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How to avoid your Kodak moment

You had two leading shipyards in Rotterdam back in the golden age of Dutch shipbuilding. They were located near each other, only separated by a stretch of water. There was a telescope in each company’s boardroom. They used it to keep a close eye on each other. So they knew exactly how many employees they had and what kind of ships they were building on the other side. And, not unimportantly, they could also keep track of the secretaries’ skirt lengths.

That’s how these two shipbuilders kept each other in balance for decades. Until that day that was always destined to come. So one morning the directors, by this time plump and podgy from living the good life, looked through their telescope viewfinder and saw a ship made in Taiwan sailing into the port. It’s a new model of ship that is twice as big for half the money. It was a massive blow that they couldn’t overcome. These days we call it a ‘Kodak moment’.

Dictionaries have had to change the definition of this term from ‘memorable moment’ to ‘a big and cumbersome company sinking in quicksand due to a lack of innovation’. New examples are added to the thesaurus every day: a American Apparel moment, Quicksilver moment, Nokia moment, Groupon moment and maybe even a Shell moment before long.

The moral of the Kodak moment is this: real danger doesn’t come straight at you, it sneaks up on your from the side. That’s how the smartphone took over the camera market. Uber took over the taxi market, Zalando the shoe market, Netflix the TV and movie market and Tesla the car market. On Cyber Monday alone, Amazon sent more than 35 electronic items per second. They’re ultra-fanatic companies on a mission. Intent on smashing the established order to smithereens. So if that established order knows what’s good for them, they’d hire their own destroyers. Young blood-thirsty sadists, a whole gang of them. Company thugs with only one aim: to get paid for destroying their own company. They erect an impenetrable front against blind love for the company, product and themselves. And keep the company fit, agile and alert.

More companies should take a walk on the wild side of sadomasochism. Because if Marquis de Sade had been in that boardroom, Taiwan wouldn’t have stood a chance. Nokia would have introduced the iPhone killer this month. And Kodak would still be synonymous with a wonderful and oldfashioned photo moment.

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.