Friday, June 01, 2018

Innovation and the rapidly changing world of photography

We've reached a couple of interesting milestones in a very short period of time, and it behooves us to pay attention to the changes in what has been an important industry - photography.  For innovators, it's been easy to kick Kodak around, for having missed the transition to digital photography while owning many of the patents.  However, Kodak by itself isn't the whole story in the world of photography.

Today, Canon announced that it will no longer sell cameras that require film.  If the stories I've heard are true, they actually stopped making cameras that require film several years ago and have simply been selling off their inventory.  This of course follows on Kodak's decision to stop manufacturing film for most cameras, which occurred in 2009. 

The rapid advance of technology

Both Canon's exit and Kodak's exit from film are examples of the ever-accelerating pace of technology.  Canon has been manufacturing cameras for over 75 years, but the exit from the film camera business was rather sudden, tied to Kodak's exit from the film business.  Both companies had long and profitable runs from these original products, and both experienced a sudden and rapid transition.  Canon was able to shift from film cameras to digital cameras without too much damage, but Kodak struggled.  And here's an interesting point about both innovation and strategy.

Canon was concerned about capturing and reproducing images.  They weren't necessarily tied to a specific technology - firm or digital, either was fine for them.  Kodak was concerned about making as much profit as possible from film, and found it difficult to innovate away from the cash cow, even while they were developing patents around the digital camera.  This is a lesson about strategic intent and its opportunities or limits on innovation.  Strategy can either inform innovation or it can limit innovation.  Canon saw an opportunity to take its photography business from film to digital - and followed consumer preferences and technology advancement.  Kodak dug in its heels and paid the price.

Jobs to be Done

While I use a number of customer insight tools to discover needs, the Jobs to be Done model seems to be very relevant in the story of Canon and Kodak.  Canon understood the "JTBD" issue pretty well.  Clearly the job people wanted to do is to be able to capture images of family and friends quickly, and to share them quickly and easily, at a low cost.  Kodak interpreted that job in the framework of "film".  Canon interpreted that job in the framework of "flexibility" and created options for consumers.

With the advent of iPhones and then apps like Snapchat, it's clear that most photography has moved in an interesting direction - it has become more amateur in nature and more immediate.  People don't seem to care much about high definition photos as much as they care about taking a photo "now" and sharing it on social media "now", and that's not a job for film.

Two takeaways about Canon and Kodak

We can learn a lot about innovation from thinking about what's happened to film and the film camera, but two important innovation lessons are:
  1. Your strategy either accelerates innovation or it limits innovation.  Understanding how strategy is communicated and the scope or barriers your strategy creates for innovation is vital.  This is a big missing link in many organizations - aligning innovation to corporate or business line strategy.
  2. Understanding the job that the customer wants to do, and how that job is changing, is vital to sustain a competitive advantage.  Polaroid was probably closer to the right idea - take a photo and develop it on the fly - than we thought at the time.  If only they could have imagined how to make their photos digital and shareable. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:25 AM


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