“Kodak regarded digital photography as the enemy…”
~George Myles Cordell Fisher
If you’ve been a part of the era when people held heavy cameras in hand to click family photos at the beach or a wedding, those were some amazing times. We’d give the negative roll to a Photoshop studio and get colored photos back in a few days, and add each one of them to a photo album. To this day, I bet most families have albums at home mixed with unputdownable memories.
Well, we’ve all known the famous photography brand – Kodak.
It was in a time when digitization was slowly but steadily making its presence known. For the photography industry, this was huge. However, there was one brand that didn’t want to welcome digitization just yet. Did this work in their favor?
Over time, the company had to shut down and file for bankruptcy protection. Why did it happen and what can we learn from their story as leaders?
Kodak was a pioneer in the photography field and introduced various groundbreaking products. They played a significant role in popularizing and standardizing consumer photography, particularly with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, which made photography more accessible to the general public. Kodak became synonymous with photography and held a dominant market position for many years.
They built a strong brand image and established trust with consumers. The “Kodak moment” became a cultural reference, representing capturing precious memories. The company invested heavily in marketing and advertising, further solidifying its position as a leading brand in the industry. They also introduced disposable cameras, which gained popularity due to their convenience and affordability.
The advent of digital photography disrupted the industry and changed consumer preferences. Smaller brands were taking on the new trend in their stride, but Kodak wasn’t yet ready to do that!
They were slow to recognize the potential of digital cameras and the shift from film-based photography to digital formats. This failure to adapt quickly enough to changing technologies resulted in Kodak losing its competitive edge. They chose simply not to engage with the new change.
“Kodak regarded digital photography as the enemy, an evil juggernaut that would kill the chemical-based film and paper business that fueled Kodak’s sales and profits for decades.”
~George Myles Cordell Fisher,
Ex-CEO of Eastman Kodak Company, 1993-2000
Despite inventing the digital camera in the 1970s, Kodak did not capitalize on this breakthrough technology. Their focus remained primarily on film-based products, resulting in missed opportunities to dominate the emerging digital market.
In 1989, the Kodak board of directors had an opportunity to change their course of action following the retirement of CEO Colby Chandler. They had two candidates to choose from: Kay R. Whitmore and Phil Samper.
Whitmore had a long history within the traditional film business, having climbed the ranks over three decades. Mr. Whitmore said he would make sure Kodak stayed closer to its core businesses in film and photographic chemicals.
On the other hand, Samper possessed a strong understanding and appreciation for digital technology. Back then, digital technology was gaining momentum.
However, the board selected Whitmore.
The Resistance To Change
Kodak’s leadership was hesitant to cannibalize its film business and resistant to the decision to welcome change. They underestimated the impact of digital photography and were slow to invest in digital innovation.
Ultimately, the massive shift to digital photography reduced the demand for traditional film and photo processing services, undermining Kodak’s core revenue streams. Their once-dominant position in the industry gradually eroded, and the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012.
“The ego blinds us with a false sense of indestructibility, clouds our judgment thus leading to poor decisions and a breakdown of relationships.”
For a leader, the act of engaging is a decision that must be made wisely. There are several decisions a leader has to make, and they’re all related to the success of the business. If they are resistant to change, there is a likelihood of business growth hindrance.
This is why a Leader must work towards becoming a WINNER.
The Concept of the WINNER is related to decision-making, of investing their TIME, ENERGY, and EFFORT (TEE) in any given situation. Should they, or should they not?
Willing To Invest Now Or Not To Engage And Respond
This means that when you find yourself in a situation, you have to decide whether or not you need to be part of it. For instance, a business owner has to engage and respond to an annoyed client. It should not be avoided!
On the other hand, it may be best to avoid or quickly settle a trivial conflict over a miscommunication among colleagues or team members. Rather than pointing fingers, it is best to make peace, let go and move on in the name of productivity.
Whenever faced with a decision for the company, many leaders tend to disengage when they really should engage. They tend to engage in matters they truly shouldn’t be a part of or must let go. When this happens, the company’s future lies at stake. And it also means that their WINNER Streak is low.
This is why leaders must adopt the concept of the WINNER, and ask themselves – Am I Willing to Invest Now or Not to Engage and Respond? After this, they should act according to what their inner wisdom tells them.
“One reason people resist change is that they focus on what they have to give up, instead of what they have to gain.”
Kodak was a thriving company but they chose not to engage in discussing the relevance of digital technology. They rather underestimated the trend of digitization and focused on what they were currently selling.
When it comes to being a WINNER, it takes a great deal of thought on whether a decision is worthy of contemplation, and ultimate action. Should one invest in their TEE? Or, should one take a step back, and move on to other pressing matters?
Only a Savant Leader with a high Spiritual Quotient (SiQ) and with an understanding of the self can choose to become a WINNER. His or her path to becoming a Legend is fueled by the decisions they make and the actions they take.
It is as this aspiring poet, Suhashani Selvakumar once narrated in her poem about investment:
“Investment is not of bonds
But the bonds placed between you and others.
Investment is not of shares
But what you choose to share with the world.
Investment is not of stocks
But what stocks are available for you to use
Your life is the investment.”