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When the talk is about innovation, Henry Ford’s quote of the “Faster Horse” is often brought into play as a thought-terminating cliché, an argument against any course of action to consider customer or user demands for the development of products or services.
Well, let’s take a deeper look on the historic context. P. Vlaskovits published a comprehensive and detailed article about this issue in the Harvard Business Review. Here’s a brief outline:
Ford’s success in the early 20th century was based on the cost-effective mass production process for the Ford T-model. It was the cost-leadership which kept the Ford Motor Company ahead of its competitors for years – not the design approach of the T-model.
But everything changed in the 1920s. For maintaining the cost-leadership, H. Ford had to freeze the design of the T-model while General Motors came up with a new strategy in-line with Alfred Slolan’s famous market segment strategy “A Car for every Purse or Purpose” (1924), which took the direct opposite of Henry Ford’s tack of “Any color …as long as it is black”. Until 1927 Ford’s market share had dramatically fallen, from 2/3 in 1921 to 15%. Ford responded very late on the changed market situation with the A-Model. At this time the Ford Motor Company was struggling to keep pace.
Let’s assume that the quote is actually from H. Ford (there are serious doubts, P. Vlaskovits), we can summarize that Ford’s success in the 1910s was based on other aspects than the articulated product design strategy and as the times turned in the 1920s the Ford Motor Company was struggling due to its stubborn product strategy. Given these facts the perspective changes. We can conclude that the Henry Ford’s “Faster Horses” quote is an invalid argument against customer-oriented product design methodologies. On the contrary, it is obvious that for the case in hand it would be rather an argument for human-centric approaches.
Read the article of P. Vlaskovits: Henry Ford, Innovation, and that “Faster Horse” Quote on the Harvard Business Review, August 2011