Expert: Kodak Failed Because It Couldn't Innovate
Two men pose with a Kodak camera on the White House lawn in 1889.
CREDIT: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ6-665
Eastman Kodak had 1,100 digital imaging patents when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Jan. 19. Though 131 years old, the company didn't necessarily fail because it was too big and too old to turn around, suggested an interview with innovation consultant Scott Anthony in the industry magazine IEEE Spectrum. On the contrary, it was among the first to develop digital cameras and it acquired the photo-sharing site Ofoto in the early 2000s, at the same time other sharing, social websites such as MySpace and Facebook were gathering their first members. "Wouldn’t the world be a different place where instead of Zuckerberg creating Facebook, we had Kodak creating it?" Anthony told Spectrum. "Hard to imagine, but it had all the pieces."
Among Kodak's problems is that it kept thinking of itself as a company that printed pictures, so it pushed its Ofoto users to print their photos. "It was the business model it knew," Anthony said. Of course the money was in all-online sharing and commenting, not prints. "This is a very classic problem," he said, "where the real challenge facing companies isn’t really figuring out the technology; it’s figuring out the business model, new ways to create, capture, and deliver value."
Anthony outlines other ways that, as the title of his interview says, "innovation is hard." Throughout the interview, he kept characterizing Kodak's failure to piece together its good ideas as "painful." Others apparently agree. In the comments section of a local paper in Rochester, New York, where Kodak once employed 62,000, readers chat about the "once great" company and blame mismanagement.
Because no one can predict the future, companies need to invest diversely and make their own future, Anthony said. Yet it seems Kodak still thinks of itself as a company that prints pictures. It is investing in digital printing and home inkjet printing for the future, according to reports in The New York Times and the Rochester paper.