From the Past:
My lunch meeting last week ended a bit earlier than usual. I had left ample room between the end of that meeting and my next meeting. Now, however, I had way too much time. It didn’t make sense to go back to my home office though, so I drove to the vicinity of my next meeting and looked for a place to stop and work.
I wound up at a book store with a Starbucks inside. What a blast from the past! It was pure nostalgia. Rows and rows of books, good coffee and lots of folks lounging in overstuffed chairs or working at a table while sipping a warm brew or nursing a latte.
Not the Same
It has been years since I enjoyed a book store. It was fun to be in one again, but the feeling was definitely not the same. While I have a stack of paper books to read, I only have them because others have sent them to me. I receive them as gifts or as free samples with a request to review the books.
I do everything I can, make every conceivable excuse not to read a paper book. I am fully in the digital book world. It’s actually a big inconvenience for me to read a paper book, especially a business book and/or a book to be reviewed. I frequently have to search for topics or quotes in the book, or use my highlights as an outline for a review. That is easy with a digital book; problematic in a paper book.
Not For Everyone
Not everyone agrees with me. Many friends tell me they love the smell and feel of a “real” book. But for me, an incessant reader, nostalgia for the old fashioned book just doesn’t exist. I admit, though, that I’ve had to back-pedal when it comes to gifting books. Many of my friends and family members are fine if I send them a digital book as a gift. Others aren’t, and it’s hard to provide the gift book to a large group of people.
For example, each year I provide a book to colleagues and clients as a year end holiday gift. Usually, I give out about 25 copies of a book I found particularly insightful. I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. For about three years, I tried to “force” the issue by providing the book in digital format. This past year, I went back to purchasing paper books, gift wrapping them and handing them to each individual. I guess it’s the old “High-Tech, High-Touch” issue.
The Right Tool
My father always advised me to make sure I used the right tool for the job. At least for the time being, it appears that the right “tool” for gifting large quantities of books is using the old-fashioned paper book. But I order them on-line. And my observation in this rather large and inviting book store was that many of the patrons seemed to pick a book, find a seat, read for several minutes and then return the book to the shelf. Do they then purchase the book on-line?
There aren’t too many “big” book stores left. I think the smaller, specialty book stores are surviving, but Barnes & Nobel and Books A Million may be the only big chains hanging on. And the 10 year chart at the above link, seems to show a steady decline.
For me, the right tool, given the way I work, is an e-book. But for many people, the printed book is just fine.
Leadership and Nostalgia
Part of a leader’s “job” is to make sure the organization doesn’t get trapped in nostalgia. Trying to go back to the way things used to be almost never works. Nor does not changing when we need to change just because we’re comfortable where we are.
Personally, I was happy to make a compromise with the past. I very much enjoyed being in a large bookstore, surrounded by books and people who love books. But the chances of my buying a book from the shelf are very remote, asymptotic to zero. So, I paid my “rent” by purchasing a fancy, over-priced coffee. I jumped on their WiFi and went to work. I think that’s what we have to do as leaders — help our people hold on to a little of the past that is meaningful, but not let nostalgia keep them from moving forward. The right tool for the right job. A leadership skill.