Case study of disruptive technology Kodak/Polaroid and combined adoption curve theorem of Electric vehicles versus Mules.

Bargain at the camera shop

Spring of the early 90s managing Checker Products, I always had ad deadlines shoot the photos, run into town to the South side Walmart’s auto photo developing machinery, drop off my film, go do something else, come back. Only then could I determine which photo was best , my money shot . Getting the pic wrong was expensive and required time and effort to do all over.

After a few years of this routine, I was getting good at film photography, enjoying the heavy feeling camera in my hands. The thought of waiting to get my picture developed was near to opening a Christmas present.

Along in this process, I enjoyed shopping at a local camera store, talking about lenses and all the different ways to make photos turn out great. One day the camera shop was having a big sale, and an almost irresistible bargain sale. I didn’t know why the camera shop owner knew. The digital camera was coming. He was getting rid of his film cameras to anyone who didn’t know. I bought one of his last film cameras, a $500 camera for $280; A Minolta Maxim 5000I.

 I still have it today. I look at it from time to time thinking, well, maybe my grandkids, will want to see what antiques looked like in the past. 

The digital camera revolution is a classic a business scenario about a disruptive technology, and how the consumers and producers responded.

Kodak and Polaroid were both well-established businesses. Polaroid solved the problem of avoiding this Walmart trip by having your film developed with its instant snapshot technology. Had one! and yes, I remember shaking it “like a Polaroid” to make it develop faster.

Polaroid and Kodak, two iconic American companies KNEW about the digital camera as early as the mid-70s and they KNEW what it meant to their business. And stood by as digital ate film for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Polaroid and Kodak weren’t in the camera and film business. They were in giving the consumer a picture of what they wanted to look at business. It was a colossal business collapse, written in multiple business journals with analysis, lessons learned. Kodak and Polaroid did many of the things that are classic American company would protect their home turf; sue each other and declare bankruptcy.

The auto industry caught the “Kodak and Polaroid” pass on the EV adoption, with the consistent voice of Jack Rickard EVTV as a thorn. They didn’t sit on their hands as Tesla creeped up on them. It was hard to stop. The barrier to all the major Detroit automakers was the complexity and COSTS. of completely changing technology. BILLIONS AND BILLIONS. 

Consumers were happy with what they were producing. It put Detroit between a rock and a hard place. Honorably, they have fought through and now are entering the market with a fever pitch to create a new generation of car buyers loyal to their brand in an electric version.

Detroit should thank Polaroid and Kodak.

Low hanging fruit

For years Jack produced EVTV’s Friday show, like a good Catholic attending eight o’clock mass on Sunday,it was his thing. My routine of setting up the camera, checking the batteries, doing mic checks and rolling out research paperwork of show prep. Jack would put his Boardwatch magazine editor hat on and parse through my presentations until he lit on one that rang his bell.

My reading of the sales numbers circa 2014 with Jack.

“Not plugin? battery powered only?”

“Are we counting France?”

“Nissan Leaf 283 monthly sales”

“BMW I3 28”

Numbers like these made his temperature rise for the show, he got adrenaline from how big the challenge was. Why weren’t people buying Electric? 

When Tesla Model S annual reached 31,655, he coined were all going to be Tesloids. He was right.

To see the future look at the past

I’m more of a S curve adoption kind of guy believing the early adopters of the EV car; tech people and environmental enthusiasts holding a clearer vision of what the future holds, we’re going to run out of gas, eventually. The stuff coming out of the tailpipe is poison. These people are younger. The low line of the bottom of the curve, easy ones.

Most people haven’t got there yet. Sort of like the digital camera, you hear about it; you think about it, someone who has one goes to a wedding and their digital pictures turn out better than the professional photographers. And the Rumors spread, how easy it is to get to your photos. Then everybody has to have one. 

The electric car, while having influence on the neighbors and the socially active, the true pragmatist has yet to arrive on the scene. EV’s advantages like charging at home, no maintenance, quiet and safe handling, crash safety are creeping into conservative conservatives’ mindset. The ones left outside are the true skeptics looking for anything to find fault with any reason to deny, delaying tactics hoping to validate their viewpoint. A dog fight against the adoption of the electric car.

If only they’d fix the charging problem! we’d all be there, way up the curve. 

In my 2013 book Mule Tack I wrote about the change from mules driven by hordes of employed men to the tractor. The proverbial mule killer. Mules had developed steel machinery, plows, hay racks, harvest equipment. All the farmers did was unhook the mule and hook up the tractor.

Here excerpts from Mule Tack 

This ‘Book of Mule’ helps explain how the mule, as an interactive life form, affected the progressively developing earth, and a part of human history that is frequently overlooked. For prior to the ICE (internal combustion engine), it was just man and animals moving the ground. 

Mules helped build our agriculture and the roadways in many industries, including the expansion west. They were certainly very popular here in my native Missouri, which has a large mule trading area and a tremendous amount of authentic mule information. A Christian man Thad Snow became a big critic of a system that really exploited cheap labor, mainly African-Americans. Thad Snow was in the center in Mississippi County, involved in many of the problems that African-Americans faced. 

They were uneducated and faced a system of collaborative, intentional moves to get rid of them, which were not based on race. Tractors and trucks could now do more work faster than mule teams. Just like a chain saw cuts wood faster than an ax, it was simply the facts, but livelihoods were at stake. 

As with most things, the advancements made it better for some and bad for others. Or as we say today, some of those folks got screwed and some got wealthy on disruptive technology.

Workers really had very little help or legal advice, while the landowner had leverage. The machinery advanced the production quick, creating a rapid changeover that included getting rid of the payroll along with bindings for mules. 

Internal Combustion Tractors made the farmers economically stronger, while the workers had nowhere to go to complain or get help. Such is the way of the world. 

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