One of the secrets to being an innovator is the ability to ferret out the unspoken needs and unspoken wants of a customer and then develop a product or service that fills it. But the other secret is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and constantly improve that product or service to stay ahead of the competition. A case in point was Henry Ford, the automobile tycoon who saw a need for the common people to be able to own and drive the then new-fangled automobile. Thus was born the Model T.
To build a car that was cheap enough for anyone to buy and simple enough to operate, Ford developed a very simple product and produced is on the moving assembly line. He also doubled the average wages of his employees, cutting down on turnover and increasing productivity by retaining the more experienced workers. Incidentally Ford employees made enough money to buy the cars they made.
The Model T was the king of the road for almost a decade. But Henry Ford was slow to adapt to changing wants of the customers and the never ending change in technology. The competition jumped on Fords inability to continuously innovate. By 1927, the handwriting was on the wall and Ford shut down production of the Model T in favor of the newer Model A. However, the newer car was competitive for only four years before having to be replaced with a yet newer model. The rate of innovation was defined by the competition and The Ford Motor Company never recovered the dominance it enjoyed in the 1910s and early 1920s.
Henry Ford was a great innovator in that he brought the automobile to the masses. However he fell short because he failed to capitalize on the fact that a customers unspoken needs and unspoken wants don’t stop changing and therefore drives a need for continues innovation.
At the same time, history doesn’t define the future. Ford has recently partnered with outside firms like IDEO to create new cutting-edge innovations that have redefined the industry.
Disclosure: I’m a big Ford fan. 100% of my cars are Ford’s.