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Kodak - A Lesson in Risk Aversion

As the saying goes, you either have lunch or be lunch. When Kodak filed for bankruptcy restructuring, I wept over my vintage Brownie and played the Kodachrome lyrics by Paul Simon:

Kodachrome
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away


What can executives and professionals take-away from this? Why does a company that has talented teams who create bleeding edge products see failure, because executive management fails to capitalize on it?

"Through the 1990s, Kodak splurged $4 billion on developing the photo technology inside most of today's cellphones and digital devices. But a reluctance to ease its heavy reliance on film allowed rivals like Canon Inc. and Sony Corp. to rush largely unhindered into the fast-emerging digital arena. The immensely lucrative analog business Kodak worried about undermining too soon was virtually erased in a decade by the filmless photography it invented." This is from an article by Ben Dobbin for Associated Press.

The article went on to quote:
"If you're not willing to cannibalize yourself, others will do it for you," said Mark Zupan, dean of the University of Rochester's business school. "Technology is changing ever more rapidly, the world's becoming more globalized, so to stay at the top of your game is getting increasingly harder."

Like Kodak, Xerox PARC (now just PARC) invented but never capitalized on the Graphical User Interface that made the personal computer a tool for the masses that Apple did with the Macintosh. Sony and Canon capitalized on Kodak's digital camera breakthroughs. Other sector leaders have met with the same fate such as RIM and AOL. These companies were all market makers yet lost out to the competition by a failure to adapt, transform and innovate.  

Certain people have management styles that tend to be risk averse and impede the growth and expansion of the company with a "let's not get ahead of ourselves" attitude. They need too much proof and they take too long to make the right decision in the face of market movements. They lack a capacity to see beyond their self-imposed company rulebook, and, worst of all, they fearfully protect their next quarter profits by keeping dated products alive too long.

When a sector is moving, like the global economy, at the speed of light agility and flexibility are essential skills.

Keeping up is not sufficient when getting ahead is in order.

The same holds true for individuals. We must continually evolve and respond to organizational, market and economic changes. Knowing when to get out and move on is insufficient if you don't do it.  

Executives that do not embrace the trends of today will have the marketplace pass them by because of risk averse and dated views regarding their own career advancement.

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Patti W
Patti Wilsonilson of BlueSteps Executive Career Services (BECS) has years of experience coaching Fortune 500 and start-up executives on how to optimize their careers and successfully transition to new opportunities. Visit Patti Wilson's blog at www.pattiwilson.net/index.html.


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Patti Wilson is a well known Silicon Valley-based executive career coach who, in 20 years, has advised literally thousands of executives on growing their careers, building their personal brands, leveraging and optimizing their networks, effectively making transitions and succeeding in their goals.  She is considered an expert in online career branding and networking, and providing insightful career management strategies across borders and sectors.

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