Thursday, 19 January 2012

Obsolete Yourself, or Someone Else Will

Eastman Kodak, the company that brought photography to the masses, and instant development to the world with its Polaroid camera, has filed for Chapter 11 in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Chapter 11 is not equivalent to bankruptcy, but rather a petition to reorganize and restructure the firm. It expects to complete this during 2013. Since 2003, it has reduced its work force by 47,000, and closed 13 manufacturing plants as well as 130 processing labs. The idea was to abandon its traditional operations and move into the digital world.

So far it hasn't made the transition, although it has made a substantial amount of money (over $3 billion) licensing its digital patents to over 30 companies, including LG, Motorola and Nokia.

Despite this, Kodak itself has never quite made the transition into the world of digital photography. The bitter irony is that the digital camera was invented by Steven Sasson, an engineer at Eastman Kodak, in 1975. However, the company shelved it on the assumption that it would hurt its existing product line.

Some companies manage to avoid such a fate by rethinking their business. A classic example is Wells Fargo, originally a stagecoach company, but then redefined as a transportation firm.

The moral of the story is this: Obsolete yourself, or someone else will.


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