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Don’t Get Too Comfortable Being Number One if You Want to Stay There – Part I

Building a sense of urgency and clearly communicating that message is a key skill for any leader in any organization that could present a significant challenge, particularly if the business is profitable and the orders keep rolling in. “Take a look at our revenue reports and you’ll see we’re doing just fine. We have work to do. We don’t have time to improve.” This is a response that we have also heard a time or two. I’m a big advocate of learning from mistakes of the past, so rather than just immediately jumping into a sales pitch, I usually respond to these types of reactions through storytelling. There are many examples throughout history, but in this 2-part series, I’ll share one significant lesson of the past as well as one very recent application that I have experienced as a direct customer.

Kodak monopolized the 35mm camera market from the early 1970’s to the late 90’s. They were the best at what they did. If you were talking to someone about getting a new camera, they were recommending a Kodak product. In the early 1970’s during the boom of the 35mm technology surge, one Kodak engineer challenged the idea of how we captured images and created the first digital camera in 1975 that would allow the user the immediate satisfaction of reviewing the image. Kodak had the digital capability in 1975, but because they were at the top of their game with 35mm camera technology, they found a million reasons why they didn’t need to learn or improve their products, their processes, or how they operated as an organization.

In the meantime, Kodak’s competition got to work, introducing digital technology to the market in the early 2000’s to a tremendous consumer response. If you were talking to someone about purchasing a new camera, you were probably receiving recommendations to purchase Fuji, Nikon and Olympus, while Kodak didn’t even land on the recommendations radar. While Kodak got to work trying to catch up getting product to market, their competition focused on how to improve their digital technology by making it smaller, faster and more convenient for the user so that it was always easily within reach. While Kodak focused on the digital camera in the mid 2000’s, their competition was focusing on integrating the technology into the cell phone. Just as Kodak was gaining market share, their competition would introduce new technology that forced them into the shadows again. To this day, Kodak is still playing catch-up when they should have been the market leader all along since they had the technology first.

Still think that you don’t have time to improve or don’t need to make the time to improve? There will always be competition lurking in the shadows looking to take away your market share, so don’t get comfortable. Even if productivity, performance and pricing are acceptable to your customers today, those expectations could change tomorrow. Is your organization capable of adapting to remain competitive? Think about how much larger your market share could be if every person in your organization were provided with the skills to analyze and improve their work every day.

Melissa Curtis-Hendley, M.T.D., is the Principal Consultant and Founder of MCH Consulting and Design, LLC. She is also a Special Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Oakland University. Melissa can be contacted at Please visit MCH Consulting and Design at

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