Ok.

Let’s talk a minute about Kodak.

And the fact that their demise had nothing to do with lack of foresight or inability to innovate (because they actually invented the digital camera). Kodak is about leadership, or the lack thereof, and people and decisions (or the lack thereof).

When an iconic company and brand like Kodak goes bankrupt everyone should think about hard choices and people who make them.

Oh. And people who don’t make them.

I am sure in 1976 when Kodak had 90% of film and 85% of camera sales in the US and was regularly rated one of the world’s five most valuable brands that it would seem inconceivable to company decision makers that the company could disappear. I do not have to imagine that we the people couldn’t conceive it.

In addition.

What’s not often recognized is that it was actually Kodak that invented the digital camera (in 1975). And, interestingly, four years after that a Kodak executive issued a report that predicted, in some detail, how different parts of the market would switch from film to digital with an inevitable digital mass market by 2010 (whew. Pretty close, huh?).

Look.

This is surely not the first time a company, and its leaders, has decided it is so self-important it can ride out what is happening in the market.

But I believe people are focusing on the wrong things.

Successful organizations are rarely successful because of foresight (or fortune telling or predicting the future). They are typically successful due to thoughtful reaction and response to change … and making the inevitably hard decisions when the change is truly disruptive to their core business.

Yes.

Decisions get significantly harder when a company is faced with truly market disruptive innovations/actions.

And, no, corporations don’t have to inevitably die. It depends entirely on their adaptability.

So.  Let’s talk about the decisions to adapt.

What I mean by that is … why couldn’t Kodak and its leaders make the hard choices to avert this demise?

I disagree with the popular opinion that it was their lack of vision with regard to the role digital in the photo business that led to their demise.

Why?

Many organizations make big innovation or lack of vision mistakes and don’t go bankrupt. Why don’t they?  They make the hard decisions to course correct.

Yup. Hard decisions are called hard because they are just that – hard.

Difficult.

Not soft.

Not soft?

“I want (and need) to make significant changes. But I want to retain the core.”

(Oops … that is  decision with high potential for ‘soft characteristics’).

Why? That core, or what is deemed most important, always seems to grow and grow when being discussed internally. It is almost within the DNA of an organization to think in these terms. And, inevitably, those ‘significant changes’ become soft changes.

Hard means sacrifice. Not cutting back on the decision. Making a real sacrifice.

I wrote about it in a post called “how far would you go to solve a problem?” http://brucemctague.com/how-far-would-you-go-to-solve-a-problem

Hard decisions could have saved Kodak. I truly believe that.

But let’s maybe discuss why hard decisions are hard to make (even by people who are quite capable of making a good hard decision).

Here is something to ponder.

Hard choices harden the person who makes them.

You have to harden yourself.  You have to harden yourself, insulate yourself a little, from the human aspects of the decision and focus on the bigger picture and the horizon. Please don’t mistake this for minimizing the ‘little people’ or the individual. This is the forest or trees type decisions leaders need to make. It may sound callous but it is just like firefighting a big fire … burn some trees to save the forest.

Oh.  And sometimes burn a shitload of trees to save the forest.

Leaders make the same decisions.  In this case it is people & buildings and not trees.

Regardless.

The big hard decisions, when they are made, harden you as a person. It’s just life.  It’s not personal.

Here is what makes it even tougher.

I believe all of us who make hard decisions worry a little bit that it … well … becomes too easy.

That we become so hard that we lose sight of everything else.

Oddly Richard Gere in Pretty Woman reminded us of this – if you got past the fact he was hiring a hooker in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel – in that his character lost sight of ‘being human’ as he became quite good at making hard decision for business successes.

And it was a true depiction of what can happen. Hard decisions are difficult because there is not only a financial risk & toll … but a personal toll. Each one affects you.

As with everything in life (it seems) … it is a balancing act.

I say all of this to try and share that there is a human aspect of any hard decision.  And leaders don’t overlook that (despite what everyone else may want you to think).

Every one understands the repercussions.

Every. One.

Now.  Having said that.

Someone at Kodak couldn’t make the hard decision.

I truly believe that.

Were they soft with regard to people or whatever? Heck. I don’t know.  I believe they just inevitably made soft decisions. Soft decisions that possibly gave a glimmer of hope but once you begin the slippery slope of business issues (particularly if you are a large company and gravity really takes over) the glimmer becomes dimmer and dimmer over time.

To stop the slide a really hard decision needed to be made.

A big hairy audacious decision.

Anyway. I often believe business leaders could learn a lot from the military on how to win a war.

Do I believe a general wants to lose a single soldier’s life? No. He does not.

Do I believe a general understands that he needs to lose soldiers’ lives? Yes. He does.

Do I believe those decisions weigh upon him (even if we elect to judge the decision on the final successful outcome)? Yes.  I do.

But they make the hard decisions.

And no one at Kodak did make the hard decision.

It wasn’t lack of foresight.

It wasn’t a lack of understanding of what was happening in the market (trust me … they probably saw dozens of reports of what was happening in the marketplace).

It was a lack of ability to make the hard decision.

And … it’s a shame.

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Written by Bruce