“Think about what you can think about.”

by Roger Pynn

The sad story of American icon Eastman Kodak is almost unbearable, and yet it seems so typical of lethargic giants unable to get out of their own way as they work fiercely to protect what they used to be instead of what they could be.

Many of us grew up in a world where the name Kodak was synonymous with photograph … yet how many of you know that Kodak virtually invented digital photography, which most consider to have been the company’s downfall?  They simply didn’t make it exceptional.

Kodak has been so busy reinventing itself that it stands today on what many say is the brink of bankruptcy (although the company denies it) and its once prized stock is now worth pennies.

You have to wonder during all this reinvention whether anyone stopped to ask “are we still in the photography business?”  I really think the answer would have been – and still could be – “no.”  And, no, I am not thinking about them being in the digital imaging business (they’ve already gone there with their industrial lines).

The same thing happened to the real AT&T, which with the strength of Bell Labs should have “owned” the Internet, but instead dissipated into a shadow worth only the value of its name and logo to people who saw that the real future of personal communication was via a world without the wires that AT&T clung to until it was too late.

So what’s the lesson?  No one should define themselves by their past.  Your history is important and you should never forget it, but where you’re going is far more important … and sometimes you have to shake up your world and ask if your future is in something you haven’t even dreamed of before.

I worked at Westinghouse Electric Corporation for a great leader who had managed everything from human resources to manufacturing.  George L. Dann’s quote … stays on my wall 30 years later:  “think about what you can think about.”

People aren’t buying film cameras, and the market for telephone service connected to a land line is hardly growing.  But did anyone at those two companies stop to ask “what if we give up that ghost now and beat the grim reaper?”

Who knows?  Kodak and AT&T might have beaten Skype to the punch delivering video conferences at low-cost with high-quality imaging over the Internet.  It isn’t what you have thought about.  It is what you can think about.

2 Responses to “Think about what you can think about.”

  1. Jim Sears says:

    Very wise Roger. But how does it apply to me? Want to have lunch?

  2. roger pynn says:

    Jim … lunch would be a great idea. If law firms were closing as fast as Eastman is rumored to be approaching a graveyard, I’d suggest that you ask “what can a guy trained as a lawyer do more profitably?” Mr. For The People figured that out years ago.

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