Learning from the Long-Gone

Every week day, Fast Company transmits an inspirational quote or idea-oriented statement to subscribers of our First Impression newsletter. Today’s First Impression email has sparked a lot of reader feedback — via email as well as within Sound Off.

While I, as editor of First Impression, would like to claim it was intentional, I’m struck by the irony of today’s quote and the controversy it’s caused. Nancy Snyder, vice president of Whirlpool Corp., says, “There’s always a fear that innovation will end.” That quote comes from an article we published in October 2001 about Whirlpool’s Inspired Chef division.

Thing is, Inspired Chef ceased operations last year. Its innovation, well, ended. And reader reaction has been pretty critical. Lilly Evans remarks, “How much should we rely on the accuracy and timeliness of information we get here in future?” And Jon Gunderson emailed me to say, “The credibility of your publication went down in my book.”

My take is that, while Inspired Chef did cease business last year, the ideas behind it — and the lessons its leaders learned — might still have value and be of interest to Fast Company readers. Companies can come and go, but the ideas behind them don’t always fade with an operation’s closing. (That said, as editor of First Impression, I’ll work harder to verify whether a team, division, or company is still active.)

What do you think? Can we still learn from businesses that are no longer active? Do the ideas and lessons of their leaders — during times of success — still have value once the carpet’s been rolled up and the lights turned off?