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  • Writer's pictureHassan Younes

The Decision that Led to Kodak’s Failure (And Five Mistakes that Lead to Complacency)

While it’s normal to make mistakes early in your career, some of them can be very costly. Learn how to avoid the common mistakes that result in complacency.

Back in 1968, Kodak was the king of the photography industry. With around 80% of the market share, it was a force to be reckoned with.

It seemed like there was no need to change anything. After all, what they’d done brought astonishing results. Why fix what’s not broken?

But then came 1795, and with it the first digital camera. The industry was evolving, and nobody had a better shot at growing with it than Kodak.

How so?

Steve Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera, actually did so while working at Kodak as an electrical engineer!

Sasson was quick to share his discovery with Kodak’s management. He was excited about the direction in which it could take the company. Sadly, Sasson’s superiors didn’t share his enthusiasm. They repeatedly shot down Sasson’s efforts to get them to focus on digital cameras. Little did they know that this would mean the beginning of the end for Kodak.

Little by little, companies like Fuji Films took full advantage of digital cameras. The industry entered a new era, with Kodak left further and further behind. By 2012, the company went out of business.

If it wasn’t for the management’s complacency, Kodak might’ve become stronger than ever. Sadly, it’s far from the only company poisoned by this issue. Many leaders make mistakes that result in complacency later on, putting their business at a massive risk.

So, how do you avoid finding yourself in this situation?

The first step is to recognise the dangerous behaviours and mistakes that shouldn’t exist in your business. Here are some of the most common:

1. Being Too Confident

Confidence is necessary for leadership. If you keep doubting yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you?

But when it comes to confidence, more isn’t always better. If you become overly confident, you’re likely to get stuck in your own ways. You won’t be open to anyone’s ideas if they differ from yours.

This behaviour is bound to result in complacency at some point. Make a few good decisions, and you’ll feel like there’s nothing left to do. At the same time, you’ll ignore others while they’re pointing out some red flags to take note of.

You should always strive for a balance of confidence and humbleness. Know that you don’t know it all and be willing to listen. That’s so you’ll continually evolve and improve.

2. Resisting Change

Change is seldom comfortable. It requires breaking the comfort that might’ve taken a lot of time and energy to build. When you make it, you might feel compelled to enjoy the spoils of your hard work instead of disrupting the new status quo.

If this becomes a habit, it can very easily turn into complacency. You’ll want to stay in that bubble you’ve built because it feels good.

This is exactly what Kodak did, which drove the company to the ground. Upper management wasn’t eager to make a potentially risky change when they had so much success with their existing products. They focused too much on the past, sacrificing their future as a result.

No matter your industry, you should never count on past success to repeat unabated. The business landscape changes all the time, and you don’t want to fall out of the loop. If things have stayed the same for long, it’s a tell-tale sign that it’s time for a change. Initiate that change without fear so that you can rise to the next level.

3. Not Making Innovation a Habit

Speaking of change, what’s your approach to innovation? Are you among those who believe that getting lucky once or twice is enough for lasting success? If so, there’s a crucial mindset shift you need to make.

The very source of complacency is the belief that there’s such a thing as perfection. When you believe that you’ve reached the top, there’s nowhere to go but down. This is why innovation should be an ongoing habit.

Once in a while, ask yourself whether there’s something about your offer that can be improved even slightly. The answer should always be yes, as there are always new areas of improvement to explore.

Sure, innovation involves experiments, which can be risky. But the biggest risk lies in not even trying to implement them. Stay on the lookout for innovation opportunities, and you’ll never get complacent.

4. Making Excuses

Complacency goes hand in hand with excuses.


Because you can always tell yourself that there’s a reason you’re not moving forward. You might blame all kinds of circumstances and people as a justification for complacency.

It’s true that not everything is under your control. But at the same time, you have more influence on any outcome than you think. No matter what happens, you get to choose how you’ll react. And your reaction is what ultimately determines the outcome, not the circumstance itself.

When you get into this frame of mind, you’ll understand that you have the responsibility to achieve any result that you want to achieve.

This is a very powerful position to be in. You’ll realise that there’s always something you can do to improve a situation, no matter how good or bad it may seem. As long as you hold this power, complacency won’t find its way into your business or life.

5. Not Keeping a Close Eye on Your Business

Are you up to date with everything going on in your business? Do you know all the crucial numbers instead of just the surface ones?

Many business owners don’t stop to think about these questions. As a result, they fail to see any underlying issues that might result in losses. You might believe that everything’s going well and that there’s no reason to make any improvements.

Now, as a leader, it’s natural to focus on the big picture instead of the nitty-gritty of the daily grind. However, you should always know your business better than anyone else.

It all comes down to holding yourself accountable. While you might be delegating jobs, you’re not delegating the responsibility for your business success. You can surround yourself with a great team, but none of them is likely to care about your business more than you.

To ensure your business keeps evolving, take a close look at your processes every once in a while. This is the best cure for complacency, as you’ll always find something to tweak. Keep digging beneath the surface, and don’t stop fine-tuning your processes.

Always Strive for More

Hopefully, you now know what behaviour to beware of if you want to ensure consistent growth. It’s time to take a minute and think about whether you might be making any of the above mistakes.

If you recognise them in yourself, don’t worry, as you’re far from the only one. It really comes down to what you do when you realise that this is the case. Be proactive about these mistakes, and you’ll ensure that they don’t result in complacency and plague your business.

Would you like to learn more about overcoming complacency and unlocking the full potential of your business? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out and book my speaking services.


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