Who will Kodak be?

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris had a point. Often times we wear blinders to the outside world. Whether it’s a defense mechanism to avoid what we can’t control or a fearful response that we won’t be able to keep up – avoiding reality doesn’t change reality.

Kodak is an example of a company that didn’t look around enough to see the changes that were imminent. Worse still, once change happened they pivoted in the wrong direction. They lost sight of who they were and have been failing to find their way back to their glory days ever since.

Image via readwrite

Image via readwrite

What is left of Kodak today is a multifaceted, diversified business that reflects very little of its former self. For the sake of this conversation, we’ll focus in on what launched Kodak into the stratosphere and into homes around the globe – photography.

Let’s take a look at the assets, boundaries and narrative of Kodak to see what went wrong and what could’ve been for the brand that was once a beacon of innovation.

For starters, Kodak had plenty of assets. With over 7,000 patents ranging from ink to printing processes, Kodak was an innovator and leader in everything from creating cameras to making the prints. In 1900, they introduced the Kodak Brownie that enabled the average consumer to purchase a camera and film at a reasonable price. This began a legacy of photography innovations that would position Kodak as the brand name synonymous with capturing memories.

Image via codex 99

Image via codex 99

Kodak also boasted a campus of over 1,300 acres with thousands of employees at its peak. With R&D, scientists and a loyal employee base, Kodak was poised for greatness. But they failed to capitalize on these tangible and intangible assets of intellectual property, ingenuity, manpower and a legacy of innovation.

In their best days, Kodak’s biggest externally-imposed boundaries were trying to compete on materials and price. They were innovators and able to tackle new challenges, but instead they chose to focus to their left and right instead of ahead on progress. Internally, the barriers were not being able to see past their current worldview, sunk costs and a good dose of pride. As cameras became digital and print faded into the background, Kodak forgot that it was about photography – not equipment and film. They had self-imposed boundaries that they were a manufacturing company, not a service company. Their pride in their product became their downfall.

Image via Duke University

Image via Duke University

To add insult to injury, Kodak invented the digital camera – the very thing that they would allow to become their ruin was a self-imposed narrative. We can’t go there. It’ll never catch on. Real photographers use film.

These blinders to the realities of what Kodak could be in an ever-increasingly digital world lead to the narrative that Kodak told itself – We sell cameras, film and photography equipment. But this was far from the narrative that the company was founded upon. George Eastman’s goal was to make photography “as convenient as the pencil.” This narrative focuses on the photography, not the platform. It’s a narrative that could withstand time, because convenience is a relative term.

Image via technology review

Image via technology review

For the 20th century, the Kodak Brownie was a huge convenience that enabled people to capture the moments that mattered to them. Fast forward to the 21st century and convenience is calculated in seconds and clicks. However, Eastman’s narrative could’ve held true.

Sadly, Kodak’s internal narrative that they were the machine and not the solution led to their eventual bankruptcy and demise. While they are still attempting to right the ship, the chance of Kodak ever regaining the space they once occupied is slim. They’d have to shift their narrative back to focus on photography, the essence of capturing life’s moments forever.

But what if…

What if Kodak did shift their narrative? What assets would they need to develop? What barriers would they need to impose or remove to not only regain their former glory but to catapult themselves into the future?

Assets

With their abilities as an industry-leading commercial printer and years of experience with photo printing, they could rival the likes of Artifact Uprising and Blurb. The nostalgia of Kodak’s brand name could be leveraged in a revival of bringing tangible memories back into the hands of consumers.

Boundaries

Kodak needs to focus. To be a leader, they need a big win. They need to set up boundaries that help them be laser focused on reinventing themselves based on their photography roots. Their other endeavors, while worthy pursuits, have to take a backseat to photography. This focus of time, energy and efforts is vital to both boost productivity and remind themselves of who they are.

Narrative

Make photography as convenient as the pencil.
— George Eastman

This needs to be their anthem, their theme song and their banner. Employees should see this as their mission each day – to make photography convenient in the 21st century and beyond. Does that mean an app? Does that mean rethinking how people store and share images in their digital devices? Could it mean challenging Instagram? Or does their game changing invention not even have a competitor yet? The possibilities are endless if Kodak collectively shares this vision for a new future.

The opportunity is there. What Kodak chooses to do will ultimately determine if they live or die as a company. The future could be immensely bright for this behemoth, and everyone loves a comeback story. But comebacks aren’t easy. They’re wrought through sweat, tears and perseverance. The question is – who will Kodak be?


P.S.

After seeing many posts about Kodak and reading lots of comments, my biggest takeaway is this – game changers, whether corporate or personal, don’t sit around talking about the potential or ideas that could be. They pick one and do it.