Mitt Romney’s Kodak moment
So why is it that so many organizations do the exact opposite? Why do they think technology will evolve at a manageable pace or that a competitor’s products will never be able to capture the hearts of their customers? Why do they say things like, “Prices will hold because costs are as rock-bottom as they’ll ever be,” or buy into notions like, “We can’t go any faster and maintain our quality”?
Such questions are rhetorical, of course. People don’t face reality the way it is because, well, because they’re people. Change – especially change that will require upending “how things are done around here” – can make us cranky, dismissive, mocking or all of the above.
And so it is that we can have a company like Kodak, which once upon a time held a mighty 90 percent market share, declare bankruptcy. Or one like Borders, the dearly departed bookseller, which missed every game-changing trend that came at it. Research In Motion, one of the fastest-growing companies in the world on its way up, threatens to become another case of a business that ends its glorious run in the disarray of reality-denial – even though its ubiquitous BlackBerry helped change the way we all work.
Former Intel CEO Andy Grove was right: When it comes to competition, as he put it in his 1999 book, “Only the paranoid survive.”
So business leaders, take heed. Figure out what’s going to blow you apart before the competition does. Stare into the future – and be afraid. Be very afraid. And if you can’t look deeply into the dark side, which some people just can’t, at least make it a point to surround yourself with one or two smart, snarky lieutenants who persistently assail your optimism with doomsday scenarios.
Hello, Mitt Romney, are you listening?
Look, it’s hardly a secret that we support former Governor Romney. He is, in our view, the most qualified and electable Republican candidate left in the race.
But we‘re concerned that Romney is not facing reality the way it is – which is that his religion is going to become a major issue. In fact, we can imagine that come the general election, Romney’s taxes and his years at Bain will be background noise and the foreground roar will be all about Mormonism.
And why wouldn’t it be? His religion was an issue last time Romney ran for national office, and America’s large bloc of vocal Evangelical Christians, which any Republican candidate will need to win the White House, has clearly signaled once again that Mormonism is an area of deep concern. And yet, even with that evident reality, it appears this is Romney’s Kodak Moment. He’s hoping and waiting.
Hoping and waiting is not a winning strategy.
Which is why Romney’s campaign, like any organization staring down certain adversity, must rapidly shore up its response and then – as disagreeable as it may feel – go on the offense. Imagine, for example, if Kodak had faced up to the onslaught of digital photography with a creative-destruction mindset, or what if Borders had embraced the possibility that e-books weren’t going away? We probably wouldn’t be mentioning them here as cautionary tales.
To escape the same fate, Romney needs to get ahead of the Mormon issue now, answering Evangelical concerns before they start to snowball, the way these things do. And despite the successful example of John F. Kennedy taking on anti-Catholic opposition in 1960 with one great speech, Romney cannot let himself think all he needs is a single “putting it to bed” foray, heavy on the separation of church and state rhetoric. Times have changed; the media have changed. Today, people talk and talk and talk about controversial issues – and so must he.
What can Romney say? Well, for starters, he can educate people about the central tenets of his faith, which remain something of a black box for many Americans. But more important, he must bridge the trust gap his Mormonism creates by making it explicit to voters that he is neither pawn nor theocrat, as he proved during his governorship of Massachusetts. Maybe Romney thinks this point is so obvious it doesn’t bear stating. It does. Finally, as part of a proactive, face-reality offensive, Romney might make it a priority on the campaign trail to identify and celebrate the values all people of faith share, Mormons included. Because if he doesn’t, chances are his opponents will make sure to exploit the differences.
But it’s not for us to say exactly how Romney tackles this matter. All we know is that if he doesn’t, it’s not going to go away.
Maybe we’re being paranoid.
Then again, these days everyone has to be.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.
PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shakes hands with supporters after speaking at his Florida primary night rally in Tampa, Florida, January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Carlson