Relevance: A Lifelong Investment

“The worlds wine cork producers want you to know that they’re sorry” (Pierson).

A front page article in this weekends LA Times pronounced what happens when success meets comfort. The once dominant cork industry has lost 25% of it’s market share in the past 10 years to screw caps and plastic corks. The communications director for the world’s largest cork company noted, “We got the proverbial kick in the pants”. The root cause is a failure to proactively address issues of cork taint, a fungus which negatively affects between 1% and 5% of corked wines. This small oversight combined with over 250 years without significant competition has led to significant loss of market-share in the $290 billion global wine industry.

Similarly, Kodak, the progenitor of photography and ‘Kodak moments’ failed to address changes amidst the emergence of digital camera and film. In fact, Kodak was so entrenched in their methods, they created a means to transfer digital images back to film. As a result of assumed relevance, they were forced to declare bankruptcy in 2012. Like the cork industry, Kodak’s history reminds us that relevance is earned and cannot be assumed.

There is a similar trend affecting higher education in North America. In 2013 the New York Times noted that “One-third of all colleges and universities in the United States face financial statements significantly weaker than before the recession and… are on an unsustainable fiscal path. Another quarter find themselves at serious risk of joining them” (Selingo). As the educational climate changes (think University of Phoenix or MOOC’s – massive open on-line courses), a growing number of colleges are facing trouble ahead.

Anaïs Nin once said, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”. Whether you are in the cork industry, photography or the bastions of higher education, we all are susceptible to seeing things ‘as we are’ or ‘as we want them to be’. Relevance is earned. Over, and over, and over again!

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman



Pierson, David (Dec. 7, 2014). Wine corks look for the old pop. The Los Angeles Times.

Selingo, Jeff (April 12, 2013). Colleges struggle to stay afloat. The New York Times.