Staving Off a Spiral Toward Oblivion

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But has the pendulum swung too far? New technologies are obviously important, but even in today’s fast-paced environment, they can take a long time to substitute for the old. In the meantime, incremental innovation based on old technologies can help a company survive.

When Sony announced its Mavica electronic camera in 1981, headlines trumpeted that “Film Is Dead.” But it took 28 more years for Kodachrome, the film immortalized by Paul Simon, to finally die this past June.

E-book software by companies like Electronic Book Technologies was released in the early 1990s. Yet despite the recent buzz over the Kindle and other electronic reading devices, e-books are still less than 5 percent of overall book sales.

The reality is that most technologies eventually die. But unlike the ancient Greeks, who believed their destiny was controlled by the Fates, today’s managers need not assume that an old technology’s fate is predetermined. Companies can proactively manage the innovation endgame. Continuing improvements to extend the life of technology, particularly given the attractive margins on the old, can be a wise business decision — and not necessarily a reflection of narrow-mindedness.

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