Be Public Radio, Not Blockbuster

There's something we can all learn from Public Radio. No, not what you're thinking.

Remember Blockbuster? You know the old video store that you had to drive to in order to rent movies on VHS and DVD? The one that was swept out of the marketplace by Netflix?

When the world changed, they failed to adjust. Or as the cool startup people would say, they failed to pivot. Executives from Blockbuster in the early-2000s are probably still kicking themselves as they see the scope, impact, and valuation of Netflix continue to follow an upward trajectory.

Public Radio is different. What for my entire life seemed to be a dying medium now seems to have experienced a resurrection. How? Why?

For one, unlike Blockbuster, they weren't committed to just one mode of distribution. They were willing to try pivoting and shifting, in part because it required only a little upfront cost to test.

For two, opposed to popular belief, they knew people were still seeking quality journalism on-the-go, just not on the radio. Similar to the shifts we've seen in consumer behavior on the television side, people seek agency and control over when, how, and what they listen to.

The smart, forward-thinking radio journalists started shifting their distribution to match a medium for which interest and use were growing, one that wouldn't disrupt the mission behind public radio: podcasting.


Don't be like Blockbuster. So inflexible in your approach--so distracted romanticizing this moment, that thing, this job--that you miss the great opportunities in front of you.

You know--the high school quarterback who still talks about his glory days at Thanksgiving dinner four decades later. He has (what seems like) an incredible family and career. But he's stuck so far in the past that he's missing out on the present.

Nobody wants to be that guy; everyone feels bad for him.

What worked for Public Radio will work for this guy (and for you, too). A balance between radical openness and resistance all at the same time.

You have to realize what's outside, the expression of who you are via jobs, sports, family, relationships, hobbies, and all that are just symptoms. They are mere signals of who you are and vehicles by which you can learn and grow. Be unromantic about them.

What's been built over years of becoming is what counts. That's your mission, your purpose, and whatever else gets you up in the morning. How these things are expressed don't matter, but these things do. Be totally romantic about them, about who you are and what you stand for.

That's the Public Radio way. That's the way forward no matter how much your outside world changes.

Kate Ward