Borders. The name rings loud and clear for most of us who’ve walked by their red facades at malls or their black awnings that sheltered the homeless from the elements. For me, Borders had a very personal and deep connection. As an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Borders was a shining case study of how to grow a business and ultimately how to destroy one, too. The brick-walled haven on East Liberty was always a place to get books I’d never heard of and certainly ones that never made the New York Times’ bestseller lists. But it was the people that made the store so much more than just any other standardized Borders that I now walk into in Dubai.

In our line of business, and as the truth hunters before me have represented, there is an infinite power in the collective wisdom of people: People who know what they want and people who want to share that with others. I don’t want to glorify folks in advertising, but we’re all a bunch of faceless warriors. We make brands famous without ever showing off a byline to tell the world that we’ve done it. For recognition, we turn to our trade mags. Borders No. 1, as I will always remember, was one such place. From the epic science-fiction section to the breakaway on Russian literature, No. 1 would make sure that you either found what you were looking for or helped you discover it. The former part of this scenario is very dictated as much of the design and creation models that businesses have today rely on the knowledge that people are looking for them. But it is the latter that is so much more important.

Discovery is the key to helping people find what they wouldn’t otherwise. Publishers know this best as they get the best editors in the world to create magazines that curate content for the everyman that can’t go around looking for it. Its for this reason that I sometimes wonder why editors today are even called that. They should be called Curators. And that is exactly where Borders got it all wrong too.

As a place that is teeming with books on everything from “Catcher in the Rye” to “Javascript for Dummies” and the latest Hustler to travel guides for Timbuktu, Borders never really could build the curation model. It instead left this to the world and slowly they lost their edge. If I wanted a bookshop, I could find many others and we did. Barnes & Nobles, Coles, Kinokuniya, Magrudy’s, Gandhi… the list is endless.

Its exactly here that I believe we need to change the way we need to take this example as a parallel for everything else that we create. The world today is so busy with so many things to see and so many things to do that you need to create something that finds them. Help them discover it and they will come. If you reach out to them hoping that they understand you as you do, they’ll probably never get here. People will define their own paths to get to the destination. All we can do is build roads for them and lead them there.

Two years ago, I found myself in an inspiring workshop by Daniel Burka, the creative director behind Digg. While ‘-isms’ were thrown around aplenty, his suggestion to pick up a copy of “How Buildings Learn” stuck with me. So awed by the parallelism that Stewart Brand draws in this book, I gave up my lunch hour before the the next session to pick a copy at, would you believe it – Borders. A Borders unlike No. 1, but it did the job.

One of the shining examples that comes from Stewart Brand’s take on architecture is the design of the walkways at MIT. In a class project, students were asked to create the best path from the street to a building on campus. Most set out to define the shortest path and the areas for best access. Some even drew straight lines. Much as we do today in advertising and brand building. However, it was one student who waited out the entire fall semester to come up with a design at the end. Over the four months, she would take photographs from the roof of the building, creating a timelapse of change that was happening on the ground. The result was phenomenal. What she found was that over time, people walking on the grass had created paths themselves. Where the grass was thinner and flat and couldn’t grow, she found the solution to her problem. People would walk across the grass and created a natural route undefined by systems or planning. It was a natural progression.

With advertising, we find ourselves in the same spot today. We will continue to create content for people. And while I won’t discount the traditional mediums of outreach, on the digital front user experience and accessibility is now being defined through dynamic channels that change paths and routes everyday. The masses will get there if we nudge them ever so slightly, as involuntarily as possible along the way to get here, to the dark side. While Borders never could understand the scope of letting people find them for what they wanted, we truth hunters shouldn’t let this wisdom pass. Borders gave the world over four hundred standard stores and much like Amazon, that sold them CDs, toys and everything else that bookworms don’t need. It became a classic example of letting the final destination change from a knowledgeable curator to a pick-what-you-want grocery store.

Borders No.1 will be shuttered and we will lose an icon like many that have gone before it. All because they failed to understand that it wasn’t merely aesthetics and diversity that influenced buying models in the world of books. They were letting people walk out of their stores without the infinite wisdom of what they knew best – books. It would be a shame if we let people do the same with the content and innovations we create. Becoming an educator on why our themes connect people will only leave them feeling stronger about us.

I may have jumped the gun on quite a few themes above, but here is the gist for the readers who saw an essay and proceeded all the way down to these closing lines: Content will get to people on social and digital platforms if it is strong enough. The same will work on ground too. Are you just a pretty face or do you have truth to share?