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  • Hassan Younes

The Complacent Mindset That Killed Polaroid (And the Three Things You Can Do to Combat the Cancer of

Updated: May 3, 2020




When you become a complacent leader, you set your business up for failure. Thankfully, there are some things that you can do before it’s too late.

Complacency is one of the most devastating afflictions for any business.


Think of it like a cancer. At first, you may not even realise that it’s there. The disease creeps in slowly and doesn’t immediately affect the day-to-day operations of the business. You carry on doing what you’ve always done because you don’t see a problem.


But after a few months…the cancer grows.


Now, you’re starting to see some symptoms. Perhaps you’re losing some of your most valued clients. Or, your team isn’t as productive as it once was. Usually, you’re going to see a hit to your revenue and profit numbers.


You try to justify it to yourself at first.


Maybe the economy is just on a bit of a downward swing. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll bounce back.


Except that never happens.


The business keeps going downhill as the cancer of complacency grows inside of it. And by the time you see the true cause of your company’s struggles, it’s too late.


The cancer kills your business.


We have seen this time and time again, in both small and large businesses. And perhaps one of the most famous examples is what happened to Polaroid.


Complacency Kills Polaroid

At one point in time, Polaroid was one of the biggest success stories in the world.

After establishing itself as a defence contractor during World War II, the company changed its focus with a simple question. The daughter of founder Edwin Land asked why photographs took so long to develop.


Edwin took the question to heart. And in 1948 he unveiled a special type of camera that could print out photos in a matter of minutes.


It was a roaring success. For the first time, photography became an accessible thing for millions of people across the world. And to make matters even better, Polaroid’s instant cameras offered a convenience that other cameras couldn’t.


What you’re seeing here are all of the hallmarks of a company that was at the top of its game. Innovation was the byword at Polaroid and the company grew to the point where it accounted for 15% of America’s photography market.


But it didn’t last…


The Rise of Digital Photography

Many people will tell you that it was Polaroid's inability to adapt to the rise of digital photography that killed the company.


And while this is true, in a sense, it doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, Polaroid can count itself as one of the innovators of digital photography. True to the innovative spirit that led to the company’s growth, Polaroid invested millions into researching the concept. During the 1970s and 80s, few companies invested as heavily on the idea of going digital.


In fact, this research accounted for 42% of Polaroid’s R&D budget in 1989!


It’s clear that the company could see where the tide would eventually turn. And for a while, Polaroid looked set to continue its market dominance. Throughout the 1990s, they established themselves as one of the world’s top manufacturers of digital cameras.

That hardly seems like complacency. However, digging a little deeper reveals what truly happened.


Though Polaroid invested heavily in digital, they invested even more heavily in film and hard copy photography. Despite the new tech that they’d helped to pioneer, they still believed that people wanted hard copies of photos. As such, they almost treated digital cameras like a gimmick while placing most of their focus on traditional products.


This is where the complacency took hold.


Polaroid’s leaders believed that the market wouldn’t change, even as they introduced a disruptive technology. And ultimately, the rise of digital happened so quickly that Polaroid got eclipsed by other companies.


In 2001, the company had to file for bankruptcy. The true tragedy of the situation is that Polaroid would still be here today if not for its leaders’ complacency.


This story teaches us that even the strongest companies can fail. It also teaches us that being an innovator doesn’t always mean that you will survive. Complacency can hurt your business in many ways. Thankfully, there are three things that you can do to combat the cancer.




Tip #1 – Challenge Your Company’s Status Quo

Dedication to the status quo may be the biggest thing that killed Polaroid. Despite all of their research and product innovation, they still tried to stick with what worked in the past.


And in doing so, they completely failed to understand that the future would arrive faster than they thought.


You see, those in business talk a lot about innovation. Almost every prominent entrepreneur that you can think of has said their piece on the subject. But innovation in your product design can only stretch so far. If it comes up against the status quo barrier, the new products you create don’t matter.


Your business will still struggle.


Innovation is as much a mindset issue as it is a product one. Like Polaroid, you could invest millions in designing new and more exciting products. However, your leadership still needs to get on board with where those products will take you. Your leaders need to recognise the changes in the market and when they’re coming.


Most importantly, leaders need to get ahead of those market changes so that they can come out on top later.


That’s what Polaroid failed to do.


They’d done the research and had the products. Yet still, they stuck with the status quo in regard to their approach to their market. They got complacent in terms of the appetite their market had for their new products.


Ultimately, this allowed its competitors to overtake them.


Do not allow the same thing to happen to your business. Remember that innovation in action and direction is as important as innovation in design.


Tip #2 – Constantly Evaluate Your Performance

This is where your business’ numbers come into play.


You cannot take a laissez-faire attitude to your numbers. And you certainly can’t overlook falling numbers due to the mistaken belief that dips are just temporary problems.


In many cases, a decline in your company’s fortunes hints at a much larger problem. They tell you that complacency has caused you to lose touch with your market.


Constant evaluation of your performance is the only remedy here.


This starts with the setting of targets and Key Performance Indicators in all aspects of your business. These metrics provide you with the data that you need to gauge your performance. You determine where the business should be and then evaluate the numbers based on those benchmarks.


As soon as you see the numbers dipping, you need to look at what you can change.


Are your products not selling as well? Is the tech that you use in your systems and processes outdated? What is the reason for your numbers not being where you need them to be?


Constant reflection on the state of your business allows you to see emerging problems. This means you’re in a position to tackle the issues before they grow so large that they overwhelm you.



Tip #3 – Always Keep One Eye Turned to Your Team

Your team’s performance always offers a reflection of your own performance.

When complacency creeps into your leadership style, you can bet that your team will mirror your example. You will see declines in productivity that have a direct effect on your business outcomes.


The key here is that you don’t blindly blame your team for these issues.


Look at yourself and the example that you’re setting. If you’re a complacent leader, you’re telling your team that you don’t care. You’re telling them that you’re not motivated enough to innovate or work on the business.


And if that’s the case…why should they?


There are several warning signs that suggest your team has become complacent. These include the following:


Your people no longer seem engaged in the company’s mission and values.

Team members cut corners instead of producing the best possible work.

Your people no longer seem to care about moving up inside the company.

You’ve started to lose some of your best people.


If you see any of these signs, you have to take action. Complacency has gripped your team, which means that it also has its claws dug into you.


Figure out what you need to change about yourself and then use this as an example to inspire your team again.


Create Change and Avoid Complacency

The only way to truly defeat the cancer of complacency is to create change inside your business.


But you have to take action quickly. As Polaroid discovered, allowing the cancer to fester and grow can be deadly. You cannot allow your business to become so far gone that the actions you eventually take prove irrelevant.


I want you to ask yourself a question…


Is my business really performing as well as it should?


If it isn’t, you may have a complacency issue that you need to tackle. And I would like to help you to overcome that issue.


I can speak to your team about the issues that complacency causes and what you can do about them. Get in touch today to book me as a speaker for your next event.


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©2021 by Hassan Younes.