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Alan Moore

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The Last of the Kodak Moments

Posted: 02/28/2012 3:49 pm

I am little sad of the passing of Kodak. Some of us, of a certain age, have piles of Kodak slides and snaps, uniquely connecting us to our childhood, and personal histories. Hearing about Kodak's recent demise, filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy, also got me thinking about the current woes, of other organizations and industries that are struggling and failing as they are unable to adjust to what is to them an ambiguous world.

The challenge of living in an ambiguous world

When faced with disruptive ambiguity few embrace that ambiguity, to understand it, to listen deeply and think very hard about transformation -- how to transform, and how to design for transformation. This is a challenging thing to do and few do it well, and increasingly more organizations are vicariously living in the groan zone as we transition from a linear world to a non-linear one.

I would argue that our industrial world has reached the edge of its adaptive range, Kodak, Nokia, the banking crisis, pensions, venture capital, the NHS are all examples. We are witness to a systemic failure of many of the institutions that have brought us so much prosperity, health and the promise of better future and it is this convergence of failures that requires us to understand the challenge from a new perspective.

The trilemma of our current age

The institutions, organizations and systems that we still use were designed and built for a less complex world. Consequently, fault lines are running through our society as we are overwhelmed by a trilemma of social, economic and organizational complexity. The design challenge involved in resolving these questions comes because this non-linearity is causing a comprehensive restructuring of society at large.

But still there is deep institutional and cultural resistance to real change. And, as the forces of disruption increase, often the resistance of organizations under threat does not abate but intensifies, until flailing against this unknown or misunderstood enemy they exhaust themselves -- take your pick from the slew of industry and organizational failures.

My challenge to organizations is that they need to reflect mindfully on the significant shifts in our society today, although new technologies are the tools for change -- our research shows that this is a social revolution where in the face of institutional failure people are learning to get what they need from each other. So what do we need? Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants asks, 'what does technology want?' and his answer, 'it wants what we want'; greater opportunity and freedom, empowerment, mutualism, diversity, efficiency, diversity and even beauty.

A new organizational / social / economic model

What is emergent is a new model that demonstrates those ambitions, a car company created as a community that can build cars 5 times faster at 100 times less than capital cost, or a VC firm that says it's a venture community and that the next Silicon Valley is not a place but a platform that already has 11,000 members in 200 countries which argues everyone should be funding startups, or at the other end of the scale, a firm in Dalston, East London, lending to some the 6m+ people in the UK that do not have access to a bank account because the banks will not lend to them, but whose customers pay back 95% of their loans, or a service that helps patients better manage their chronic health care? Which has proven to reduce; wrong diagnosis, over prescription of drugs, clogging up hospitals and specialist time. Or an entire healthcare service in the territory of Ontario, when faced with significant challenges in how to run its healthcare system, used what is called 'participatory leadership' to ensure their best possible future was evolved and developed by those that used and ran that service -- a very different scenario to our own current NHS woes.

Each of these examples are demonstrations of how to design around the needs of humanity rather than around the needs and orthodoxies of an industrial world. They prove that people are not motivated purely by commercial need, that people can be producers, co-creators, consumers, investors and evangelists, and that we can design better for societies, organizations, and commerce -- all at the same time.

They also point to a sustainable future in which what we have worked out is that a better world is shaped by what we share; wealth, knowledge, resources, and culture. And, that 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.

Avoiding your last Kodak moment

So if organizations do not want to experience their own unique last Kodak moment they need to do 6 things:

  1. Accept the uncertainties of an ambiguous world and become master of them. Requiring deep listening and some humility.

  2. Explore how to become adaptive and agile. This ability to upgrade constantly in hardware, software, organizational structures, business models is required at least for the time being. To be adaptive we must be constantly creating, collaborating, critiquing, communicating, by identifying key drivers we can better evaluate, and it enables the development of a new literacy.

  3. Learn how living and working in an open culture / economy can be hugely beneficial

  4. Embrace participatory cultures as a sustainable form of economics, innovation, organization and leadership

  5. Become comfortable with the idea of craftsmanship as a personal and internal culture: the Craftsman is always in beta, consistently using "PLAY" as a process for discovery, the development of new insight, technique and creativity

  6. Learn how to design for transformation by having the vision, the courage and the conviction to seek and implement lasting change.


The benefits of adopting these principles is a more resilient forward thinking organizational culture that is now capable of strong creative and conceptual thinking with the ability to realistically and meaningfully operate in today's non-linear world.