Usually when we think of business disruptions, we think of norm-shattering technology or recessions that run on a cyclical pattern. Those were the good old days. We’ve never seen anything like this. But that doesn’t mean the lessons of the past can’t teach us how to respond to today’s unprecedented crisis.
Think about recent history, when more familiar technological and market-based disruptions were the norm. Why did Best Buy succeed where Circuit City failed? Why did Borders close down but Barnes & Noble endured? Why did Blockbuster go bust while Netflix soared?
Those companies that succeeded faced the reality and innovated. They made sure they had the tools in place to get the job done. And if their suppliers weren’t adapting at the necessary speed, they found partners who were future-oriented in their vision and practices.
But there’s really no story quite like Kodak, the venerable photography company that suffered an epic collapse. Kodak had a virtual monopoly on the United States photography market, but it was centered exclusively on print photos. Then one of their engineers, Steven J. Sasson, invented the first digital camera at Eastman Kodak in the 1970s. The executives in the C-suites were less impressed.
“My prototype was big as a toaster, but the technical people loved it,” according to Sasson, in a New York Times article. “But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it.’”
Decades later, what was cute turned devastating for the iconic company. Eventually Kodak lost so much of the market share to digital photography that it filed bankruptcy in 2012. It was an epic collapse
Writing in Industry Week, Scott Anthony, managing director and head of consulting firm Innosight, said Kodak’s failure has lessons for other industries stricken with outside threats and disruptions.
“Kodak shows how brutally hard it is to get transformation right," he says.