Keep moving

Keep moving
1 January 2017

IF you’re too young to remember the name Kodak, you’d probably at least have heard of Nokia. Both were at one time the biggest names in their respective fields. Both failed to future-proof themselves.

Kodak was film juggernaut and it was its dominance that led it to disregard the threat that digital photography posed. What makes it all the more ironical was that digital photography was invented in Kodak, by one of its engineers Steve Sasson in 1975.

In 1981, when Sony came out with its first digital camera, Kodak was still sitting on the technology that it had invented. Kodak was sufficiently concerned about this situation that it conducted a study on the likely adoption curve of digital photography. The conclusion they got was that digital photography was indeed a disruptive technology that could replace film but that it’d take some time — roughly 10 years — for it to become mainstream.

Instead of using the next decade to get ahead of the competition in making this transition — something it was well-positioned to do — Kodak again chose to rest on its laurels. And it’s not that Kodak has a history of inaction. It had successfully transitioned from dry-plate to film and from black and white film to colour film, in the past. But when it came to the move to digital, it faltered. In January 2012, it filed for bankruptcy.

When I joined the telecommunications industry as a senior researcher in 2008, Nokia was the dominant hand-phone maker. Not only that, its brand was among the most recognised and valuable in the world. But it would falter badly for much of the same reasons Kodak did and over a much shorter period of time. By September 2013, when it sold its handset business to Microsoft, it controlled just three per cent of the global smartphone market.

Like Kodak, Nokia wasn’t a company that was averse to transition. It started life as a pulp mill and has been in the rubber, forestry, cable, electricity and electronics industries, before it became a hand-phone powerhouse. Then Apple and Google came along and ate its lunch.

Again, like Kodak, it actually pioneered the technology that would eventually be its undoing. Nokia emerged with the first smart-phone in 1996 and was the first to develop a touch-screen and mobile-Internet capabilities for the phone. The problem was that it was too focused on the hardware aspect of the business while Apple and Google recognised that software, in particular the apps, was what made smartphones exciting.

The lesson all businesses can take from Kodak and Nokia is to never stay stagnant, to move with the times and to be prepared to transition to a new business model. These are lessons that we, as individuals, can learn from too.


As a veteran journalist, I started my career at a time when all a reporter had to do was report. We went to events, came back, wrote the story. There was no Internet then and certainly no such thing as social media or mobile news alerts to worry about.

We didn’t have to shoot pictures or make audio or video clips for quick immediate upload to websites. There was no app to update. Life was simpler then. But things change.

It’s human nature to resist change. When my bureau chief first asked me to start taking my own photographs, I resisted and gave various excuses to avoid having to report as well as shoot a press event. I remember telling him I’m not good at photography and didn’t want to waste film. He handed me a digital camera and settled that matter right there and then.

In time, I grew to become a capable news photographer. When the Internet boom hit Malaysian shores around 2000, I left traditional media and began experimenting with new media. I began blogging in January 2003, at a time when the word “blog” would’ve been met with a befuddled look. In time I learnt how to record and edit audio for creating podcasts and even learnt basic videography and video editing so I could create mul–timedia clips.

In 2008, I joined a Norwegian telecommunications company as a senior researcher so that I could learn more about the mobile Internet.

I did all these things not because I aspired to be some kind of “renaissance man” but because I didn’t want to be a human version of Kodak. The times were changing and the industry I worked in was changing. Yes, at its core, journalism is about good reporting and writing but today, having only those core skills isn’t enough.

In fact, having extensive multimedia skills is also not enough. As magazines and newspapers around the world feel the squeeze, more and more of them are engaging freelancers. To be a successful freelance journalist, you need to develop entrepreneurial skills as you’ll have to market and sell your story ideas to content companies. This mindset of constantly acquiring new skill sets and learning to be entrepreneurial is something that’d apply to almost any industry you’re in. It’s the key to future-proofing your career.

When I was first starting out in journalism back in the mid-90s, I knew an old-school journalist who was still using the typewriter to produce his stories. He worked for a foreign newspaper and would fax over his typewritten reports. I remember asking him why he didn’t just learn to use the computer. He assured me that being good at reporting was all that was needed in this line. I’ve since lost touch with that guy but I’m pretty sure he’s not in journalism anymore.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experience in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at

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