Not surprisingly in a book on staying ahead of the curve, Kodak makes an appearance as a cautionary tale in Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel’s Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World. The story of Kodak’s failure to adapt to the age of digital photography is well known. What is perhaps less well known is that Kodak engineers developed the first digital camera. Kodak is often put forward as a prototypical example tale of corporate myopia, but in fact, as Adamson and Steckel show through interviews with Kodak insiders, Kodak was more than aware of the evolution from film to digital photography.
If Kodak was involved in the development of digital photography, then how could it have let the new technology destroy the company’s top-notch reputation and competitive advantage? This question captures the essence of why Adamson and Steckel, the former a branding expert and author of several books on branding and the latter an NYU professor and vice dean, wrote Shift Ahead. There are myriad reasons why companies who should know better and can do better let themselves be overtaken by a changing competitive environment.
First, write the authors, companies ignore the red flags that signal they are starting to fall behind. These red flags include the numbers (even sales and revenues that plateau indicate trouble); competing on price, not differentiation (sooner or later, companies pay for the inability to differentiate their products); big on data, short on analysis (collecting data without knowing how to use it is a useless exercise); neglecting table stakes (a poker term that refers to the minimum you have to put down to be allowed in the game); pride, which often does go before the fall; and being too deep in your comfort zone.