Those disruptive moments when you simply need to let go

Emotional attachment prompts some incredibly strong bonds, a host of clear affections and different reactions when it comes to our favourite brands or products. When something suddenly ‘disrupts’ this, it triggers a set of mixed emotions that shakes you and stirs up different feelings that take some time to re-order in your mind. I try to seek understanding and then simply have to let go, even when they so often staring you in the face. Sometimes you still don’t want to finally let go until you are ‘hit’ by such a disruptive event.

The recent Kodak moment is one of those

One of those has happened to me with the filing of bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 for Kodak. For so many people those “Kodak moments” make up such incredibly important parts of our lives. Stuffed under the beds, in boxes, in cupboards are those images of youth, family, important occasions and holidays that sit happily in the back of our minds waiting to be prompted by those images captured with the help of Kodak.

Hindsight and that regrettable smugness, that seems to always emerge.

I’ve been reading in the past week or two about all that might have gone wrong at Kodak and you feel that certain smugness that hindsight often gives us. I wish all that I read would make it so simple. I’d argue you should ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ before you rush to offer reasons and cause. In Kodak’s case such a fundamentally different technology was unleashed, the ability to see what was coming towards you at such a rush and from so many sides was never easy and I’m sure they tried.

Disruptive technology can be subtle as well as prominent in its impact. Confronting something so enormous in a society’s movement to this change would challenge anyone. Technology, especially digital technology, has been such a whirlwind of ‘creative destruction’ taking Blockbuster, Borders and other film producers that were caught out in this- Ilford Photo in 2004 & Agfa in 2005. All I know is we can expect that many more will be caught in the new technologies ‘destructive’ path.

Process technology is struggling with the rapid changes

Process technology is under enormous threat. Not just Kodak but similar transitions are being managed (or not) by newspapers, book publishers, movie studios, broadcasters, record labels although some of the issues are different it is technology, new technology, that is reaping the destruction. Yet the core is stronger than ever- capturing moments digitally, storing and using information and pushing entertainment in new ways.

It might be also premature to fully write off Kodak. It has this protection and from this a certain time and space to restructure and by all accounts, it has a technology portfolio potentially worth billions. To remake itself though, is going to be really tough, I grant you that.

We all have great emotional attachments

I can think of three really important ‘shock and letting go’ moments for me in recent years. Kodak being the latest one, the other two, for me, was Swissair, the icon of everything Swiss and F W Woolworths, or “Woolies” a real icon for the Brits.

Swissair was special for me

Swissair got so caught out after the terrorist attacks in September 2001 as it was in the middle of a massive expansion plan and was suddenly hamstrung with debt and a wrong strategy of expansive exposure. Bad ideas, poor top management left the airline in an incredible state of providing large sums of cash to their pilots to purchase fuel at foreign airports. It shocked the Swiss, it shook me also as this was the one airline I had real emotional attachment too when it ceased trading in 2002.

Living in Saudi Arabia, then followed by Kenya and travelling to some less secure countries in Africa and the Middle East, Swissair stood out like a beacon. One you could run too every night, come rain, sun or attempted coup attempt that seemed to occur all too frequently, in the 1980’s, whenever I travelled in these regions. That tail fin seemingly always illuminated to show the national red flag with a white cross (a bold, equilateral cross) in its centre. On board Swissair simply conveyed those Swiss values such as “personal service”, “in-depth quality” and “typical Swiss hospitality” and “reliability and dependability,” offering a safe haven.

Letting go was hard. I’ve never had the same emotional attachment since with its revised Swiss International Air Lines and part of the Lufthansa Group. I let go of a strong emotional attachment.

Good old Woolies.

I grew up in the UK and Woolworth’s was essential in my life. You entered the store confident you would find that something you needed and many things you didn’t but ended up buying. With over 800 stores at its peak, Woolworths was very much a part of everyone’s lives on the High Street. You got your basic school supplies (pens, paper, ruler), sometimes a bargain item of clothing, basic house-ware but for me, its magic was the ‘mix and match’ sweet counter. Any selection of sweets for the same price and all you had to do was select them and then take them for weighing. Did I love that, my parents I think less so, although I can often remember their hands ‘snaking’ into my sweet bag pulling out their favourite sweets well enough.

So when Woolworth closed, some real emotional attachment suddenly detached and floated away into the memory.

Kodak is up there in emotions for me.

It simply has played a role in my life, my family’s life throughout most of the 20th century. Those slides, those prints hold our most treasured possession- our memories. I’ve already lost far to many in my countless moves, rashly thrown away. Digital images just do not seem the same, no feel, that tactile effect. Digital certainly triggers reactions but not that moment but they are certainly easier to store. But for me nothing evokes more emotion than a faded, slightly out of focus picture that you are forced to focus upon to make out the details.

Would I have preferred these on digital, perhaps, but having that print in your hands, passed down from parent to parent or from a friend who took the picture, not to post it on Facebook for all to see but to hand it to you, so you could both relive that moment and what it meant, a tangible connection- a real provenance.

Emotional attachment is important for brands to build into our lives.

As we work through innovation we often forget the emotional aspects of people, emotions and relationships. Today Apple stands out in achieving that. One real trigger that Kodak prompted in me was revisiting the ten commandments of emotional branding suggested by Marc Gobé as they need to be revisited when we go about our innovating business for business, products and services.

Ten commandment of Emotional Branding

  1. From consumers to people
    Consumers buy, people live
  2. From product to experience
    Products fulfill needs, experiences fulfill desires
  3. From honesty to truth
    Honesty is expected. Trust is engaging and intimate. It needs to be earned
  4. From quality to preference
    Quality is the right price a given today. Preference creates the sale
  5. From notoriety to aspiration
    Being known doesn’t mean that you are also loved
  6. From identity to personality
    Identity is recognition. Personality is about character and charisma
  7. From function to feel
    The functionality of a product is about practical or superficial qualities only. Sensorial design is about experiences
  8. From ubiquity to presence
    Ubiquity is seen. Emotional presence is felt
  9. From communication to dialogue
    Communication is telling. Dialog is sharing
  10. From services to relationship
    Service is selling. Relationship is acknowledgement

Based on the book Emotional Branding, written by Marc Gobé and updated recently as “Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People” as fully revised paperback edition.

This is a terrific list about brand feeling which can be defined as peoples emotional reactions and responses to brands. These brand feelings also relate to the social currency induced by the brand which can be positive, negative, intense or mild. Identification is still so important for lasting relationships between company and customer.

So why do big companies suddenly fail?

The reason is that while big companies are often good at fostering “sustaining” innovations – ones that enhance their positions in established markets – they are generally hopeless at dealing with innovations that completely disrupt their market. They fall into that trap of consistently looking at solutions through their lens of the market; they want to always put existing assets into the new business. They fall victim to their history and this baggage becomes an increasing liability that gives huge drag at the very time you need to be bold. This is their emotional attachment.

Schumpeters “Creative Destruction”

When you have something iconic, full of emotional investment, something that defines an industry, standard or practice, it simply is not easy to let it go. Companies can in theory live forever but today if you are not willing to cannibalize yourself, it does seem others will do it to you.

Applying Innovation today is often like being in a fight to the death or struggling on a path to survival, it is a constant march searching and sensing for possible change points, investing in the creation of new and often untested ideas, to learn and discover and to shed those that can’t match this new ‘creative destruction’ going on around us. Innovation is absolutely essential so we have to embrace it, like it or not in what it disrupts that is all around us.

Kodak was well aware of the future; it failed to confront it with a strategy that needed to be more ‘transformational’, ‘revolutionary’ or ‘evolutionary’. Sustaining innovation must be either ‘discontinuous’ or ‘continuous’. Today it is expected, big companies simply disappear if they don’t do great things, executed well and on time to stop destruction hammering at their door but please don’t tell me this ‘letting go’ of what we have is easy or simple, it is not. It is full of emotion.

The reconstructive rides we face.

Sustaining does not come from incremental innovation; it comes from embracing amazing things and letting go often faster than you like in what you have built up in legacy and getting that right is really, really hard. No wonder there are more and more successes coming from start ups with no emotional baggage, they don’t need to deal with these harder emotional issues.

Emotional attachment, we all have them and to simply let go is not so easy and this should not just happen when we are facing those disruptive moments, we need to equip ourselves a lot earlier. The issue is seeing the challenge early and plunging into it head first, confronting it, taking the wild ride that comes from such destructive forces and hoping you come out the other side better. I think there are going to be more and more of these ‘destructive to reconstructive rides’ I feel in our present challenging times. Sometimes we simply have to let go.

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