A Kodak Moment Eh?

On March 3, 1875, the first organized game of indoor hockey was played at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink.  The game featured two nine player teams and was played with a flat circular piece of wood.  As you may have already concluded, everybody in that game was Canadian.

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Any proud Canadian won’t hesitate to tell you that hockey is the lifeblood of Canada.  Modern day hockey was created by Canadians, for Canadians and at least the first game was played by only Canadians.  From that moment, hockey permeated the cultural fabric of Canada.  In the Canadian dictionary, Hockey and Canada are surely found on the same page.

This phenomenon isn’t new.  A national culture consumed by a national sport isn’t rare, if anything, it’s fairly commonplace.  Hockey in Canada isn’t much different than football in England, baseball in America, or track and field in Jamaica.  Bryce Harper, Usain Bolt and David Beckham grew up in cultures where getting to ten-thousand hours wasn’t only encouraged, it was mandatory.

Being born in England doesn’t necessarily make you a soccer superstar, but it does create an environment and a culture conducive to becoming one.  And so – it stands to reason that Canadians should dominate in hockey.  For the most part, they have.  Currently, Canadians make up fifty percent of the National Hockey league.  But, here is where it starts to get interesting.

While Canadians make up a majority of hockey players in the NHL, only twenty-five percent of the teams are Canadian.  Actually, the majority NHL teams are American.  In fact, most of the NHL ownership is American.  In a nation where Super Bowl Sundays are national holidays, Americans have slowly made inroads into a sport that doesn’t even come close to permeating the very fabric of the culture.

As expected, the majority of Stanley Cup winners, the award given each year to the NHL championship team, have been from Canada.  The Montreal Canadians, aptly named, have won a whopping twenty-three Stanley Cups.  The Toronto Maple Leafs, whose emblem is the national symbol of Canada, have won thirteen.  No other team in the NHL even comes close.  Unfortunately, that’s ancient history.  Surprisingly, a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

In 1976, Kodak accounted for 90% of film sales and 85% of camera sales in America.  Kodak, like Canada’s early dominance in Hockey, remained unmatched in the industry.  Kodak was the Google of its day.  Cleary ahead of its time, Kodak invented the digital Camera in 1975.  In 1996, Kodak recorded revenues of sixteen billion and generated a profit of three million.  Through their dominance and innovation, Kodak became the standard bearer for the film and camera industries.

rusted-kodak_0_0If you are reading this blog on your smartphone or iPad, that device likely contains camera technology that was not created by Kodak.  The digital camera has become as ubiquitous as air.  In 2012, the originator of the digital camera posted a loss of over two hundred million dollars in one quarter.  It would appear that Kodak and Canada have the same problem.

Being the first isn’t enough.  Both Kodak and Canada created something unique.  They created something that changed the world.  By being the first, they became the standard bearers in their respective disciplines.  They were the experts. So – what happened?

Both Kodak and Canada underestimated the market.  They underestimated the ability of their competitors to get to ten thousand hours.  Being Canadian doesn’t make you excel at hockey.  Developing strong youth leagues and unrivalled training make hockey players professional hockey players.  That can happen in Canada, America, Finland or even Jamaica.  Kodak had the same challenge.  Ironically, they didn’t adapt to the changes in the market created by their own innovation.

To truly achieve and create long lasting success, both companies and individuals have to change.  They have to adapt and learn to constantly improve.  Being the first or being the best won’t create long lasting success.  Without challenging yourself or your company to adapt, you are one digital camera away from irrelevance.

Kodak’s longtime rival, Fujifilm, faced the same volatile environment.  Fujifilm enjoyed a similar monopoly in Japan.  Both Kodak and Fujifilm saw their traditional business rendered obsolete.  Unlike Kodak, Fujifilm adapted.  Fujifilm developed a coordinated approach.  They changed their strategy.  Although they tried to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, they prepared to switch to digital and developed new business lines.  Instead of perfecting new business lines, they would launch them and fix them along the way.  Eventually, Kodak tried to make similar changes, but it was too little too late.

The lesson is obvious, but it’s worth reiterating.  Often, we wait until it’s too late to adapt to the market.  We let our success blind us from the failures that are searching for us in the future.  Even if success is woven into the very fabric of our culture, sometimes that fabric may need to change.  Advantages will become disadvantages.  Disadvantages will become opportunities.  The ability to adapt is far more important than revenue, profits, lineage or training.  Don’t believe me.  Ask Kodak eh?

Slightly Different!

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One Response to A Kodak Moment Eh?

  1. Pauline Tomlinson says:

    This is a great piece. So much depth of thought. Had to post on Facebook.

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