sometimes dishonest, but they take over. Both plays have a charactor who states that the established order has trouble adjusting to new ways, or news ideas. The established will even think whatever is new is not reliable and not likely to succeed. We see that in politics today. We see it in business of every kind. None of us should think we have the eternal formula for success. If McDonald’s restaurants still sold the same menu as it did in the 1970’s they would be out of business,or much smaller today. Also, McDonald’s would have failed in its attempts to expand to other countries.

  • Yes, the Borders situation was simple and yet when the CEO’s perceptions don’t evolve (due to CEO Disease), the corporate culture doesn’t evolve to what’s happening now.

    When Tom Borders was looking for a CEO, he was determined to find one that was an experienced retailer rather than a strategist. He hired a CEO who knew how to retail paper-based books but who refused to see that the digital age was here and now. That CEO, not understanding the Internet’s impact on booksellers, even reduced his IT department (who managed their retail website) and contracted with to sell books for Borders.

    That was the beginning of Borders’ downward spiral.

  • While in genereal I agree with all the various comments, “change” is something that must be carefully considered. I think that an argument could be made that Waldon changed, but in the wrong directions. We’ve already mentioned missing out on technology, but that is just one piece of the puzzle. Even with Amazon taking a chunk of the business, I believe there still is a niche for a book seller where customers can “wander the stacks”. Waldon changed, but their changes were to load up on the latest best sellers, devote larger portions of those ridiculous sized buildings to coffee bars, DVD’s, CD’s and other assorted junk. If you weren’t interested in the latest John Grisham and didn’t want to wait (regardless of how fast Amazon is) to enjoy a good read, the local library was a better bet than Waldons.

    • Jeff,
      Interesting comment. You’re right that change is a threshold – and fear of it is a wall instead of a door. But where to go is strategy. And that’s a major story. It’s fascinating to think of what would have been a great path for a Walden’s. You’re right that they got terribly “thin” in their offerings. I wonder in their smaller footprint stores, what might have worked, what opportunities were there to be exploited.
      Thanks for the provocative comment.

  • Dan,

    CHANGE~ will always be the force that we have to reckon with. If we don’t change our strategies and our behaviors we will ALL find ourselves up the river without a paddle.

    I love the Ferris theme ~IMAGINE MORE!!!

    Even in my passion of helping kids achieve their dream called college. Every single day I am searching for a newer, more effective way of engaging, enlightening, teaching.and learning!! The day that I quit trying to learn is the day I hang up my spurs. ~The TIP Lady

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