Why did Blockbuster and Kodak, once undisputed leaders in their respective industries, both file for bankruptcy? You might think that each business ignored the innovations that eventually led to their downfall, but the story is a bit more complicated.
With hindsight, it would be easy to conclude that Blockbuster didn’t see the digital and streaming entertainment business coming. In fact, Blockbuster had an opportunity to purchase Netflix in 2000 and passed. Not only that, Blockbuster developed an online DVD subscription business in 2004.
With hindsight, it would be easy to conclude that The Eastman Kodak Company didn’t see the digital camera business coming. You might be surprised to learn that a Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera and Kodak held the first patent for digital cameras. Even more surprising, Kodak had an online photo storage and sharing platform as early as 1999.
The leaders of Blockbuster and Kodak at the turn of this century were smart, strategic and experienced. They noticed emerging trends. They just underestimated the threat in the same way that railroad executives at the turn of 20th century disregarded the potential of the automobile.
Getting stuck is not only about missing something important. Sometimes we want to change, but we can’t figure out how to let go of our habits and routines. In the first case, being stuck has to do with how we process information. In the second case, being stuck has to do with the way we process our emotions.
We can use the framework below to characterize four mindsets that keep us stuck. The left-hand column describes elements related to people, including ourselves. In the lower-left quadrant we find the human elements that we can influence (e.g. our own behaviors and those of our core relationships). The upper-left quadrant includes human elements that we cannot influence (e.g. society and social movements).
The right-hand column describes elements related to structures. Structures are arrangements of interrelated elements. Structures include everything from our workspaces and tools (things we can influence) to large scale systems like public schools or research programs that study emerging technologies.
If we lack the ability to recognize the influence of our emotions, we succumb to the human element mindsets that keep us stuck:
- We conserve our assumptions without pausing to ask if they still serve us.
- We fear and reject social movements instead of reflecting on how they emerged and what they might mean for the future.
If we lack the ability to recognize biases and limitations in the way we process information, we succumb to the structural elements that keep us stuck.
- We maintain our processes and routines without questioning whether they still make sense.
- We misinterpret the significance of innovations.
What Unstuck Minds do Differently
We can use the same framework to identify how each of the four disciplines of an unstuck mind combats each of the mindsets that prevent us from changing our situations. Of course, if you don’t feel stuck, you may not feel motivated to contemplate your situation. I refer to the four strategies as disciplines precisely because I suggest you apply them even when you don’t feel the need. It’s like disciplining yourself to eat well and exercise rather than waiting to be dissatisfied with your health before taking action.
People with unstuck minds regularly reflect on their own assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors. They ask: How might I be getting in my own way?
People with unstuck minds get curious about shifts in societal attitudes and norms. They don’t necessarily buy-in to the latest trend, but they want to know: What does this trend say about our social norms?
People with unstuck minds tinker and improve their surroundings. They ask: Why do we do it that way?
People with unstuck minds are agile and respond to environmental changes. They ask: What opportunities become possible if this innovation catches on?