An article out of the business section of this week’s Wall Street Journal, “Kodak Teeters on the Brink”, tells the painful story of Kodak. After thirteen highly successful decades, the film and camera company is today on the ropes. It is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection. Consider this: at one time. Kodak was the undisputed king, an industry giant. It was the Google, the Apple of its day. It seemed like everyone bought Kodak—be it film or cameras. At one point, sales reached the 10 billion mark annually. Shares went as high as 40 dollars. But in the last three years, the company has not seen a profit. Shares as of Wednesday have fallen to 47 cents!
How did this happen? In part, they stopped being innovative. Kodak could have owned the digital revolution (they invented the first digital camera in 1975—and then ignored it!). Part of the reason was its love for film. The digital revolution ended up passing them by, and with it, a sense of movement, innovation, and research. In 2007, they began blowing up unused buildings, including BLGS 65 (the imagery research lab).
Behind all of this is something that tends to happen with success. Organizations become arrogant, monolithic, and inflexible. As one employee put it, “We had this self-imposed opinion of ourselves that we could do anything, that we were undefeatable.” We’ve seen this story before. Decades of dumb decisions sent GM into bankruptcy. Early on, there was an instinctive feel for what Americans wanted—chrome, fins. They paid attention, and designed and built with a sense of urgency. They were in the chase (see my previous post). But success began to undermine the company. It stopped paying attention to what was outside its walls, lost its feel for what the consumer wanted, and lost its way.
In an article entitled “Toyota Tangled”, the writers of Time magazine observed the same thing at Toyota. A lot of the recent mess is attributed to a management that “fell in love with itself, became insular, and succumbed to a sclerotic culture.” Not that this only happens to car companies, but it is amazing that 90% of car companies that existed in the early 1900’s were gone by the 1940’s.
There’s much the church can learn from all of this, for church cultures are prone to the same thing—
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