Thriving in the midst of uncertainty

This article originally appeared in The Business Times Singapore (subscription required).

KODAK is widely viewed as the classic case of an industry leader that failed to see the digital future coming.

In fact, Kodak developed a digital camera prototype in the 1970s and launched its first commercial digital product in 1991. Its strong brand and ample market power should have made it a force to be reckoned with. Instead, it walked into a set of traps common to large companies trying to come to grips with uncertainty: Its initial moves were small-scale and scattershot. It was unwilling to invest in a business that would cannibalise a highly profitable but rapidly eroding core until it was too late.

A last gasp big bet was the wrong one a failed joint venture with Hewlett-Packard to create photo-developing kiosks.

Kodak knew which way the earth was shifting, but its strategy committed the company to a future that looked very much like the past.

At a time when uncertainty and turbulence have come to characterise most global markets, a growing number of companies are struggling to avoid their own "Kodak moments".

That's often because traditional approaches to strategy analyzing trends, making forecasts and committing to only the "best" course of action aren't calibrated for the high degree of instability many companies face.

There's really only one thing we know about making projections: that they will be wrong. Companies using a traditional strategy process to cope with uncertainty may find themselves playing catchup with more nimble competitors. Even worse, these linear processes can commit a company to a single course of action, and it may be the wrong one.

Read the full article at The Business Times Singapore (subscription required).

The writers are all Bain partners and members of Bain's Global Strategy practice. Martin Toner is from the New York office; Nikhil Ojha is in New Delhi; Piet de Paepe in Brussels; Miguel Simoes de Melo in Sydney; and Wade Cruse in Singapore.