When is the 'Kodak Moment'?

The familiar old saying “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” was a fun philosophical topic for a lot of us to discuss/debate in our younger years.

Well Kodak, a company that I thought was all but ready to be buried alongside Polaroid as a 20th century photography company that had become outdated, has just given that phrase, and itself, new life.

When is the 'Kodak Moment'?I am the first to admit that I haven’t paid close attention to Kodak lately, but that’s in large part because I thought they were becoming irrelevant in the age of digital photography. Not only was I wrong about that, but in an effort to strengthen their position in the digital age, they have literally redefined the term “Kodak Moment.”

The ‘Kodak Moment’ used to be the photo itself, that was what you were capturing. That made sense back the days when we printed out all of the photos we took, the photos would always get seen at least once. In the digital age many pictures never get a close look, and even fewer get shared for the simple reason that without film limitations and costs, we can literally take thousands of pictures which we will at some point sift through, maybe, but many of these photos won’t ever be seen.

Kodak very cleverly figured that out, and now they say “The real Kodak moment happens when you share.”

The implication is that like the tree falling in the forest with no one around, if you take a picture but don’t share it, was there really a ‘Kodak Moment’? As part of this, as I have learned, Kodak has all sorts of products ranging from cameras to printers to electronic picture frames and other photo sharing tools aligned with this sharing social element of photography.

I think a lot of companies can learn from this great rethinking that Kodak has done, where they realized people were viewing photography differently and by redefining the ‘Kodak Moment’, instead of going out of business as Polaroid did, they have beautifully repositioned themselves for continued success in this market. We take way, way more pictures than we used to, but the way we view them and share them is radically different from how our parents and grandparents did. Seeing that shift and adapting seems like a great way to keep a great brand alive and well for some time to come.

And yes, the tree still makes a sound.

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Ric Merrifield is known at the “Business Scientist” at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, WA and is the author of “Rethink“. He blogs about ways to rethink through getting out of what he calls “the ‘how’ trap”.

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Ric Merrifield




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No Comments

  1. Russ Conser on May 21, 2010 at 9:58 am


    I’ve been watching Kodak for a quite a while, and continue to hope you’re right. This would be great evidence for companies like mine that a major shift doesn’t have to kill you.

    However, the evidence so far, to me, seems to support one of Christensen’s findings that disruption has to start while the old business is still strong or it will be too late. I hope that’s wrong, but even if they don’t make it, it’ll be a great case study for learning, as they actually invented the technology (in the 70’s), but missed the business.

    At a minimum, I think we can already say it didn’t have to be so painful – i.e. if they had an innovation system that started developing such ideas and testing them in the market a very long time ago.


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