The Kodak picture fades to black from self-inflicted wounds

The really sad part is that Kodak was actually the first to develop a viable digital imaging platform – I was involved in converting their first continuous tone printer from military to commercial use. To their detriment, and because they were raking in huge profits from film they viewed the emergence of digital imaging as a threat to their traditional revenue stream and scrapped the project. This of course opened the doors to competitors and the rest as they say is history.

My response when asked what I thought upon hearing the news that Kodak was filing for bankruptcy

The Brownie: The Camera That Built Kodak

Talk about becoming a victim of your past success, the Rochester icon dined very well off of the profits of its traditional film business for far too many years while ignoring the internal voices of key personnel as they sounded the alarm of pending change.

From a business standpoint, Kodak was swept aside by the tide of what is commonly referred to as discontinuous innovation or disruptive technology,which is an innovation that creates an entirely new market while displacing an existing market.  In the case of Kodak we are talking about digital imaging replacing film.

What is ironic about the Kodak saga is that despite the fact that the company was originally founded in 1889, in the end their demise is similar to what happens with new organizations who, having achieved a high level of success with a single client, fail to gain meaningful traction or scalability in their attempts to replicate their success with the market as a whole.  The parallel is that success whether spanning a few short years or decades can demotivate  rather than motivate companies to evolve and therefore adapt to the inevitable changes of a market that is always looking for better, faster and cheaper products and services.  Like a 40 year old still living at home with his parents, success is like a fall-back safety net that makes it easier to accept the status quo as opposed to really laying it on the line and going for broke.

The only real difference between a relatively young start-up who has experienced success with a single client, and an established company with broad market acceptance such as a Kodak, is that with the former they are trying to figure out a way to expand their success to a larger customer base, as opposed to the latter in which there is an earnest effort to avoid change.

So here is the question, does success pose a greater risk than failure?

Something to think about as we ponder the bygone era of the Brownie.


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