I got to thinking about buggy whips. I wondered if there were some lessons for creating an alternative future. (More)
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It turns out that the idea that buggy whip manufacturers all went out of business with the arrival of the automobile is a rather simplistic overview. There are 154,000 google results for buggy whips and some of the hits make and/or sell them to this day.
Buggy whips, used to prod the horses harnessed to wagons and carriages, started to become obsolete when automobiles appeared in the late 19th century. Today, any line of business facing the life-or-death challenge of a digital age will be described, sooner or later, as a contemporary buggy whip maker.
There were 13,000 businesses in the wagon and carriage industry in 1890, Mr. Kinney said. A company survived not by conceiving of itself as being in the “personal transportation” business, but by commanding technological expertise relevant to the automobile, he said. “The people who made the most successful transition were not the carriage makers, but the carriage parts makers,” he said, some of whom are still in business.
One is the giant Timken Company, whose signature products, roller bearings, were first used in wagon wheels in the 1890s. They easily adapted to the automobile because they could be applied “to nearly anything that moved,” Mr. Kinney wrote.
Businesses do die, even big ones. Leslie Hannah, a visiting professor of economic history at the London School of Economics, studied the 100 largest industrial companies in the world between 1912 and 1995. Almost half of them disappeared, “and more than a quarter experienced bankruptcy or a similar close shave with it,” he wrote in “Learning by Doing in Markets, Firms and Countries.”
I really don’t want the Democratic Party to be talked of in the future as a “buggy whip maker.” Charles Warner at Forbes says businesses need to be customer focused. Those that are product focused will fall by the wayside. Too often I think Democrats use what used to be called “factory out thinking.” We create programs and policies to meet needs but we could do a much better job of talking to people’s needs. I leave you with a quote from Peter Drucker.
Peter Drucker once wrote that people don’t buy quarter-inch drills; they buy quarter-inch holes. The lesson was meant to reinforce the concept of being customer focused.
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