EDITOR'S BLOG
Outpacing change

I’m one of the few people in the lighting world who never had the privilege of knowing Jonathan Speirs.

But as tributes to the pioneering designer flood in from far and wide, I’m starting to feel like I did.

His long and distinguished career holds many timeless lessons for the industry – creativity, generosity, challenging orthodoxies. But his passing also provided me with a reminder of how fast things are moving in the lighting business. One of Speirs’ colleagues I spoke to reflected on how much had changed even in the short time since Speirs gave up his day-to-day job in 2010.

Technology is buffeting the lighting world – in the July issue of Lux we’ve got calls for all public lighting to go LED in eight years, news of a massive LED lighting deal with a major retailer, arguments for wider acceptance of quality standards that currently apply only in the US and a debate on the applicability of light output ratio to LED-based products.

But this is just the latest of numerous industries to feel the impact of advances in electronics, and adapting isn’t easy. The music business has suffered from its slowness to respond to the digital revolution. Film and book publishing have faced similar difficulties.

And just look at Kodak – once the masters of photographic kit, but reduced to filing for bankruptcy earlier this year.
The market for traditional camera film, on which the 123-year-old Eastman Kodak Company was built, evaporated with alarming rapidity when digital photography took off around the millennium.

The funny thing is, Kodak didn’t miss what was happening. Andrew Hill wrote an excellent account of the firm’s demise in the Financial Times recently, showing how the company had been playing with digital technology since as far back as the 1970s. But the organisational challenge of adapting to the new world still proved too great.

One has to sympathise with the firm’s inertia. Profitable, established revenue streams found themselves competing with growing, but less lucrative, new areas of business. Hill describes a company that groaned under the weight of its own legacy. Bosses of today’s tech and manufacturing companies, he says, ought to keep asking themselves, ‘What is our Kodak moment, and how can we avoid it?’

With the changes sweeping through the lighting market thanks to new technology and the energy-saving agenda, it’s hard to imagine that in the years to come, there won’t be a few Kodak moments – even for companies with the best of intentions. Smile.

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