NSL Blog

The last of the Kodak moments

January 20, 2012

I am sure we are all a little sad of the passing of Kodak.

Some of us of a certain age have piles of Kodak slides and snaps, even old Kodak cameras around the place. Hearing about Kodaks resignation and demise also got me thinking about Nokia, and indeed other organisations and industries that struggle and fail as they were unable to adjust to what was them an ambiguous world.

The coming age of an uncertain world

When faced with an ambiguous world some move into that world, and embrace it to understand it, listen deeply and think very hard about transformation – how to transform, how to design for transformation. This is a very hard thing to do and few do it well – LEGO being an example of the few. And why is that? As Carlota Perez argues in her book Technological Revolution and Financial Capital,

When the economy is shaken by a powerful set of new opportunities with the emergence of the next technological revolution, society is still strongly wedded to the old paradigm and its institutional framework. Suddenly in relation to the new technologies, the old habits and regulations become obstacles, the old services and infrastructures are found wanting, the old organisations and institutions inadequate. A new context must be created; a new ‘common sense’ must emerge and propogate.

There is indeed deep institutional resistance to real change. This is due to the voices of fear, cynicism and prejudice. And, as the forces of disruption increases often the resistance of organisations under threat does not abate but intensifies, until flailing against this unknown or misunderstood enemy they exhaust themselves.

Its why Ambiguity is the first principle of NSL. You can read briefly about the other six here – 6 challenges for a non-linear world. With ambiguity there are 5 key points,

  1. Accept the uncertainties of an ambiguous world and become master of them.
  2. Stepping back – seeing the world more holistically – as a system
  3. It requires deep listening
  4. To move from being unaware to aware
  5. To seek new patterns that make sense even if they challenge pre-conceived ideas, positions and ways of doing things.

To be a little more expansive in NO Straight Lines I write:

In many ways ambiguity is the output of our current trilemma, but for that very reason it must also be a defining principle. When we individually and collectively live in an age of uncertainty, we must all become masters of managing uncertainty. As individuals or organisations we need to demonstrate the ability to face the future openly; we have to replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. We need to become aware of what is around us. To do that requires a step change in learning and self-improvement – this is achieved through continuous contemplation and self-reflection which ultimately enables the mastery of an aware self/organisation, with the motivation to pursue truly motivated goals.

There is a need to accept a lack of control, and of uncertainty, not only being prepared to accept being taken outside of one’s comfort zone but deliberately seeking it out – the consequence of which is a more disciplined mind or organisational culture, that is now capable of strong creative and conceptual thinking.

So if we look at LEGO

  1. They had the wisdom to recognise the old model of commerce was broken
  2. They had the courage to explore new and emergent means by which to create a new sustainable business
  3. They listened deeply and evolved an internal ability to critically appraise where they needed to get to
  4. They recognised the important patterns in co-creation and how they could have real benefits for R&D, organisational capability, commercial models and marketing
  5. This enabled them to evolve to a new more sustainable economic / social / organizational model

The dangers of trying to innovate whilst looking in the rear view mirror

Om Malik writes,

As my friend Pip Coburn says, turnarounds never turn. Kodak has been in restructuring mode for 15 years – cutting headcount, closing factories, tightening belts and squeezing rocks for blood. In other words — the company isn’t fat in a traditional sense.  But why none of its strategies worked was  because the company took too long and sat on its duff watching digital photography come and eat it for a mid-day snack even though Kodak R&D helped with the digital photo revolution when it launched the first digital camera in 1975.

And yet they failed to do what one of their major competitors – FujiFilm did — embrace digital with both arms and is now thriving. And when Kodak finally did embrace digital in 1993 it did with hesitance that comes when companies are afraid to cannibalize their existing businesses for the sake of the future.

Disruption never asks for permission

Nokia said it would never release a touch screen phone, so someone else did – a software company. In my journey in writing NO Straight Lines, I have seen this organisational myopia as a constant red thread. So I argue, to survive organisations have to disrupt themselves before someone else does it to them. Or as Arthur C. Clarke said,

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible

Malik writes,

Anyone remember the Nokia 770? That phone could have been Nokia’s future, instead it is forgotten.  Nokia defined itself by a certain kind of a product – the 12-key phone. People at Nokia talked about a multimedia mobile computer, but it couldn’t look beyond those 12 keys. It took Apple and Google to show Nokia how to re-imagine the phone.

Standing at the edge of the adaptive range of our industrial world

We have arrived at the edge of the adaptive range of our industrial world. At the edge, because that world, our world is being overwhelmed by a trilemma of social, organisational and economic complexity. We are in transit from a linear world to a non-linear one. Non-linear because it is for all of us socially, organisationally and economically ambiguous, confusing and worrying. Consequently we are faced with an increasingly pressing and urgent problem, WHAT COMES NEXT? And also we are therefore presented with a design challenge: HOW do we create better societies, more able organisations and, more vibrant and equitable economies relevant to the world we live in today? No Straight Lines presents a new logic and inspiring plea for a more human centric world that argues we now have the possibility to truly transform our world, to be more resilient, to be more relevant to us both personally and collectively, socially cohesive, sustainable, economically vibrant and humane, through the tools, capabilities, language and processes at our fingertips.

The key to unlocking this opportunity, so we can design for transformation is through understanding the interlocking concepts of the six key principles of No Straight Lines, these are:

[1] Ambiguity [2] Adaptiveness [3] Participatory cultures and tools [4] Openness

[5] Craftsmanship [6] Epic – designing for transformation

It means we can then ask this question: How do we find the best possible solution to seemingly intractable problems? And be able to answer them.

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