“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

A true and inspiring words from one of the most accomplished American inventors of our time, Thomas A. Edison.

Who does not fail, right? You and I know that failure has been part of the human life since the beginning of time. Nobody’s perfect, so let’s just deal with it.

However, there are failures that are so huge that we would naturally think that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. This is especially true in the business world.

In the last two decades or so, companies like Apple, Kodak, and Blockbuster have all experienced what we can arguably call the biggest business blunders in history.

So let’s take a look at how these companies failed big time; and the lessons that we can learn from them ...

FAIL #1: Apple’s iOS Maps App

Who can’t forget the iOS Maps failure that took the interwebs by storm in 2012? It was something unexpected from a perfectionist company like Apple. A dud that I'm sure any PR experts from Apple won’t like to relive again.

The whole dilemma started when Apple decided to kick Google’s Maps App out of its system and launched their own. The Cupertino-based company started from scratch and utilized data from third-party companies like TomTom, Yelp, and Waze.

By the time users started using Apple’s Maps, everything went south. Many people were complaining about the inaccuracies of the mobile app.

A few months later, Apple finally brought Google Maps App back in the App Store -- to the delight of many iOS device owners.

Lessons:

  • Learn to admit that there are people who are better than you. Keep your ego in check. If you don’t have a feature that is better than the competition, learn how you can strategically partner with them and share each other’s expertise.
  • Don’t burn bridges. Even if you think you can now stand on your own, there’s no need to severe the relationship or partnership. If unavoidable, make sure that you can ship an equally superior product or service.
  • If partnership is not available, then differentiate your product or service in a way that only you can. It does not have to directly go head to head with an already established competitor. Try to capitalize on a competitor’s strength and see what you can do about it.
  • Be patient. Launch a product or service ONLY if it’s ready for the demands of the intended users -- especially if you have over a million user base. Do rigorous beta testing.

FAIL #2: Eastman Kodak’s Film-Based Business

Kodak’s downfall is a classic example of how modern technology disrupts a traditional one. Traditional in the sense that they didn’t cope up with the trend in terms of digital photography; and instead continued to stick with film-based photography.

The camera company did join the digital revolution, albeit too little, too late to gain enough strength to exit itself from disrupted mode.

It’s also worthy to note that Kodak conducted a study about digital’s advantages and disadvantages, even way before the new technology began its havoc on the silver halide film.

They had the data that could have prepared them for the eventual disruption of film photography. Management did approve the use of digital, but only for improving the quality of film.

Kodak is still trying to rise from the rubble, but this time, as a commercial imaging business.

Lessons:

  • Learn to predict and adapt to changes. Just because you’ve dominated a market for many years, it doesn’t mean you won’t innovate anymore. Startups are sprouting left and right, ready to disrupt anything old and traditional. It’s not the time to be complacent.
  • Disrupt your own business. Look at how Apple disrupted its own best-selling iPod with the iPhone. Study data on emerging technologies in your market and react accordingly, even if it means cannibalizing your own product or service.

FAIL #3: Blockbuster Video’s Rental Business

Not so long ago, Blockbuster Video was known as the king in its market: the video renting business. And just like Kodak, Blockbuster’s downfall is mainly due to its slow reaction in coping up with new competitors in the digital age.

The new players at the time -- namely Netflix and Redbox -- all offered consumers something “different” when it comes to renting videos. In fact, Reed Hastings founded Netflix because he had enough of Blockbuster’s unreasonable late fee charges.

Prior to its dethronement, there were many opportunities for Blockbuster to avoid the worst-case scenario. And one of those happened back in 2000, when Netflix approach the giant video rental company and offered a partnership worth $50 million -- an amount that Blockbuster could very well afford at the time.

Blockbuster is now trying to revive itself by offering video streaming services via Blockbuster On Demand.

Lessons:

  • Competition is healthy. Having other companies also offering the same services that you do keeps you focused and motivated to always up the ante. You can also learn new things from your competition, especially from a young company who’s about to disrupt your market.
  • If you can’t beat them, acquire them. Don’t underestimate the competition, even if they’re small and just starting up. There are already a lot of stories about up-and-comer companies -- looking for partnership with big companies -- who got turn down because CEOs think they don’t need them. A classic example is Yahoo not buying Google.

Lessons:

  • No one can serve two masters at the same time. Technically, you can, but it’ll be difficult to give your full attention to both. It’s important to focus on a single priority for your business at a given time. See to it that you’re not forsaking one priority over the other.
  • Quality over quantity. Generally, businesses who sacrifice the quality of the product or service in meeting the demands of the market are face with a lot of problems later on. But sometimes, growth is inevitable. To be ready, set a high quality management system right from the start; and continually improve upon it even if you think it’s perfect.
  • Customer feedback is important. In today’s ever connected world, getting feedback from customers has never been easier. Create channels where customers can report their problems with your product or service. Conduct surveys to know your customers’ experiences.
  • Act immediately on a problem. When an issue arises, don’t “hide” it from your other customers. Instead, make it public and tell them you’re already looking for a solution. Again, keep your ego in check and admit that there’s a problem. It’s your responsibility to make sure your product or service is working as advertised.

Conclusion

If there’s one common theme that we can take away from these companies, that would be the notion that giants do fall. Big businesses have the tendency of being too complacent, especially if they dominate their markets.

And complacency is often partnered with less innovation, which is an area that startups are capitalizing on. Look at how Nest Labs is disrupting the thermostat industry, a market that have the potential of churning out another “Kodak moment”.

Whether your business is big or small, it’s important to always keep up with the needs of the market. Keep your mind open and be ready to adapt to changes.

In the end, it all boils down to just two things: Innovate or Evaporate.