K for Kodachrome®

Think of a company that invents a sizzling new technology that fundamentally changes the way people view information from far-flung places and then figures out a way to translate this technology into tools that put something once-esoteric into the hands of the masses. Now imagine that the founder of this company is a dropout from school and is not just a technology but also a marketing genius.

If you think I am referring to Apple and Steve Jobs, maybe I should add that it happened a quasquicentennial ago, and the company I am describing is Kodak and its notable founder, George Eastman.

Last week, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

Look around, and you will find myriad analyses on why this happened, perhaps some that point to the inevitability of this outcome as a natural progression based on the inability to innovate and keep up with the times. Others will likely lament the loss of the company culture – and how that led to missed opportunities. The intent here is not to chronicle a business school case study – the why is made up of a multitude of, and generally well accepted, missteps, but does this milestone of a once powerhouse corporation augur on the inevitable fate of titans ?

Perhaps more importantly: is there a lesson to be learnt for the business of our personal lives ?

The obvious answer, if we are not to go bankrupt ourselves, is for us to be constantly evaluating ourselves and course-correcting as necessary so as to not fall into the abyss of obsolescence and the accompanying morass. Unfortunately, personal bankruptcy need not be simply financial.  Often times there is moral, physical or emotional bankruptcy that is more damaging than the simple inability to not repay one’s fiduciary obligations.

And I would posit that one of those (physical, moral or emotional) most likely precedes any bankruptcy filing in a court of law. But how many of us have time to even keep up with the demands of our routine schtick (aka “life”) that we can actually set aside time to evaluate, figure out what needs to change, and then actually make the effort to change ? It is no wonder that the most popular new year’s resolutions are to lose weight and save money. We even put our self-improvement goals on auto pilot, borrowing from the hoi polloi rather than staring even briefly into the uncomfortable rececesses of our own minds.

John Maynard Keynes, the noted economist, once famously said: “In the long run we are all dead”. Perhaps it is that same existential excuse that makes us adopt a more laissez faire attitude towards our own lives. In the ultimate analysis however, when it comes to our personal court filings, we are the plaintiff and the defendant, the judge and the jury.

Please don’t take your own Kodachrome away.

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