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Leading Apple With Steve Jobs: Management Lessons From a Controversial Genius by Jay Elliot

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Learning from Failure

At the other end of the spectrum from the product history of Apple is the history of Kodak, the U.S. camera company founded in 1889 that was for many years the first name in photographic equipment and film stock. On the very day I began writing this chapter, Kodak filed for bankruptcy, and the reason the company failed is very striking.

One of Kodak’s own people, Steve Sasson, in 1975 came up with a stunning new concept for taking still pictures: digital photography.3 He was awarded a patent for it three years later. Yet Kodak, earning huge sums every year from selling of rolls of film, didn’t pursue the idea. It was as if the company had said, “We have a lock on the market for film; why bother with this new-fangled idea that doesn’t fit our vision?”

They are blaming the failure of the company on what they call cutthroat competition, but it was because they didn’t have the vision to grasp that digital cameras could possibly capture virtually the entire market.

(A curious sidelight: The digital camera was made possible by a piece of electronics—the CCD, or charge-coupled device. One of the people on the team that invented the CCD, and who is credited with developing the process for manufacturing CCD-based chips, was Gil Amelio—the same man who, years later, as CEO of Apple, brought Steve Jobs back into the company. Small world.)

If you’re not setting new standards for the market, don’t be surprised if you arrive at a dead end like Kodak. Yes, a lot of companies ...

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