The Spiritual Landscape
What Kodak Can Teach the Church
Analyzing what he describes as "Kodak's Long, Slow Slide," The Wall Street Journal's John Bussey writes,
Was it a failure of imagination? Was it entrenched convictions and provincial thinking? Was it one restructuring too far? For Kodak - -perhaps the iconic American brand of the 20th century—it was all those things. . . . When a company starts to sell its intellectual property, hacking off an arm here and a leg there, you know the end is near.
I am old enough to remember Brownie Cameras, Instamatics, and rolls of 35 millimeter film in those famous yellow boxes. This is a company that did not just produce products that preserved personal and historical experiences. It branded them as "Kodak Moments." So, it's hard to believe it's all going away. But it is.
There are lessons to be learned here that have application far beyond Eastman Park in Rochester, New York. According to Steve Hamm and William Symonds, there are five lessons to learn:
One, don't let a ruling elite and a closed culture cut you off from criticism and contributions from outside.
George Eastman was an extraordinary innovator and a life force at Kodak for decades. Unlike some other entrenched leaders, one could argue that he was such an asset to the company that he rightly dominated the firm that he created.
But his dominance also fostered a culture that foreclosed on criticism and contributions beyond the executive office in Rochester, New York. Antonio Perez, Kodak's current CEO, complained that the situation was so bad that he could not even get people to differ with him on his assessment of the weather.
Some time ago I asked a bishop when he thought that the church might begin to have strategic conversations about theological education and the needs of the church. Without hesitating, he responded, "We don't have strategic conversations and there is no way to get an issue in front of the church's leadership."
One surmises that another closed culture and ruling elite deluded the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church into thinking that it could handle sexual abuse cases behind closed doors. The result, of course, is that the church endangered thousands of others and encountered a predictable and richly deserved firestorm of criticism.
There are good practical and spiritual reasons for breaking down entrenched cultures that resist criticism—particularly in the church.
A second engine of Kodak's demise was its own success—and the corporate conceit that followed hard on its heels.
There are a lot of business enterprises out there and innumerable products. But it is a rare thing for a company to brand not just a product, but also an aspect of our lives. "A Kodak Moment" became not just the moment in which you reached for a Brownie or an Instamatic. It became a way of describing a memorable or important experience.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/