The rise and fall of Kodak - what went wrong?
One of the joys of being involved in teaching and research into organisations and management is the ability to consider the application of concepts in practical situations.
The analysis of case studies can be especially illuminating and much can be gleaned from exploring the reasons why success or failure occurred.
As students discover, the corporate world is replete with examples of the latter.
The case of Kodak, which because of its market dominance until the 1990s was the one of the world's top five most valuable brands will probably become a classic case study in what can go wrong.
Kodak's announcement last week that it is filing for Chapter 11 protection bankruptcy protection brings to an end over 130 years of a brand that our grandparents' generation would have seen as revolutionising their lives.
Our children have grown up in a digital age where everything is instant. To those who lived at the end of the nineteenth century, merely seeing an image was like seeing magic being performed.
Kodak provided the technology to make this magic commonplace. The company that George Eastman started over 130 years ago was to become part of the lives of everyone who wanted to take pictures of events both special and mundane.
Indeed, the fact that it also sold the film - its Kodachrome was accepted as the best available - meant that Kodak grew to a position that made it unassailable.
In 1976 in America Kodak accounted for 90% of film and 85% of camera sales. Kodak was a brand that was both profitable and enjoyed high levels of sentiment from customers. What could go wrong?
With the benefit hindsight Kodak should have realised that digital cameras would be a threat to the 'cash cow' of the film and cameras they sold.
Given that Kodak had developed a prototype of the digital camera in 1975 should have meant that it was well placed to cope with a phenomenon known as 'disruptive innovation'.
However, even though Kodak research boffins had insights into what the future held for traditional cameras and films, most of its executives did not share the view.
Larry Matteson, who now teaches at the University of Rochester's Simon School of Business, and was an executive at Kodak in the 1970s was an exception.
He produced a report in 1979 which provided a fairly accurate assessment of the threat that digital cameras would eventually pose.
Perhaps, because Matteson predicted that the mass market switch from traditional to digital would not occur until 2010 there was complacency.
Indeed, as even he accepted, the profits from digital would be a significant reduction from that being made on film (some 70%).
Nonetheless, we can see that there was a classic case of hubris by executives who preferred to enjoy existing success rather than contemplating innovative developments that would represent a 'cannibalisation of film'.
The seminal book by Clayton Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma (1997), recognises that Kodak faced significant problems.
As he accepts, the challenges that Kodak faced in the late 1970s was so "fundamentally different" to what it knew that perhaps it was simply better to 'kick the problem down the road' for others to worry about.
So what do we learn? Firstly, that the no matter how good your brand is it can never be 'future-proof'. Kodak is not the first and will certainly not be the last to make the mistake of the market.
Customers are fickle and will alter allegiance given sufficient incentive.
Secondly, the world is turbulent. There is a need to constantly innovate and develop ideas which, of course, have no guarantee of success.
Whilst it tempting to wait until others have tried and then simply imitate, that is a dangerous strategy; it may then be too late.
Thirdly, organisations need to become more agile which requires flexibility and the ability to cope with constant change and fluctuation.
Achieving organisational agility is not easy if decision-making is centralised and people are expected to follow top-down instructions.
It is critical to encourage your people to search for new ideas and solutions to existing problems.
They may be closer to the customers than senior executives can ever hope to be.
Senior managers do not have a monopoly on good ideas. Research currently being carried out at Birmingham City Business School shows all of this to be the case.
The challenge for traditional organisation is to embrace change and learn to cope.
It is worth comparing what Kodak did wrong to what Fujifilm, its Japanese rival, did right. Fujifilm also recognised the threat that digital posed to its 'core business'.
However, it developed strategies to cope. It used film making to fund new innovations (including development of digital) which, its executives hoped, would ensure continued survival and success.
One very early success that Fujifilm had over its American rival was to be the sponsor of the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles.
That must have hurt Kodak and gave it an incredible marketing opportunity for its cheaper product. Perhaps Fujifilm was also lucky.
Kodak thought that its expertise in chemicals would allow it to enter the drugs market (always lucrative).
However, this business was not sufficiently successful and was sold off in the 1980s. Fujifilm used its expertise in anti-oxidants (which stop fading in photos), to create a line of cosmetics, Astalift, which are intended to stop aging.
This business has been a success and will be launched in Europe later this year.
Fujifilm worked hard to develop innovation through its expertise in film. One such development has been in making optical film for LCD flat-panel screens.
Having invested some $4 billion since 2000, in one part of this business which makes film that can be viewed from a much wider angle than alternatives, it now has a 100% share.
Kodak demonstrates that sentiment counts for nothing. You may once have been regarded as the best but the trick is staying ahead by constant reinvention.