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The Innovation Blog

When cars poop. A new Techonomy.

Posted by David Culton on Aug 30, 2010 6:37:00 PM

What if Henry Ford got it wrong?

I’m an innovationist.  I make my living helping companies innovate.  Most of my blogging will be about practical tips and techniques from a practitioner’s experiences on the road to innovation.  This thread will be different.  This is intended to be thought provoking about sustainability, technology, technological roadmaps, techonomy (http://techonomy.com/videos/ look for the video "techonomy – the philosophy"), sustainable innovation, and other related subjects.

Let’s begin with a definition of innovation:  “Business innovation is the process of envisioning, and successfully implementing new ways of doing anything that creates value for a company or it’s customers.”

The Absurd Wish:  For the purposes of this blog thread, I’d like to have some fun, and hopefully intrigue you to thinking more about sustainability and the role of innovation, by beginning with what many will call an “absurd wish.”  In a nutshell, my wish is for a world where “cars poop.”  Before you completely bail out on me, consider this quote from Albert Einstein… “If at first an idea does not seem absurd, there’s no hope for it.” 

That’s good advice for innovator’s seeking really breakthrough or transformational innovation.  If all we wish for are things we can understand or envision today, we simply won’t be pushing very far from what is easy, feasible and incremental.

So I wish for a world where cars poop.  Why would I wish that?  Let’s go back to Henry Ford.  Henry is credited with saying “If I asked them what they wanted they would have said ‘faster horses’.”  That statement is commonly used to help people understand that in talking with customers or consumers, you have to look well beyond what they say and can wish for.  Most of us are grounded in what we know, and find it difficult to see very far beyond that.  That’s true, and a helpful thought for most Voice of the Customer (VOC) activities. 

You get what you play for.  So what if Henry did get it wrong? What if we look at “Faster Horses” differently.  In Henry’s time, the existing paradigm was that most locomotion, most vehicles were based on horse power (funny how we still use that term today).  The horse was the “engine” of locomotion; the carriage or cart was the vehicle.  So if you wanted to go faster, you needed a faster horse.  Henry’s answer was to break the paradigm and make vehicles based on the internal combustion engine more useful and available to the “common man.”  That's what he "played for" and it worked well for him, and for a long time, it worked well for everyone.  But today, all that internal combustion is contributing to a range of little issues like pollution, global warming, tensions over oil resources, etc.

Something to think about:

Maybe we should have, or should begin to play for something different.  What if we look at “faster horses” differently?  What if we rephrase that to “biological engines.”  Steam engines were also at play during those times.  But they quickly became relegated to trains and ships.  The automotive industry pursued a century of innovation around creating motion by igniting fuel oil.  What if that century had focused on creating more efficient, smaller steam engines?  And what if rather than burning coal, or oil, etc., the innovation roadmap had been on the road to biological reactions that cause enough heat to create steam?  Where would we be today?  Think about it.  I’ll share some new technologies later that might hold some of the answers.

Topics: Innovation, creative problem solving, breakthrough innovation