Do we need faster horses?
“If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said they wanted faster horses.”~ attributed to Henry Ford
Apparently there is little evidence that Henry Ford actually said that, however, there is strong evidence that’s what he thought. His response in the design for the initial Model-T exploited the moving assembly line and included an open-body design that looked remarkably like the type of carriage that was pulled along by a horse. After having been a pioneer in the transition from horses to cars, he seems to have kept one foot in the old camp, and Mr H Ford’s instance on making a horseless carriage rather than a car along with his reluctance to engage with the new market as it evolved soon caused sales to decline.
Then, along came Alfred Sloan, who undertook some consumer based research for General Motors and they came up with the slogan “A Car for Every Purse and Purpose” and left Ford behind. People clearly no longer wanted faster horses; now they wanted cars made for distinct market segments, and in particular they wanted access to better financing options and the ability to trade in their old model to obtain a bright shiny new one; something people didn’t do with horses.
“A Car for Every Purse and Purpose”~ Alfred Sloan
Some years ago when I went to live and work in France I was plunged overnight into a new culture, and I had to learn how to adapt to that culture to be able to do my job. Along with the obvious language challenges, getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and the long lunches, there was another challenge that I didn’t see coming.
It seemed that simply by crossing the channel, all of my typing skills had evaporated. When I was working on a PC I would scan the keyboard for letters that I know I used to be able to find easily. The M key had disappeared, or rather it had moved! It wasn’t until I noticed that the keys at the top of the keyboard no longer spelt “QWERTY” that I discovered the reason. In France, they use an “AZERTY” keyboard to accommodate for the French language, where A and Z replace Q and W, and the M key has moved up and to the right of the L key.
A new culture has all sorts of nuances that we don’t expect, and everyone living there doesn’t even know that it’s a difference because that’s all they’ve ever known. That’s when I learned that I need to look out for the AZERTY keyboard effect in any new culture I encounter.
The speaking profession has entered a new culture where it initially seems that we need faster horses, and we’ll very soon find that we’ll need “A car for every purse and purpose”.
L. P. Hartley starts the prologue to his novel “The Go-Between” with the words “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” Today we might say “2019 is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” I suspect that in a few years time when we look back at the beginning of this century we will see that the 21st Century started in the year 2020.
“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley
Almost overnight we have had our inboxes flooded with “get rich quick” emails with all sorts of systems to follow to make our own Model-T, and experts emerging to help us construct a moving assembly line. However, if we are to emerge from this pandemic fit for the future we’ll need to have better cars with better financing options, providing a solution fit for our new customer.
My colleagues in the professional speaking business have recently been severely hit by the cancellation of speaking gigs and many have had an entire year’s worth of bookings cancelled overnight. We are not alone in having to address new challenges and facing an uncertain future, and we are not alone in trying to find our way forward into this new culture.
Part of the challenge I see my colleagues wrestling with in order to embrace this world where social isolation is a thing, has to do with such things as “do I stand, or do I sit” to deliver a keynote presentation, “what backdrop do I use”, and “how do I share a PowerPoint slide show”.
So, we could take the approach that we need to take what we did and how we did it, and do that to a camera instead of to an audience. This could involve setting up a studio with a stage, a lectern and a screen with enough room to move about on stage, and would need us to position a suitable camera, and then deliver a physical presentation via a digital medium. That seems to me to be like making a Model-T. Making a horseless carriage, not a car.
Or, we can embrace the new digital market and learn from the people who live in that culture. News readers. They bring information and ideas to a digital audience, they do that while seated. If they need a screen to illustrate an image then they have it positioned to be seen alongside the newsreader and perhaps swap to an image only view.
It seems to me that we need to leave the horseless carriage behind and develop “A Car for Every Purse and Purpose”; we need to learn to use an AZERTY keyboard.
About Roger Fairhead
Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.
Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.