Reinventing the Wheel
So they said it couldn’t be done, but when a new start up appeared on the American version of Dragon’s Den with a six-sided cube that rolled and gripped better than the shape perfected sometime in the late Neolithic period. The phrase, usually used as a term of derision, didn’t stop inventor David Patrick trying to refine accepted wisdom, and he has gone on to build a multimillion-dollar business making his unusual cube-shaped wheels.
The Shark Wheel story demonstrates that innovation often comes from exploring ideas that have already been created. Real disruption in a market comes from companies that have taken an existing model, identified the consumer pain points, and addressed these using technology and data. Uber is just a better taxi service and Amazon is just a more convenient way of shopping after all.
The automotive industry in contrast has spent the last however many decades trying to design and build the perfect car. The Top Gear greatest car of the last 20 years rates the 2015 Bugatti Veyron at number one. If perfection was reached 5 years ago, what has been happening since? Some may say the Ferrari 250 GTO, the most expensive car ever sold, hit the sweet spot 53 years earlier and still hasn’t been beaten. The point is, maybe manufacturers have been focused on the wrong thing. Rather than a quest to create the perfect machine, a more human based approach to deliver the best way to get from A to B should have been their goal.
Remember Smith Corona, the best typewriter company in the world? Probably not! They were making buckets of money $500 million of revenue in 1989. They weren’t blind to the growth of personal computing and struck a deal with Acer so they could play in the new world. However, as they were going through a process of change the partnership was seen as a distraction, killed off and within three years, Smith Corona declared bankruptcy, whilst Acer went on to become the fourth largest computer company in the world.
Automotive manufacturers take note, otherwise the new agile, tech companies are going to steal your lunch. Young, agile minds with little baggage and pre-conceptions are going to change the market. Tech companies, scientists, even vacuum cleaner manufacturers are after your slice of the $80 billion profits you make a year. Learn from history and consider delivering products and services that allow humans to find the simplest, cheapest, and best way from getting from A to B, the reason why cars were invented in the first place.