Business Agility Examples: 4 Companies Who Weren’t Agile and What We Can Learn

Evolvement and growth are human nature. If it weren’t we’d all be eating deer stew next to an open fire and carving images into a nearby rock for entertainment. The truth is, we’re all at least a little agile. But we have to be, or we’d never keep up. And the same is true for business. While the best bakery in town might be serving customers for the 90th straight year using the same recipe, most companies are iterating constantly. When they don’t, they often get lost in the progression of competitors. 

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is all too common in the corporate world. While some companies persevere through centuries, others aren’t as open to change, fading into obscurity as their peers continue to play leapfrog. Here are a few business agility examples (or rather, a lack thereof) that underscore the importance of being open to adapting.

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Blockbuster 

Remember the days of walking into a Blockbuster on a Friday night? Pushing through the double doors, trying to fit your three rentals from last weekend through the little return slot, then dashing past rows of concessions and merch to the new release section where you pore over a handful of trending titles, silently praying they have at least one copy left. 

The reality was, rentals themselves hardly brought in any cash flow. At the core of their business model, Blockbuster’s main source of revenue relied on late fees. In short, its profitability depended heavily on the ability to charge customers for late returns. This meant that the movie-renting experience could certainly be fun— yet it needed to be anything but convenient.

The turning point 

For Blockbuster, Netflix was the canary in the coal mine. Whereas the majority of Blockbuster’s traditional competitors relied on the same storefront video-rental standard, Netflix underscored the fact that things could be done differently. 

By prioritizing convenience and cost, rather than fees and margins, Netflix started gaining major traction in the market. The final nail in the coffin, of course, was the onslaught of other services like Redbox. 

As a real punch in the face, years earlier, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster with a video streaming service concept— and was subsequently laughed out of the room. A decade later, streaming platforms became a household staple, with Netflix currently commanding an audience of over 200 million people. Who’s laughing now? 

Kodak

Thanks to the reliability and profitability of the disposable camera business, Kodak thrived for decades, becoming one of America’s top 5 most valuable brands by the close of the 20th century. Kodak moments– A phrase many of us remember fondly. You purchase your disposable camera pretty much anywhere and can hardly wait to get the pictures developed. So how does a product that became a staple at almost every major event in our lives plunder?

The turning point 

While Kodak themselves invented some of the earliest digital cameras, their biggest mistake was suppressing their own creation. Naturally, Kodak knew that the digital camera business would cannibalize their film-based golden goose, so they chose to continue clinging to the past. 

While they succeeded in slowing down the adoption of digital cameras to some degree, their competitors continued to leapfrog them technologically, leaning into the value and convenience the new format could provide. Despite the fact that they had the right tools and a strong brand, Kodak withered in the digital age, falling victim to their own beloved film-camera cash cow. 

Pan Am

So you want to travel the world? For a large chunk of the 20th century, Pan Am could take you around the globe. Once the largest international carrier in the United States, Pan Am confidently branded itself as the “world’s most experienced airline.” Indeed, the company was an early pioneer in aviation, boasting countless first-time achievements in the world of flight. From taking delivery of the first commercial US jet airliner to inaugurating an unprecedented daily transatlantic service, Pan Am trailblazed many of the aspects of air travel we take for granted today.

As the popularity of air travel exploded, Pan Am earned a cult following— not only for their technological achievements but also for their luxurious accommodations. From complimentary champagne and caviar to spacious seating, Pan Am showed the world just how enjoyable flying could be. The company leveraged this popularity to massively ramp up its operations, becoming one of Boeing’s largest customers, even launching the very first commercial flight for the iconic 747 aircraft. Unfortunately, even with decades of experience and success under their belts, by the 1980’s Pan Am began to experience some extreme turbulence.

The turning point.

While there’s no singular reason Pan Am failed, their unwillingness to adapt to new business models ultimately resulted in an unstoppable downward spiral. The business built a brand on their dominance in transatlantic travel, but this relentless focus on international flights also left them overexposed to several threats. 

For any transnational airline, fuel costs are a major factor, and rising oil prices throughout the 80’s were a significant detriment to Pan Am’s bottom line. This, paired with a tragic public relations stumble after the shocking Lockerbie disaster, forced Pan Am to divest their assets to competitors. The decline of this once iconic travel giant shows that, while focus is important, it’s equally essential to avoid getting tunnel vision.

Blackberry

Who didn’t love holding that awkward square device in their hand? Back before the days of the App Store and autocorrect, the Blackberry was the undisputed champion of the mobile phone market. So much so that, at its peak, the brand earned the infamous nickname “Crackberry”. 

From the dimly lit LED display to the classic physical QWERTY keyboard, it was all unmistakably Blackberry. Ever mistype an important email because the buttons were so small? Oh, the memories.

For the better part of a decade, Blackberry dominated tech and business culture, serving as the go-to device for retail and enterprise audiences alike. Even politicians were enamored with the mobile phone— President Obama famously refused to surrender his beloved Blackberry after his first election, stubbornly negotiating with Secret Service agents who sought to “pry it out of his hands.” 

Still, for all the fanfare surrounding BlackBerry in its early years, an ominous threat lurked just beyond the horizon. Queue the scary music as the first iPhones hit the market… dun dun dun!

The turning point. 

Ignore innovation at your own peril! While Blackberry undoubtedly dominated the mobile phone market for years, they completely missed the boat on touchscreen technology. With the advent of the iPhone came an explosion in new applications and use cases. Consumers soon realized that Blackberry no longer met their needs and expectations. 

At the same time, many businesses began to introduce new Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies at their workplace, meaning Blackberry no longer had an easy foot in the door when it came to the enterprise market. 

As Apple and Android began to swallow up nearly the entire mobile phone market, Blackberry’s revenue plummeted, leaving them with less than 0.2 percent of the market share by 2016. Even after introducing their own touchscreen offering, Blackberry could no longer rival the new kings of the mobile market. 

Avoid the Turning Point

It’s so important to learn from these business agility examples. They make it clear that agility is key for the continued success of almost all businesses. While the ability to pivot when needed is crucial, the reality is, a company has to be set up to do so without the need to change your entire internal infrastructure. It should be as easy as identifying a problem, taking it to the team, and shifting focus. Sounds easy, right? 

With traditional (often antiquated) work processes, what should be a quick shift can often get tied up in approvals and weighed down by the opinions of a few. Want to solve this problem? Let Responsive Advisors lead you through the implementation of Scrum.

According to Scrum.org, “Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.” Want to know more? 

Robert Pieper

I like Metalcore, and cupcakes.
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