Two Questions That Matter Together—Why? and How?

December 29, 2017

A Marketplace segment on a local National Public Radio station caught my ear yesterday.

The segment featured an interview with Steve Sasson, the former engineer for Eastman Kodak Company who invented the first digital camera in 1975.

Sasson discusses how his work began as a “filler job” handed to him by a supervisor. He details how he stole parts from different departments to build his first prototype and, months later, managed to successfully capture the world’s first digitized images.

Three years later, with a fresh patent in hand, Sasson took the invention to Kodak executives.

“I thought they’d spend all their time asking me how did I get this to work,” he says in the segment. “They didn’t ask me any of the hows, they asked me, ‘Why? Why would anyone want to do this?’”

We all know how the story unfolds from there. Kodak executives shelved the idea, and focused their attention on their highly profitable film business. Many years later, the company is a shell of its former self.

I write about this “Kodak Moment” in my latest book, Like I See It. The chapter highlights how the car business is facing a fast-closing convergence of new technologies that could significantly disrupt the way dealers do business and make money. I included the chapter as a kind of warning that dealers and other industry stakeholders who dismiss, or disregard, this technology-driven evolution do so at their own peril.

The Marketplace segment offers a useful take-away, I think, as we all face the future: If you only ask ‘why?’ as you evaluate a new challenge, change or opportunity, you stand a greater chance of missing how it will actually affect your business.