The Saddest Kodak Moment

Many of you reading this might remember the Kodak commercials in the 1970s that introduced the world to the “Kodak moment.” This phrase referred to those times – happy, heartwarming, fun – you wanted to preserve forever on film. That ad campaign helped Eastman Kodak, founded in 1889, reign supreme in the photographic film industry with a 90% share by 1976! That dominance began to slide in late ‘90s with the advent of digital photos and culminated in the company declaring bankruptcy in January 2012.

When I read an article recently, Barriers to Change: The Real Reason Behind the Kodak Downfall, it brought me back to a conversation I had with Dennis Gilbert, owner of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. During our talk Dennis told me he found the fall of Kodak fascinating and wanted my take on it from an influence and persuasion perspective.
According to John Kotter, author of the article noted above, “The Kodak problem, on the surface, is that it did not move into the digital world well enough and fast enough. Recent articles dig a bit more and find that there were people who saw the problem coming — people buried in the organization — but the firm did not act when it should have, which is decades ago.”
What really caught my eye was, “there were people who saw the problem coming — people buried in the organization — but the firm did not act when it should have.” Some people in Kodak knew what to do but couldn’t persuade the ultimate decision makers to make the necessary changes.


In hindsight, do you think Kodak would have made the necessary changes two or three decades ago if they had a mulligan? Of course they would have. I won’t claim to have any clue on what Kodak should have done, when they should have done it, or how they should have implemented those changes. What I do know is the lack of persuasion skills by those who had a pulse on the market has cost this once great company dearly. And let’s not forget, Kodak’s fall isn’t just about shareholder value, it’s about the people who’ve poured their heart and soul into the company who might be facing major life changes as the company restructures. Jobs may be lost, benefits will probably be restricted and pensions could be impacted to name just a few things that could create hardship for tens of thousands of current and former employees.

Is persuasion an important skill? You bet it is! There’s no substitute for expertise in your chosen field but expertise isn’t enough. Knowing the most about stocks does you little good of you can’t persuade people when to buy and sell. Likewise, a manager knowing her company and the industry inside and out isn’t enough if she can’t persuade her team to take the necessary actions that will lead to success.

I’m sure the mid-level managers at Kodak knew the business, competition and could clearly see the trends. However, despite their skills they were unable to convince people up the corporate ladder to start making the necessary changes. I don’t know what they did or did not do but knowing they were probably dealing with a lot of pragmatic and analytical personality types I’d have suggested some variation of the following: Tapping into scarcity – here’s what we stand to lose if we don’t act now – might have helped. Maybe tying the needed changes back to Kodak’s mission statementconsistency – might have done the trick. Perhaps sharing more stats – authority – with attention grabbing methods would have arrested senior management’s attention.
Convincing someone to change is never easy but we cannot put the blame on others anymore than a teacher can blame students for not learning. I’m a sales trainer and when someone asks me for sales advice the number one thing I tell them is this: no matter what the outcome, take full responsibility for it. If you made the sale, figure out what you did right then keep doing it and refining it. Likewise, if you didn’t make the sale ask yourself why then set out to learn from your mistakes and figure out ways to overcome them in the future.
The further removed management is from the customer the more difficult it is to make good decisions unless they have excellent communication with the field people. Sun Tzu said as much in his classic, The Art of War, when he warned readers to beware of high-level dumb saying, “Those who are not at the scene of action and do not know what is going on should not give orders.”
Sun Tzu also told the world, “Those who know where and when the battle will be fought can marshal all of their resources to the right place.” Some Kodak employees knew when and where the battle was to be fought but senior managers acted too late. Now it remains to be seen how many Kodak moments are left.
Here’s my advice for you – continue to become an expert in your field because that gives you the credibility you need to have a platform that people will listen too. But don’t stop there! Make sure you learn the science of influence so your great ideas turn into projects or your great presentations turn into sales. That will ensure your professional success.If you’re viewing this by email and want to leave a comment click here.


Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
2 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    There surely were people within Kodak who saw it coming. They did after all invent the digital technology which became the disruptive technology that ended film. As much as there must have been people who had a view of the future that eventually unfolded, many equally credible people would have had a different, compelling and credible view. If we knew who could accurately and confidently fortell the future I'm sure we'd all listen very closely and attentivley to them and act on what they said. Unfortunately/fortunately the future unfolds in unpredictable ways.

  2. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    True, no one has a crystal ball but the wrong people with the wrong vision won out. Quite often the people on the front lines, or very close, have the best perspective on what needs to happen to win in the marketplace. Unfortunately too often they lack the skill set to persuade those above them and, as Sun Tzu warned, high level dumb wins.


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