There is a lot we can learn from Kodak’s unfortunate demise.

For decades, the orange and yellow box was an American icon, and trust in the brand was unparalleled. Think back to the pre-digital era: Would you even think of taking your kid’s kindergarten graduation photos with any brand of film but Kodak? As a photographer myself, I felt saddened when Kodak declared bankruptcy. It felt as if a small part of our national identity was lost.

In the post-Kodak world, much has already been written about why the company eventually went under. We can attribute some of the decline to today’s digital revolution and the continually diminishing price of digital images. But how could a former Fortune 500 company that was savvy enough to lead the market in high-quality photographic film production and introduce various cutting-edge imaging products not have forecasted the coming digital revolution and prepared for it?

The answer is simple: Of course, they saw it coming. In fact, I’d bet that Kodak’s own top executives likely had cell phones with cameras before any front-line factory workers. The photographers Kodak hired to publish the company’s annual reports probably shot the images digitally.

So, why then, did Kodak close its doors?

Kodak Moments
There were two fundamental lessons that we can take away from the Kodak story.   
Define your business. Kodak failed to have a clear understanding of what its business entailed. The company believed they were in the film business. However, if they restructured their identity with a broader core mission—to capture and store memories—they might still be around today.

Adjust your business model. Making a huge fundamental shift in your company’s DNA is certainly not easy. After you define the business you are in, you have to have the courage and fortitude to make the requisite changes. In the case of Kodak, simply saying they were in the business of capturing and archiving memories wouldn’t save the company unless they were able to muster the resources to actually make that change happen.

Applying These Lessons
So, what business are you in? Most of our readers would likely say they are in the business of fitting contact lenses. If that is how you responded, think ahead: When Google Glass goes beyond spectacles and launches its new contact lenses, will you still say you are in the same business? These questions aren’t meant to scare you about your potential obsolescence, but rather, to emphasize that even multi-billion dollar corporations, with vast research and marketing brain-power, can be at risk of extinction if they don’t take the proper steps to prevent their demise.

So, if you’re not specifically in the business of fitting and prescribing contact lenses, then what exactly do you do? The answers may vary. For example, we have heard people say that they are in the business of “making people see better” or that they “allow people to experience the complete spectrum of their visual world.” The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and there doesn’t have to be. Remember, just getting to that answer alone is not enough to ensure your long-term survival.

So, take this line of thought a little further. If you’re in the business of making people see better, how would you prepare your practice for a future contact lens that can be worn continuously for one year and only costs the patient $1? Or, what if corneal reshaping becomes an in-office procedure and the results last three years? Use your imagination and think of any future scenario that today may be considered unlikely. Why would someone who is coming to your practice now continue to visit you one, three or 10 years from now when one of the aforementioned scenarios is available? Because you’ve positioned yourself now to be the place where “We make people see better.”

Thinking about the long run, and acting on it now, will allow you to stay on the forefront of market trends and help you proactively introduce new technology into your practice. More importantly, it will add an important layer of thick insulation against changes you might not even be aware are coming.