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Don’t be a Polaroid.

I still remember the day.

I was wearing Montreal Alouette sneakers, a hand-me-down Adidas T-shirt, short-shorts, and an Expos hat on top of a homemade Lego haircut. It was the mid-70s and my mom gathered us four kids to take a picture. But she wasn’t just using a camera.

She was using a Polaroid.

I know, I know.. many of us consider Polaroid a retro brand who’s claim to fame is inspiring the Instagram format and the odd Outkast lyric.

But before you write it off, think about life BEFORE polaroid.

Your camera was horizontal Tetris piece and the flash was a vertical tower of power that connected to the top. It featured 12 little flint flashes that individually burst into flames when initiated. Then, you had to GET IN YOUR CAR and drop off your film to a pimply faced teen who sat in a Fotomat (fishing hut) in the middle of a mall parking lot. 2 months later, after a lab in russia developed them, you got your photos. 

Then Polaroid showed up.

Talk about a life-changing innovation. It didn’t just make life a little better. It drastically changed consumer behaviour. People no longer had to drive. Labs no longer had to develop. And photos could be enjoyed instantly (well, almost instantly – first you had to shake it, shake it…)

What a wonder! What a truly brilliant innovation! What a company! What a brand!

Polaroid has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Twice.

Sure, they were saved by a private equity group, have adequately licensed their name and currently feature a range of products including everything from sunglasses to printers. Hell, they even hired Lady Gaga as Creative Director. But I think you’ll agree that they literally (and legally) are a shell of their former selves.

There’s an important lesson in there:
It’s one thing to innovate. It’s quite another to keep on innovating.
The hot thing (and the profits that go along with it) may be great today but it can be one line of code away from being replaced by something else that makes consumers’ lives even easier.

It also applies to people.

You may be flying high and on top of your game one day and be obsolete the next simply because you didn’t change, adapt, or learn. People – not just brands – have to continue to innovate.

You may want to be many things. I just hope you don’t want to be a Polaroid.

The next Apple is…

I’ve been an Apple enthusiast for quite some time. A few weeks ago, I was backstage at a speaking event and I had my MacBook on my lap, my iPhone on my knee and my iPad on the chair next to me. A crew member walked by, shook his head and said, “You’re sad.” Perhaps. 

Obviously, Apple’s a great case study for a wide range of business topics including branding, advertising, design, innovation, business strategy, and more. That being said, I’m a little tired of talking about them. I use Apple in speeches all across the country and they’re kinda becoming a cliché. Mention their name and crowds start to auto-nod as if they’ve already heard it. It’s probably because they have. 

But who’s the next Apple?

I think it’s Dyson.

It all started when founder James Dyson was cleaning up with a vacuum and thought, “There must be a better way.”

There wasn’t. So he invented it.

Interestingly, most other manufacturers chose to ignore negative consumer opinion over vacuum bags. Hell, their business model depended on people buying them by the crate. Why address something that would eliminate a $500 million a year disposable bag business? Not companies focused on the bottom line. So they stayed the course.

Unfortunately for them, Dyson was rather focused, too.
Dyson became the UK’s best selling vacuum in 1995.

Can you say, “Disruption”?

Who doesn’t love the Dyson Airblade? I always wanted to help save the environment by avoiding paper towels in public washrooms but the gerbil-propelled hand dryers took 20 minutes to heat up and I’d only end up wiping my hands on my jeans anyway.

 Then, Dyson showed up.

They created a hand dryer that wiped the water from your hands with purified air traveling at over 640km/h. Throw in the fact that it uses 80% less energy and it’s easy to see why they’re popping up everywhere.

The Dyson brand promise is simple: We’ll make it better.

They made vacuuming better.
They made drying hands better.
They have even made fans better.

What I most like about them is that they don’t restrict themselves to any specific category. Vacuums. Dryers. Fans. I can’t wait to see what they’ll tackle next because I know that at the heart of it will be a well-designed product that solves a real customer problem by just being better. And if all goes well, we’ll line up for it at a Dyson store, book times with the Dyson geniuses, and look to them to save us from our daily frustrations. 

We’re waiting, Dyson. Please keep thinking. 


Thanks to @mylifeonlinenow for forwarding this article on James Dyson from Wired Magazine: