One of the most staggering blunders in corporate history must have been the moment when Kodak decided that digital photography was no immediate threat to their business model. In 1975 a Kodak engineer had already invented the digital camera, but the company decided to stick to film instead. The rest – as they say – is history. Six lessons that modern leaders should take to heart if they want to avoid their own ´Kodak Moment´.
1. Adapt quickly to new circumstances
In a global economy the competition is fierce. Two whizz kids from any part of the world with an internet connection and a laptop can drive you out of business in no-time. Kodak had at least 10 years to make up for its initial mistake, but modern business leaders don´t have that luxury. They need to make their companies agile. But how?
2. Never stop learning
Create an environment where people never stop learning. On a practical level that means offering courses, workshops and training. On websites such as Coursera, Standford Online Courses and Academic Earth you can all the free online courses that the top universities in the world have to offer. That´s the easy part. The hard part is on a psychological level: are your employees willing to try new ways and explore new paths? Because that’s easier said than done. We have a natural tendency to stick to what we already know. Learning something new is very hard work. And why go through all that trouble if we don’t know in advance if it will get us the results we hope for?
3. Don’t be afraid to fail
There is no learning without failing. But if employees are constantly expected to produce results, they will always choose the safest path. So make sure that people feel free to experiment, even if it doesn’t always pay off. How to create an experimental culture in your company?
4. Be humble and listen
There is a story of a company where a team of IT-engineers developed a new chip without telling their manager, because they were sure he wouldn’t approve anyway. That’s the kind situation you want to avoid. Nobody will tell you anything if you yourself are not willing to learn from them. So show genuine interest and be always open to new ideas. How to create a humus layer for new ideas?
5. Embrace diversity
Research shows that companies that are more diverse adapt quicker and therefore are more successful. Diversity not only refers to employees with diverse cultural backgrounds, it´s also about a balance between men and women and different ways of working within the company. IT-engineers don´t view the world the same way as Marketing Managers do. Therefore, they will approach problems differently. But how do you make sure all these different approaches don’t conflict with each other?
6. Conduct your team like an orchestra
That’s your task as a modern leader. Just like the character of Steve Jobs says in the film of the same name: your team members are the great musicians, but you play the orchestra. Every musician can be as creative as she or he wants, within the limits of a piece of music you want to play. The only question is: how do you know when to change the tune?
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Many of these tips where based on the insights of Edgar H Schein, former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management.