Kodak and the provincial data mind-set


Few companies had histories as storied as Eastman Kodak. Although the company developed the first digital camera in 1975, "the product was dropped for fear it would threaten Kodak's photographic film business." [Wikipedia]

Well, we all know how that turned out. In September, the company emerged from bankruptcy, but its future is anything but bright. What else of value does the company have left, save for some patents and withering nostalgia? Can someone say Innovator's Dilemma?

Hindsight is 20/20, but go back in time for a moment to 1975 when a Kodak employee by the name of Steven Sasson shook things up with his invention. The visual below suggested that, at that time, Kodak was doing just fine, thank you very much:

Click here to see a larger and much more legible image.

A new century, new data sources

As shown above, in the early 1970s, employment had been rising steadily at Kodak. What's more, its stock price was progressing on a nice upward trajectory. Is it any wonder that upper management didn't see the value in Sasson's creation? Didn't the data support maintaining the status quo, and strongly at that?

You may be rightfully asking, What's to prevent a Kodak-type situation for my organization today? I have no pithy advice for you, but I will say this. Looking only at internal data is unlikely to tell the entire story. These days, it's wise to consider data external to the organization, including open data, linked data and social data. (For more on this subject, see my post on RavenPack, social data, and the stock market.)

Simon says: look outside your enterprise

An enterprise's own data may suggest that all is fine or even that things are going exceptionally well. (Case in point: Kodak circa 1975.)

Now, let's not get carried away. Your competition isn't likely to share certain information with you. No, privacy isn't completely dead. For instance, Amazon famously won't break out numbers for AWS, Kindles and many other products.

Still, a provincial data mind-set these days is a recipe for disaster.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.


  1. As an employee of Kodak for 28 years the story is quite simple. Our cost to manufacture a roll of film was 35 cents per roll, a phenomenal technical accomplishment considering the technology required. With a street price for film of $3.50 a roll not to mention the profits on the paper when the photos were printed, often in duplicate, was a difficult business model to compete with. We saw the future and it is true we invented the digital camera however we could not see a viable business model to sustain 100,000 employees if we embarked on a rapid transition to digital technology since obviously people would no longer be selling silver halide film at 1000% margin along with the paper profits. Instead Kodak did something that actually benefited their employees they tried to get as much as they could out of the silver halide technology while providing buyouts to their huge workforce to try and get to an employee base that could be sustained by a digital business model.

  2. Pingback: Phil Simon: Why I Cut the Cord

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