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.
There was definitely something magical about Polaroid. I hear a lot of folks waxing poetic about how film SLR cameras are a much more “warm” way to do photographs than digital.
It if is at all possible, I believe that Polaroids were “warmer” than typical film.
I was sad when they started floundering a while back. Like a boxer that took one shot too many in the noggin.
Polaroid.. the Leon Spinks of photography…
Polaroid in fact had a ton of patents and innovation in digital. They were way ahead in many ways. But management didn’t like the business model, it competed with existing products.
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