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Deliver More Than Faster Horses

While historians have debated whether or not the faster horses quote can be attributed to Mr. Ford, no one disagrees with the fact that Henry was not in a hurry to solicit input from anyone.

His decision to not listen to the customer was a major cause of his remarkable success and failure.

In 1921, the Ford Motor Company sold about two-thirds of their cars built in the United States. Sales hit their peak in 1924 when 2 million horseless carriages rolled off the assembly line. By 1927, Ford’s market share plummeted to less than 10%, production of the Model T was stopped, and 60,000 workers lost their jobs.

Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., President of General Motors in 1927, offered his opinion, “The old master had failed to master change. Don’t ask me why. Mr. Ford, who had so many brilliant insights in the earlier years, seemed never to understand how completely his market had changed from the one in which he had made his name.”

Even if you feel you’re on the right track when it comes to mastering change, you can still get run over if a competitor enters your market with a new idea.

These two stories are more current examples of marketplace disruption:

  • Two roommates who could not pay their rent decided to buy a few air mattresses and rent out their apartment to three people they never met. Ten years later, Airbnb is worth 25 Billion Dollars and they’re bigger than the world’s top five hotel brands put together.

  • A couple friends have trouble hailing a cab on a snowy evening so they came up with a simple idea — tap a button on your phone and get a ride. Today, Uber is one of the largest transportation services in the world. Last year, their 5 Million independent drivers gave 5 Billion rides.

Even though our recent history is filled with stories of successes and failures when it comes to disruption, there are still too many teams in traditional companies that have not developed a sense of urgency for creating change.

A recent study conducted by the International Institute for Management Development and Cisco Systems found that disruption is not seen as worthy of attention at 45% of the companies they polled. The study also found that one-third of those leaders have decided to take a “wait and see” approach to the issue. The down side of this strategy is that if they wait till they have to change, it’s too late.

Today, a company’s strategy for success in the past can often be a formula for failure in the future.

If you want to thrive, not just survive in the age of continuous disruption, a good place to start is by asking your co-workers what they think needs to change in your organization and learning more about the clients you want to serve.

Our goal should be to find new, profitable ways to help our clients get from where they are to where they want to be, not how we can sell more of our products and services.

As John Wooden once said, “What you learn after you think you know it all is what really matters.”

Too often our client knowledge is limited to what individuals have done with us. We try very hard to improve the data we have on sales, satisfaction and quality. However, most companies don’t know enough about how their best clients are adapting to the trends that might impact their business in the future.

If you’re in the banking industry and you ask a small business owner what they need from you, they may say quicker decisions on loan requests or more favorable terms. You can meet their request and still see that company go out of business in a few years because they didn’t have a plan to compete with a non-traditional competitor.

Unlike Mr. Ford, we should keep asking clients for their input on what we can do to improve our service, but we need to do more.

Delivering “Faster Horses” was a competitive advantage for the Pony Express in 1860. Their innovation of using horse-rider relay teams disrupted the mail delivery system by getting a letter from Missouri to California in 10 days instead of 25. However, the company ceased operations just two days after Western Union completed their transcontinental telegraph line.

If you want to continue to win when the game keeps changing and help your clients do the same, I encourage you to share this blog with members of your team and have a dialog around these four questions:

  1. Why do you think Henry Ford failed to master change?

  2. What are you doing to make sure you and your team are adjusting to the changing needs of your market?

  3. What are the clients you choose to serve doing to make sure they’re adjusting to the changing needs of their market?

  4. What’s one innovative thing you will do to create positive change that will add value to your clients?

You and the people you choose to lead and serve will benefit when you help them change before they have to.

Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin


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