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You’d be forgiven for thinking this is his quote because it’s regularly attributed to him, but it turns out he didn’t say it. Regardless, there’s a lot to learn from this statement. My key takeaway from Ford’s experience in terms of automobile production is neatly summed up by Patrick Vlaskovitz in his HBR article on innovation:
“The real lesson learned was not that that Ford’s failure was one of not listening to his customers, but of his refusal to continuously test his vision against reality, which led to the Ford Motor Company’s failure of continuous innovation, resulting in a catastrophic loss of market share from which it never recovered.”
My role, as business development manager for Wonderland Collective, is to try and get us through the door of businesses we think will best benefit from our experience and innovative thinking. I do this by investigating the right person at the company, introducing myself, and presenting them with a thread of a solution to a problem I’ve identified through careful consideration of their situation. That’s my side of the two-way relationship between our company and our potential clients.
Now I don’t profess to know everything – each company has their own history, internal politics, and quirks; but what I can say, without any equivocation, is that refusing a meeting with a party that has provided a different perspective, a history of innovation, and has gone to the effort to not only investigate your situation but has given some potentially valuable IP, should be the resultant the minority of the time if the potential client is going to stay ahead of the game.
My practical advice for businesses that want to succeed, is this: make the time to see as many different small innovative suppliers as possible. You could even do an innovation day and invite a wide range of companies to do 15-minute ‘pitches’ to you and your marketing team. You will learn loads, and you could find a diamond supplier that’ll deliver innovation to you on a platter. It is absolutely your responsibility to both deliver on what’s proven AND experiment with innovation. Achieving the latter requires actively seeking out and engaging with new suppliers.
Real innovators leave a trail of improvement and happy clients behind them and their work is often referred to others – 90% of our new work is referred. Look out for the people that get sent to you – especially if they’re sent by someone you respect and trust in business; often, they’re the proverbial pot at the start of your innovation rainbow.