Case studies of technology and adapting to change
In reading my “Morning News Beat”, I ran across a great post by Mark Sansolo entitled: “Snapshot of the Future”. While his case examples are about the technology of photography, Sansolo does a great job of capturing the essence of change and why companies must continue to evolve, at an even more rapid pace to remain competitive. Kodak is a snapshot of the past … and Lytro could well be the picture of the future.
Case studies in change … and the lack there of
Chances are very high that you took photographs over the holidays and they were “digital”. Most kids today have never seen a roll of film. Yet, when I grew up, Eastman Kodak ruled the world of photography. Today, Kodak is in virtual ruins and has become a poster for a company not being able to change to compete.
I had an opportunity to actually consult with Kodak early in my career. We worked with them on retail strategies and even taught some of our Retail University courses. But, Kodak’s problem was not retail per se. Their heritage was film and paper prints. They saw retail only as a channel to reach consumers to sell their core “product lines”.
The real threat for Kodak was from the coming age of “digital” where it is now possible to view an “image” without paper. Even in the face of digital cameras, Kodak clung to its heritage of pictures are prints … people will still want to print their digital images right? Not so much.
Eastman Kodak – Snapshot of a past giant who is dying
As it turns out, the heritage and DNA of what made Kodak great did not prepare it for the rapid revolutionary change in consumer photography in a digital age. Kodak did not anticipate rapid adoption of cell phone cameras, and the fact that many consumers came to prefer to send or text their photos rather than print them. They also did not know how to cope with social media like Facebook, where all things are shared digitally rather than on paper.
For a number of reasons, Kodak simply did not foresee the future or react quickly enough. Today, Kodak’s share price is below 50 cents, and the Wall Street Journal reports they are on the verge of filing for bankruptcy. But, the ultimate irony noted by the WSJ article is that Kodak “actually invented the digital camera – in 1975”! Kodak is another case study of Polaroid … deja-vu all over again.
The only certainty of Change – It accelerates!
Pardon me if I am a bit nostalgic about Kodak. This was a great company that had great products and great ads. Kodak in fact ran a classic series of ads about “how quickly life changes” (with very powerful emotive imagery of why we need photography to capture those “Kodak moments”). Who knew it would be a crystal ball of Kodak’s future.
I can’t remember who said it, but the thing about change today is that it is not only inevitable … it continues to accelerate. I’m quite sure that Kodak had incredible engineers and planners, who no doubt thought they had seen it all. They figured out the premier path for photography … in a film and print world.
The problem for Kodak was that innovators moved the goal line … in fact they completely changed the game to digital. But nothing is “safe” or stable. The digital world is poised to be turned upside down by new disruptive technology by companies like Lytro.
Snapshot of the Future – “Light field cameras”
In the switch to digital photography, the image was captured on sensor pixels and converted to digits rather than in silver emulsions on film. Digital images still require you to choose a subject to focus on. Once snapped, the image is then fixed in that static photograph. But, what if any viewer could go back and move the focus around in photos that have already been taken?
I’m guessing that like me, most of you haven’t heard of Lytro. Go take a look at Lytro’s website and be prepared to be amazed at what their $400 camera will do. Without getting technical, their camera does not “capture the image”. Rather, it captures “the light field emitted by a subject” in a computer system, which in turn allows you manipulate a photo after you take it. It is easier to experience than explain … click around on areas within a Lytro photo to see what happens.
What does all of this mean … take nothing for granted!
Lytro’s new photographic technology is not quite ready for prime time, but it is already in the market today. It represents just one possible “tipping point” that could literally upend digital photography. Will Canon, Nikon and Sony be able to think outside of the box, or get stuck in the ruts with their own baggage of heritage like Kodak did?
Of course, revolutionary change is not just about photography or even technology. Walmart has long dominated mass market retailing. But, it will be the discounter Dollar General, who is opening 662 new US stores in 2012, not Walmart. Best Buy was the absolute category killer in consumer electronics, but it is Amazon and Newegg who are showing remarkable double digit gains in year over year growth, while Best Buy struggles.
The New Year is a natural time for planning. As we enter 2012, we would do well to not to live in the past and fight the wrong battles on a playing field that could be turned upside down over night. If you want to see what happens when consumers leap “across the chasm”, just go ask the shareholders of what used to be Kodak.
“The future ain't what it used to be.” Yogi Berra
- MorningNewsBeat: Sansolo Speaks: Snapshot Of The Future, January 4, 2012
- Wall Street Journal: Kodak Teeters on the Brink, January 5, 2012