One weird trick to outfox the Henry Ford gambit

I done got a letter from a reader!

Here is a dramatic reconstruction….
Remember these two diagrams?
THIS one, the usual, the boring old triangle?

And then there is this one, the one thats not a triangle, the one that is designing services against demand…

Well, my reader (one of probably several readers of this blog) wrote that they have a problem….

“When I show this diagram [the stupid triangle] and try to persuade others that they are all mental, some bright spark is inevitably going to come up with “Yes, well that’s all very well for existing services, but what about when we want to do something new?”

They will then start firing off quotes about faster horses and customers not knowing what they want.

You know the one, the one that goes…


I’ll probably answer by suggesting that they might have a good idea and this approach in it’s core means trying new things constantly anyway.

They will be smug, because in their minds the strategy triangle is magically going to produce the next ipod. Thinking about existing demand is far too boring when we could be writing strategy papers or re-writing a policy that no one is ever going to read.

Have you got any ammunition I can shoot them with?”

Well kind reader, I’ve found the same as you that there is one thing guaranteed to make an otherwise plodding jobsworth into a maverick genius innovator, say this to them…

Services should be designed around the customer

Suddenly they’re self-styled Steve-Jobs-alikes, stating this will stifle innovation.
You know, all that innovation that you see going on around you. It’d just be stifled.

And I’ve never witnessed a response to this other than nodding agreement, and my own personal internal response.

My own personal internal response

And that is that.
Invoking a barmy racist shuts down the discussion as it confers the magic combination of the innovator and the hard headed entrepreneur.
In comparison to your meagre offering of “listen to the customer” this is potent stuff and shuts down any counter argument….UNTIL NOW!


Tell them….
“Henry Ford actually LOST millions of customers BECAUSE he didn’t listen to them”

Yes, you heard.
Henry Ford said you can have any colour car as long as it is black, cos he didn’t listen to his customers, if he DID then he’d be in the fast horses business and that’s just as well, amiright?


Not listening to customers worked well at first because instead he had his famously efficient production line, the first one used in manufactruing. As a result of getting there first and getting there cheaply he sold two thirds of all cars in America. But as soon as there were competitors who did listen to the custpmer, look at what happened…


So how did that happen? How’d he lose HALF the car buyers in America?

General Motors listened to Ford’s customers, and started giving them what they wanted  instead.

They found that customers didn’t want any car as long as it was black, they wanted…

  • closed cabins, no wind in the hair
  • used car trade-ins
  • payment by installments
  • a new car design every year

Ford was left with a tiny market share because he didn’t focus on what customers needed.

But more importantly, the customers may not have been able to say out loud these things, but Ford could have experimented and found this out. He should have tested his vision against reality, got feedback on what worked and what didn’t, and adjusted accordingly.

He didnt, innovation stalled and stopped and he gave his customers away to General Motors. Having good ideas isn’t enough, ideas are only ideas neither good or bad until they become reality.

There is no such thing as a good idea, only a good reality.

[if you want to read more about Ford, click here where I stole this all from]


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