Henry Ford didn’t succeed by asking his customers what they wanted

The June issue of Inventique, the newsletter of the Wessex Round Table of Inventors has an interesting article by Sir James Dyson, the renowned inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, amongst many others.

He quotes Henry Ford the pioneer of popular motoring, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Although familiar with his line, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, I hadn’t come across this one before.

What I like about it (although some might say that it was written with the benefit of hindsight) is the way it illustrates the limited thinking of most business people. In particular the approach that seeks customer requested minor improvements, instead of radical leaps. It is only those with a vision of the future who are able to make significant changes to the way we lead our lives.

Ford MondeoWhat is ironic about the Henry Ford quote above is that it was the Ford motor company of the UK who produced one of the blandest models in recent memory, in the shape of the MK1 Mondeo. The cautious styling of this car was a direct result of the negative press the revolutionary Sierra received when first launched in 1993. Consequently the Mondeo is often cited as the most clinicked car of all time. So many potential customers were consulted that the resulting model became the definition of middle of the road boring. The phrase ‘Mondeo Man’ was used to describe the epitome of middle England values.

I am glad to report that Ford learnt from this mistake and have since produced several out of the ordinary models such as the Ka, Focus and even the replacement Mondeo.

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