Frank Zappa said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” If the reactionaries had their way, we would still be huddled in caves fearful of fire whenever it occurred naturally. The idea of change makes a lot of people nervous. In the 1970s, the implementation of the Clean Air Act was going to ruin businesses and the economy with all of its regulations. Quite the opposite happened, though. All this time later, we hear the same arguments about moving away from green house gases. I know that it will advance opportunities for both new technologies and businesses. Opportunities are not constant, though, and the leaders of an organization need to be able to see change coming and deal with what happens.
But what happens when a business is either incapable or undesirous of making changes to keep up with the market? Borders Books and Music, in July, announced it would be closing its remaining stores and be out of business by September. This had been a long time in coming and was the cause of many bad decisions by the upper management of that firm.
When internet sales started increasing (though still a small portion of the total sales) over brick and mortar stores, Borders did not recognize the trend, or if they did, simply ignored it. Borders had always had trouble with online sales via their website, bad promotion, poor customer interface; so much so that finally Borders outsourced their online sales to Amazon. While this may have been a short term success, it was a dismal failure in the long run as customers simply migrated to Amazon, cutting Borders out. Another mistake was the failure to see the growth of online sales of music and, later, video. Borders’ huge selection of music in their retail stores, which had been a money-maker in the 1990s, became a waste of space after the turn of the century. Add to this, Borders never tried to develop their own online portal for selling music and videos like Apple and Amazon. Borders product management system which had been such a boon in the early 90s, became an anchor that helped to drag them down. Management had never adapted the system to new ideas or technology in inventory control and shipping. Lastly, they failed to recognize the growing popularity of e-texts. Once again their lack of a solidified presence online resulted to lackluster sales of the new medium. Thrown into the mix was the lack of their own e-reader (as opposed to B&N’s introduction of the Nook). Yet another slice of the market was given up by poor planning and an inability to recognize the shifting landscapes of business and technology. It is interesting to note that there were many opportunities that Borders could have learned something either from their own mistakes or the behaviors of other companies that were flourishing, but for whatever reason, they were unwilling to make the changes necessary to survive in the market place.
Change is a strange thing because it can mean so many different things to different people. Some things change very quickly, we get used to that, thinking a long time has passed if technology isn’t pushed forward. In this instantaneous age, where information is ever-present, will we have the patience to see things through? Or will the very nature of change itself change?