Never Get Too Comfortable

By: LT Dave Nobles

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As a Weapons Officer, I consider myself privileged to work with some pretty amazing people – Gunner’s Mates, Fire Controlmen and Sonar Technicians as well as a few fresh Junior Officers. It’s a great department and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Whenever things are going relatively well in the department, I’ll tell the guys something that they’re probably tired of hearing me say: “Don’t get Polaroid on me.”

Whenever those words stumble out, it usually elicits a groan or two, maybe even an eye-roll. But after my chops are adequately busted, the team nods because they know the story. And nobody wants that to happen to them.

Polaroid, founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land, is best known for instant photos. The company rolled out its first instant photo camera in 1948, ushering in a new era for photography. In the 1960s and 1970s, Polaroid was THE “it” company, with some even likening the company’s influence and style to Apple’s today. Polaroid was trendy, cool and dominant.

From the glory days through the 1980s and even into the 1990s, Polaroid owned the industry. Polaroid even forced Kodak out of the instant photo realm in the mid-80s. The company was edgy, aggressive and innovative. And life was good.

So then why did Polaroid file for bankruptcy (for the first time) in 2001?

Because it got too comfortable and the digital imaging revolution roundhouse kicked the company in the face.

Even though Polaroid produced a digital camera in 1996, relatively early in the revolution, their lack of investment into the future caught them flat footed and they failed. Now, the once-great corporation is now a niche product, relegated to dusty photo albums and the hands of bearded hipsters (to take pictures of their record players).

In its heyday, Polaroid was so popular that it was verbed AND nouned. Like many companies and products – Google, Xerox, Sharpie, and more – that’s when you know you’ve really made it.

Well, for the purposes of motivation, we’ve verbed and nouned it too. But to us, it means something else.

To Polaroid is to lose when you could have won. To miss out on an opportunity because you weren’t prepared. To fail to see the distant elephant and end up getting trampled by it.

We try to avoid going Polaroid by keeping the press on. Instead of kicking our feet up, we’ll continue to work with the future in mind. We’ll ask ourselves – “What’s next?” – and apply that methodology to stay ahead of the game. Whether it’s planning maintenance or dreaming up an idea for the next Athena Project, the mindset should remain the same.

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?

Polaroid was a victim of disruptive innovation and its story isn’t rare. Advancements in technology leave case studies littered along the side of the road: CRT televisions, VHS tapes, the music industry, bookstores, and the list goes on and on. Companies that got rolled didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

While may not be trying to maintain market share in the camera industry, we can easily fall victim as well if we don’t stay focused, pay attention and put in the work.

So, go be Nikon or Canon instead. And don’t get caught on your heels.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

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One thought on “Never Get Too Comfortable

  1. Thanks for the post Dave – great thoughts! There are tons of other examples of companies that get “too comfortable” and refuse to invest in the future. It all has to do with leadership, and it’s just to easy to brush off innovative and questioning thoughts when things are going well, even when profits are on the rise. recent examples: Google completely missing Social Networking (Eric Schmidt stepped down as CEO as a result) – and Microsoft completely missing the mobile phone market. (Steve Ballmer is stepping down as CEO, largely because of this). At both companies, there was a movement among some of their most junior employees to get into both spaces, but they were largely ignored (which also led to many talented engineers leaving).

    When relating this to the Navy (and military in general), we have a much bigger bureaucracy than both these companies, all while the stakes are much higher. Polaroid, Microsoft, and Google may lose billions of dollars by missing what’s coming. But if we don’t, it’s our national security!

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