We Need Faster Horses

If you are reading this blog there is a good chance that you are familiar with this quote from one of America's most recognized innovators, Henry Ford. "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses," he famously said.

I've heard the phrase used by clients, peers and decision makers as logic for not conducting people-centered research, specifically with regard to the development of new concepts. I've also seen organizations whose innovation activities are limited to developing "faster horses" (or, in other words, specific things that people say). Neither is a good approach to a sustainable innovation practice.

In his book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," author Dale Carnegie referenced a second, but lesser known Ford insight as one of the "most important quotes of all time."

"If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own," Ford said.

Carnegie references Ford's words in a chapter dedicated to working to be empathetic and suggested that people should make decisions in which both (or multiple) parties benefit. Coincidentally, a key value of Design Thinking and problem solving is empathy. Before any of this was formally outlined in books, Ford was smart enough to understand that he had to get deeper than the spoken needs and desires of people, and that empathy would give him insight into their unarticulated needs and desires. By doing this Ford was able to develop one of the most impactful innovations of the 20th century and build a company that repeatedly delivered innovative products to the automobile industry.

(I created the images below as part of a presentation. Feel free to use these for yourself the next time someone references the "faster horses" quote.)


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