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Why do we need resilience

...when we're busy enough already?

I was faced with providing an answer to this question to a group of hard-pressed and potentially very stressed executives. After all, building resilience takes time, effort and resources, and doesn't necessarily provide short term payoffs. When you're building resilience you are definitely looking to the long term.

I was casting around for a way of illustrating the importance of resilience when I happened upon a Coursera course called "Surviving Disruptive Technologies". If you haven't come across Coursera I heartily recommend it - they provide a wide variety of online graduate and postgraduate level courses totally free. Surviving disruptive technologies sounded like it could have something to do with resilience so I joined the course and started watching the lectures.

One particular company that was discussed in those lectures caught my attention - Kodak. It's impossible to have grown up in the 20th century and not be aware of Kodak. They were founded in 1880, initially making photographic film.

 

 

In 1900 they launched the Brownie camera which sold for $1, one of which I later came to inherit. They quickly established a market dominance - they had $1 billion of sales in 1962, and by 1976 they had 90% of the market for film and 85% for cameras. 

 

 

 

They had some great publicity successes - in 1969 the film used on the Apollo 11 moon landing was manufactured by Kodak.

 

 

 

 

They even had a hit song written about their film - in 1972 Paul Simon's song 'Kodachrome'.reached no 2 in the American charts.

 

 

By 1996 Kodak were selling 1 billion rolls of film a year in the US. However 1996 was also the year of their peak share price, and what followed was a period of steady decline. In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy, with their share value having fallen to $0.15.

 

What went wrong? The answer is the rapid rise of the digital camera, which opened up the market to competitors and made analogue film virtually obsolete.

The irony here is that the first digital camera had in fact been invented by Kodak themselves, by Steve Sasson in 1975. They had a 20 year lead in the marketplace. 

 

 

Nor did Kodak simply abandon the development - by 1986 they had gone on to develop the first megapixel digital camera.

Were Kodak resilient?

What could they have done differently?

Why were they unable to take advantage of their own invention?

 
There's no question that they were busy, but they were also highly bureaucratic. They avoided risk and innovation, they had procedures and policies that inhibited change, and their employees couldn't make the shift that was needed to deal with the new reality. They saw themselves as being in an "analogue" business, and resisted the senior management's attempts to convert the business to digital.
 
As the example of Kodak shows, being resilient is not just about preparing for floods or backing up data. For a global organization, all levels of the resilience pyramid need to be addressed - tasks need to ge done efficiently, relationships teamwork and communications are essential, creativity needs to be forstered and linked to vision and purpose, and the organization needs to be in touch with the "field" - the global trends that must inevitably impact organizations the size of Kodak.

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