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Faster horses in the age of co-creation

Henry Ford is credited with saying something along the lines of “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said ‘faster horses’ “. That particular quotation gets trotted out fairly religiously every time the issue of the innovator’s dilemma comes up, helping to point out the apparent perils of listening to the customer.

Henry Ford is also credited with saying something along the lines of “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”. Which gives you an idea of where Ford stood in the context of customer voice and choice.

Neither of the two statements attributed to Ford is surprising, given the context in which they were said. Assembly line thinking was rampant in those days, with all its social and cultural implications. While workers were highly paid as a result of assembly line, and could therefore afford the cars that they built, the price they paid was high, the unintended consequences were significant:

  • Doing the same task over and over again was mind-numbing, and in all probability contributed heavily to what we learnt later to be Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
  • The ambient noise levels were usually quite high, which meant that people were often unable to chat with each other; in those rare cases where talk was possible, it was frowned upon. This created a level of isolation and social alienation.
  • Zoning was a common practice, with workers effectively constrained to operate in specific loci; the shackles of slavery may have slipped off, but virtual shackles remained, accentuating the alienation.

One can therefore understand the reasons why Wikipedia, when describing Taylorism and “Scientific Management”, uses terms like the deskilling of the workforce and the dehumanisation of the workplace.

As the Wikipedia article on assembly line reminds us, the basic idea behind the assembly line was picked up from watching people work in abattoirs and slaughterhouses. Places of death. Now why does that not surprise me?

An aside: Assembly line thinking was good for the people who owned the assembly lines, and was considered a resounding success. So much so that it began to permeate many walks of life. Two in particular interest me greatly: schools and hospitals.

Once you start thinking that the things that matter in a hospital are the expensive items, the equipment, the land and the buildings, it is not difficult to move to the next step. Which is to decide that the smart thing to do is put all the ill people together, so that they get the chance to socialise whatever it is they’ve got. And if what they have is neither infectious nor contagious, then ensure that the premises and equipment make up for that deficiency. Give the man a Nobel Prize. Or something.

So then you come to schools. Now these must be run efficiently and scientifically, of course. So get those Taylorist clipboards and stopwatches out. Divide the day into time periods, have people clock in and out in registers. Mark their attendance and their outputs, examine them at every stage. Collect them into assemblies at least once a day. Use terms like “standard”, “form” and “class” to describe their groupings and habitats. And keep a close close eye on the standard deviation between the people, this should be kept as low as possible. What happens when the administration of educational establishments gets modelled on abattoirs.

Suffice it to say that during Ford’s time, customers didn’t really have either choice or voice. Again, it should come as no surprise that the person associated most often with championing consumer rights, Ralph Nader, chose to fight none other than the automobile industry for those rights.

Let us now shift the scene from the automobile industry to a different one: journalism and publishing. Nearly three decades ago, when I worked in the Documentation Department of Burroughs Corporation, we used to ponder one question regularly: How do we determine the reading ability and vocabulary of the people we wrote for?

One school of thought said “It is important for us to communicate with everyone, so we should write to a Lowest Common Denominator spec”. We used to call this Lowest Common Denominator the Sun reader, not as a derogatory term, but as a means of assessing the allowable vocabulary.

The other school of thought said “We are writers as well as communicators, we have professional values to uphold. We don’t have to be unduly verbose, we don’t have to use esoteric terms unnecessarily, but we must not allow everything to be dumbed down. We have a duty to all our readers, not just the so-called Sun reader”.

We never did solve that argument. In practice, what tended to happen was that we used the words we felt comfortable with, and part of the editor’s role was to ensure that brevity and simplicity prevailed.

I was part of the Do Not Dumb Down group, by the way. But that was nearly thirty years ago, I had just trained to become a callow economist, and my head was full of strange ideas. Ideas like merit goods. Ideas that allowed us to get to a point where, in many nations, Nanny State Knows Best. Where it was apparently considered normal to visualise a class of people who knew better than other classes of people.

Now, as I look back on those times and those discussions, I wonder at myself. Was I that arrogant? What residue of that arrogance do I carry now?

Why am I sharing all this? To make the point that for many years, even for centuries, it was considered normal for customers to have neither voice nor choice. That it was considered normal for one group of people to decide what other groups of people could have, should have, would have.

Let’s now look at both choice as well as voice. First, an anecdote about choice. When I left the shores of India for the first time and settled in the UK, I was petrified by supermarkets. I was used to corner stores in Calcutta where you asked for what you wanted in the simplest possible terms. You asked for toothpaste, or tooth powder (Monkey Brand, with its “healthy helping of breath-purifying charcoal”!), or even a neem stick. And you got toothpaste or tooth powder or the neem stick. When I walked into a supermarket to buy some toothpaste, and was greeted by an entire aisle of dental products, I had no idea what to do. The choice confused me, tyrannised me. So I picked up the first thing I saw, paid for it, went home. And discovered I was the proud possessor of some denture cleaner. Barry Schwartz deals with some of this in The Paradox of Choice. You can see him at TED here.

We’ve had choice for many years now, but it’s been vendor-dominated choice. Modern, more sophisticated, more elaborate versions of Any Colour You Want As Long As It’s Black. Nowadays it’s more akin to Any Colour You Want As Long As It’s Mine. People consider it normal to ask questions like “So what’s your lock-in?”. How do you enslave the customer? Will you come in to my parlour, said the Spider.

When it comes to voice, Nader and his crew did their bit, but it took the Cluetrain gang, Chris Locke et al, to get me going. Making me realise the problems caused by building walls between firms and their customers, the stupidity of Fortress Enterprise. That was then followed up by people like Esther Dyson explaining how the User is in Control, Kathy Sierra entrancing me with Creating Passionate Users, and Hugh Macleod working on the Social Object and discovering the evolution of Blue Monsters, David Weinberger explaining how folksonomies empowered customers, Doc Searls starting up the VRM movement. Now, these people are my friends, and I’m privileged to know them. And we’re friends because we share similar beliefs about control and choice and voice; we may not agree in every respect, but we learn from our differences.

So where is all this heading? In the past, it was culturally not just defensible but acceptable to deny customers both choice as well as voice. Capital and land tended to be the scarce factors of production. But that was a very long time ago. In the past, it was culturally not just defensible but acceptable to deny customers control. Education tended to be scarce, and social status was allowed to be a basis for the bestowal of control. Mummy knows best. In the past, it was culturally not just defensible but acceptable to believe that the customer didn’t know what she wanted, that when she did know she was wrong, that the customer needed to be educated about what she really wanted, which fortuitously happened to be what you had.

All that was in the past.

Today, the abundances and scarcities that characterise our era are different. The scarcest, most precious resource around is the customer. That customer knows what she wants. If she doesn’t know it, she knows how to find out what it is she wants. She knows it when she sees it.

That customer knows that part of what she wants is to be able to figure out what she wants. She is both consumer and producer, a partner in the process of co-creating value. The senior partner in the process of co-creating value.

So today, if she asks for faster horses, we don’t build her a car. We need to find out whether she meant a roan or a piebald or a chestnut or a bay. When she tries the piebald out and decides she wanted the roan, that’s what she gets. Our job is to make it easier for her to buy or rent or lease the horse, to make it safer for her, to make it more convenient for her in terms of where the horse is to be picked up and dropped. To make sure the horse is well, that the riding equipment is securely and sefely fastened.

And that way we get to keep her business. At least until next time.

We need to be in the business of providing the customer what she wants when she wants it, where she wants it, how she wants it. We need to focus on making things that the customer wants to buy, rather than trying to get customers to pay for things they neither want nor need.

There was a time when we could decide for the customer. There was a time when we could constrain the customer’s voice and choice. There was a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

Now is not that time. Now is the time for faster horses.

Posted in Four pillars .

55 Responses

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  1. Jonathan Lister says


    “Faster horses” – a very poetic metaphor. I agree with the spirit behind this, but in the past people would have said they wanted faster horses because that was all they could see, day in, day out.

    We live in a time where the world of product choice is both infinitely broad and infinitely deep – I know I can have anything I choose, but there are piles upon piles of products in any given niche I like the look of.

    Our task is to show the art of the possible, just like some of your heroes you mentioned do in their blogs, their conference talks and their conversations.

    If I say I want a faster horse, the company that will get my business will be the one that shows me their line of jaguars.

  2. Federico Antin says

    Hello, where I can sign for a new and shiny horse, well, if the horse it’s old, I don’t really care, I trust in horses more than I do in humans…
    Best wishes, as always,

    Federico (aka euskir)

  3. Guy Tessler says

    Point well made but you can not expect a faster horse to read such a long post on an iphone so this customer wants either a shorter blog post or a longer book. Either will be welcomed and read. The book will even be paid for if required.

  4. Steve Purkiss says

    What a truly awesome post, thank you!

  5. Vickie Pynchon says

    Interesting. The term “voice and choice” is the rallying cry of “transformative” mediation (facilitated dispute resolution). V&C hasn’t had much success with litigated disputes. Imagine that: Fortune 50 CEOs being denied voice and choice because the lawyer knows what’s best for the company. It’s a question of control in my business. And fear of consequences if you allow people to speak the truth rather than the spin of the truth (cf. where “spin” got McCain this election season). Lawyers, litigators, WANT their clients to have voice and choice but don’t really know how to provide it to them. The clients want V&C as well, but don’t know how to get it in the legal arena. I’m not a “transformative” zealot but I am a V&C convert. When the attorneys let their commercial clients sit in a room together after years, sometimes, decades of litigation, I see the dispute returned to the commercial arena that spawned it and the disputants do to the litigation what they’re best at in business — making a deal. The 21st Century is about voice and choice not only for customers of products but for clients of service providers as well. I’ll link to this as soon as I finish tomorrow’s presentation on this topic for owners of intellectual property and their clients. Thanks again. Great post and thanks to Hugh MacLeod for sending me here. http://www.twitter/gapingvoid

  6. [ebarrera] says

    In this new era we have the responsibility to show our costumers how the new technologies have give new powers to their consumers.
    And it’s also our responsibility to use this new power with precaution and evangelize new users.
    Congratulations this is a great post! Keep up the great work!

  7. Doodleist says

    Great points about the assumptions driving assembly lines/schools/hospitals, and let’s face it, cube farms.

    However, to innovate you can’t ask the customer what she wants because what she wants is what she’s seen before. Asking for consumer input is fine for incremental product improvements, but the groundbreaking stuff comes from wild eyed visionaries.

    The Paradox of Choice creates new markets and opportunities. Indexing, organizing, and curating the exploding variety of choices becomes as important as the end product. “Every new abundance creates its own scarcity” and all that.

  8. Ethan Bloch says

    Very well said. And I think a lot of businesses understand this already or are at least starting to understand this; however there will always be some that never understand this, airlines come to mind.

    Just take a look at Proctor & Gamble the consumer non-durable giant. They get some ridiculous percentage, 30% +, of their new product ideas from consumers; the folks actually using their products in the house; shock?!

    I imagine this will only go up. However 100% consumer driven product innovation could be dangerous due to the pitfalls you alluded too.

    Bottom line: Consumer driven product innovation FTW.

  9. Stephen Collins says

    As usual, JP, a great piece of thought leadership!

    The frequency with which I need to drive home to my clients that they are no longer in control of the message, the medium, their product development still amazes me. Sometimes, I feel like I should have a box of Cluetrain in the car just to hand to people.

    Thanks so much for sending the message once more.

  10. Christopher Golda says

    Today, the abundances and scarcities that characterise our era are different. The scarcest, most precious resource around is the customer. That customer knows what she wants. If she doesn’t know it, she knows how to find out what it is she wants. She knows it when she sees it.

    Sounds a lot like what Doc Searls was getting at with the intention economy — ready-made buyers, etc. You mentioned VRM, but I’m not so sure something as formal as a CRM reciprocal will fly on the buyer-side. Relationships between buyers and sellers will be implicit, not explicitly “managed”.

    We need to be in the business of providing the customer what she wants when she wants it, where she wants it, how she wants it.

    I think this is valid in both conventional and reverse markets; in the latter, it’s even more effective.

  11. Brennan says

    I watched that TED talk and I really disagreed with what Barry had to say. I doubt choice is the problem. I’d say the problem is finding an effective filter that allows customers to place products into meaningful categories.

    I did some research on the examples Barry used. A lot of his arguments come from a study done by Sheena Iyangar concerning the discomfort from choosing products from a large sample. She later revised her results when she found consumer discomfort to drop when the products were assembled into meaningful categories. Here’s a link to that paper (

    I think a lot of choice is a great thing. But using this strategy will ultimately require an effective sorting method which allows customers to classify products in ways that are meaningful to them.

  12. JP says

    Wow. Looks like there are still a few people who read this stuff at night. Thanks everyone.

    There are a number of themes in the comments here, worthy of a follow-up post. Here are my early views:

    1. Showing customers the art of the possible. Jonathan et al. Absolutely. We can and should, but we need to be careful to do so in such a way as to avoid drowning out the customer’s voice. Yes we have the opportunity to educate, but what we should not do is channel them, to send them down a tunnel of our making. When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, that sort of thing.

    The challenge is to *discover* the art of the possible in *partnership* with the customer, not as a show and tell.

    2. Voice and choice in services. Vickie, I couldn’t agree more with your view. The name of the game is re-mediation not mediation. The passing of control to the customer is a painful thing, but it has happened. It’s done. Once we understand that everything else becomes easier. Dinosaur death dances are of no use to anyone.

    3. Wild-eyed vision. Ethan, while I tend to agree, what I feel is that we’ve been ignoring the possibility that the customer has wild-eyed vision as well. I love the phrase “Talent is bulding things that others cannot build. Genius is building things that others cannot see”. What we have to remember is that *our customers are geniuses*. *When they get the chance to make things*. We have to set free the creativity, the vision, the zeal of the customer. It’s what the opencource movement understood intuitively.

    More later. Keep the comments coming.

  13. Stuart French says

    Great post mate.

    It seems to me that this isn’t so much a destruction of the “higher” class – the class with the knowledge and the control of supply – but rather that one of the things that divided the classes in Fords time, the “knows” and the “knows not” is no longer a differentiator.

    Now anybody can be informed. Anybody can know how to cook Mrs Fields cookies or even how to build a Model-T. There are still plenty of barriers to entry when it comes to making the big dollars, but information is no longer one of them.

    With this profusion of information comes 1) the ability of the manufacturers to build and supply customised solutions without the previous multiplication of cost, but more importantly 2) the ability of consumers to be knowledgeable enough to know what they want.

    The point I’m trying to make is that today’s consumer probably wouldn’t ask for faster horses. Today’s consumer would have gather multiple sources of knowledge about the problem (getting from A-B) and alternative and innovative solutions (power-sources, etc). Experiments in crowd-sourcing like the ones mentioned in the book Wikinomics show that consumers can even become part of the innovation and development cycle, creating new, cheaper, better solutions.

    Today’s consumer wouldn’t ask for faster horses. They would ask for a Tesla sports car and give ideas about Lithium-polymer batteries, carbon-fibre and kevlar body parts and co-axial coil spring telescopic dampers. The question is, are we willing to listen to them?

    The next hyper-step in this age of consumer intelligence IMHO, is how much longer we are going to require political representatives to make the big decisions for us. But maybe now I’m thinking a little too far out of the box :-)


  14. Martin Budden says

    I think that Ford’s statement “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black” has been misinterpreted by people in our time. It is interpreted as a Hobson’s choice, but I don’t think it was that at all. It was not about restricting peoples choice, but about making the car cheaper and more affordable. Since the car was cheaper more people could afford it, that is many people had the choice of buying a car when previously they did not. So the overall choice to the potential car buying public was increased.

    “Which gives you an idea of where Ford stood in the context of customer voice and choice.” – yes he was pro consumer-choice. He knew that if the choice was between a car that came in a variety of colours but was unaffordable, or a black affordable car, the consumer would choose the later.


  15. Rhys Jones says

    Great post.

    I can see how this works in a business to consumer world, where you have to attract more customers and business by providing what they want, not what is easy to provide, but what provides value.

    The challenge I’m currently struggling with is how you can apply this philosophy internally, where your customer is part of the company, you have limited resources to provide products so have to focus on a few. There is more demand than as a company you can afford to meet, and often a desire to centrally manage the investment budget at a commitee level rather than a customer by customer.

    What are your thoughts?

  16. Steve Ellwood says

    An excellent post, which I’ve dugg and stumbled.

    If we can work out how to sell the customer what they want, at a price we can afford them to pay us, we’re half way there.

    Even better if we’ve taken them on a journey so they understand that selling them services we’re building on FOSS is still adding value to them.

  17. Jason Korman says

    Thanks JP, thought provoking. Just to play devils advocate, what about the point at which there is so much choice and voice, that people just stop caring? Switch off? In our business (wine), the problem is too much choice, most people want guidance. Well intending retailers turn what should be the simple selection of a wine, into an ordeal- an incomprehensible mind-game of nuance that is lost on 95% of consumers.

    We see total over supply of nearly everything, and Schwartz’s point is that people fundamentally want clarity and simplicity – for most too much choice is a burden. The notion of “choice” is subjective, and more is not always better. It seems to me that the pot o’ gold is in simplifying.

    We are well into the age of ‘too much choice” and over abundance (though the current economic trend may deal with that) and the future will be about not ‘supplying choice” but guiding and simplifying… Just my 10 cents.

  18. Alice Bachini-Smith says

    Stuart French said:
    “The next hyper-step in this age of consumer intelligence IMHO, is how much longer we are going to require political representatives to make the big decisions for us. But maybe now I’m thinking a little too far out of the box :-)”

    I don’t think so- I think it’s a social revolution, not just about consumers/ marketing- whatever you think of Obama’s policies, he won many supporters who voted Republican before, by (at the very least) making them feel like he was listening to their horse preferences. McCain didn’t do anything similar at all. The effect of this “marketing” difference is being widely underestimated by the media, where most things are framed in a primarily political context.

  19. Richard Sands says

    Fascinating post. If understanding what the customer wants, and providing it to her is the essence of success in the post-Cluetrain world, are you calling for the (re)ascendance of Product Marketing? After all, that is what good Product Marketing does, right? Uh oh… there’s the “M” word.

    I think you’re exactly right. Knowing what your customers want and delivering it has always been the hallmark of success. If you give a customer a horse who asks for a horse, you’ll miss the Cluetrain entirely however. As Martin Budden commented, Ford knew that customers wanted affordable cars. Customers also might want red cars. Or different model cars. Ford didn’t know how to deliver affordable choice, so he didn’t. Ford had enough insight into the market to know that affordable was the high order bit early on, but once Durant brought all those nameplates under the GM brand and offered affordable choice, Ford fell behind GM in sales. Was Ford wrong? Nope. Did Ford fall victim to the Innovator’s Dilemma? Yup.

    Understanding customer needs and wants, their relative priority, and translating them into requirements for products and services that meet those needs and wants is what Product Marketing does. Or rather, thats what good Product Marketing does.

    Isn’t it great that with the Internet, social media, and communities, the voice of the customer has never been louder? Makes Product Marketing’s job so much easier and more relevant!

    Isn’t “Cluetrain” intended as a rant against Marketing? You didn’t mean to write an ode to Marketing, did you?

  20. Amrita says

    I enjoyed reading this post. I can relate to your experience leaving Calcutta for the UK — I lived in Bulgaria for 2 years in the 1990s when their economy had collapsed and there weren’t a lot of foreign good available. When I returned to Canada I was paralyzed in the cereal aisle of the grocery store wondering how I could possible choose between 40 different varieties and whether that was necessary. Is there such a thing as too much choice?

    As someone who works in the visual arts, I am stuck by how something as simple as implementing dull grey cubicles can breed a culture of passiveness and complicity.

    But my take on faster horses is slightly different than yours. Yes, show your customer horses if that’s what she wants. But you can also show her a car, in case she didn’t even dream a car was possible.

    It is as much about *how* you offer choice as the choice you offer, in my opinion. So much of these marketing theories that are getting accolades are about common human decency! Would you use hard sales/advertising tactics on your mother/brother/daughter? Then why would you treat a customer that way?

  21. George Sackett says

    There will always be a range of customer; from the buyer looking for breed of horse that they had and trusted to the person looking for the “new breed” that is faster and stronger. The challenge is for a company to understand the needs of the customer and educate them to what is available – then let them make the decision whether they need a draft horse or a race horse.

    Thanks to @ChrisBrogan for sharing your thought provoking post.

  22. dean says

    Even more amazing to my way of thinking is if we consider where technology left us 30 yrs ago in 1978.

    The mass media controlled the flow of information and choice or voice were just concepts bandied about on Madison Ave in preparation of another mind numbing television advertisement.

    Today, I wake to my friends in India and Italy and we trade ideas. I know them better than my next door neighbor 30 feet away.

    It is this new Web 2.0 world of blogs and social media networks that has given us choice and thus change.

    What a wonderful time for communication and connectivity. Thank you for the fine thought provoking article JP!

  23. Laura "@Pistachio" Fitton says

    Love the post. Love the conference atmosphere in the comments.

    As much as Ford tsk-tsk’d the “stoopid” customers, his product worked because he ultimately heard the voice *behind* the voice of the customer: the one saying “I want to get there faster in an affordable manner.”

    So the framework we dance within now is to listen, to hear genuinely, and then act to help people buy what they need to satisfy the root of what they aware they’re looking for. Without patriarchically forcing them into our models of perceived convenience.

    And, next layer in the cake: to do so without wilfully perverting the laws of economics, as occurred in the US housing markets/subprime lending fiasco.

    PS: @trib I misread your comment as “a box of Cluetrain in a jar.” Would that such a substance existed!!

  24. Jenny B says

    Wow! What a post. Thanks.

  25. mocster says


    Interesting post, and I do agree that a major shift has occurred. So, how do we create cost/energy efficiencies in an age where vendors need to provide each customer with exactly what s/he wants every time? Like it or not, economic restrictions and planetary concerns also factor into the equation. Also, the voice of the customer has grown enormously in the past few years, I wonder whether there isn’t still a silent majority out there who’s not yet tuned in or is simply watching — vs. actively participating in — vendor conversations at this point. Does anyone think vendors are engaging with (and listening/responding disproportionately to) the outliers on the bell curve? Do the raving fans or raging critics have too big a voice?

  26. JP says

    Thank you very much for all your comments. You’ve helped me crystallise something that’s really been confusing me, and it will be the subject of my next post.

    In it I will try and respond to as many of the comments as possible. I am largely offline until Thursday and would appreciate your patience.

    The question I keep asking myself is “Why do people think that inventors, geniuses and creators of disruption are all *not* to be found in the class of humans called “customers”? What causes this separation? What happens if the tools used by geniuses and inventors and creators of disruption are made available to customers? Won’t we get *more* as a result? or is there a reason to have a holy of holies, a place where customers aren’t allowed to go but inventors can?

    More in my next post. Thanks again for the comments.

  27. John Dodds says

    I’m not sure I can answer that last question JP , but another one I’ll pose is why are all the supply chain skills and just in time manufacturing solely focussed on saving the company costs when they could equally and perhaps more fruitfully applied to focussing on customer wants?

  28. DE says

    Sometimes, you have to think about not just delivering more horses. Something familiar from Douglas Adams:

    “Frogstar B was thrown into poverty through an event termed the Shoe Event Horizon. Many years ago, Frogstar World B was “a thriving, happy planet–people, cities, shops, a normal world.” However, there were slightly too many shoe shops on the high streets of the planet, and the number of shoe shops was steadily increasing. The more shoe shops there were, the more the shops had to make, and the more they had to make, the worse and more unwearable the shoes became. And the worse and more unwearable the shoes became, the more the people had to buy, and the more money the shops made until it became economically impossible to build anything other than shoe shops. The result was collapse, ruin, and famine. Most of the population died out, but a select few with the right kind of genetic instability mutated into birds and cursed the ground.”

  29. Will says

    The TQM movement of the 80s and early 90s gave robust and effective methods to teams of workers to allow them to improve their own processes. Senior management and the workers got it, but middle management really struggled to reconcile this stuff with their deeply engrained view of a “real world” where they were paid more because they thought and directed while the workers, er, worked.

    People are still trying to do this stuff, even though it is no longer trendy.

    There is also a lot of good stuff on how you get beyond what customers know they want to what they really need. Assuming that you know better is not the only answer.

    Whatever you find out, you still need to be able to:
    1. build reliably to spec (=deliver consistently on your promises)
    2. spec to the real world purpose of your product (what it is actually used for, not what you fondly imagined when the lightbulb flicked on) and
    3. do all of this at a cost that the people who need your product can afford

    A lot of the TQM literature is hard to follow, but Shoji Shiba’s “A New American TQM- Four Practical Revolutions In Management” is pretty clear.

  30. Tina says

    I don’t want any more choices….I’m fed up of having to make the decision/design the product/give the input etc etc. If it isn’t a life or death choice (eg its just about toothpaste) then I’m happy for someone else to make it.

  31. richard beasley says

    A fascinating post re the horses and Ford car, really though provoking, having spent the last three days in Miami with JP, I’m now beginning to understand really why this blog is so great!!

  32. Alice Bachini-Smith says

    I think you raise a point I find fun to complain about from time to time- where are the flying cars?

    Faster horses (better human communication via technology) are all very well, but where are the significant changes to our actual everyday physical existence that were predicted/ expected during the post-WWII sci-fi era?

    (I know there has been real news about flying cars lately, but expensive energy use seems certain to limit them to rare and exclusive use- we don’t even have concord anymore.)

    What is the role of the (sometimes eccentric, rejected, misunderstood?) creative visionary in our new world?

  33. Rana says

    Excellent article.

    I was also born in Calcutta. Have just returned from there to the UK. But while there, almost exclusively frequented the little corner shop that sell everything instead of using the new department store. You say what you want to buy and the quantity you need – it is personally handed to you. The guy knows the cost and benefit of every product he sells. Credit is based on personal acquaintance. That level of personalisation and customisation is what vast banks of databases and logistics systems aspire to recreate for the modern “western” consumer.

    The new model claims more efficiency because of economies of scale. But somehow (how?) the Kolkata corner shop is still much cheaper than the Kolkata department store.

    Sorry, a bit of a diversion there, but it is still all about giving the customer what he wants – not all about building bigger stores because it’s the trendy thing to do.

  34. David Armano says

    Excellent, excellent post. I especially like this part

    “That customer knows that part of what she wants is to be able to figure out what she wants. She is both consumer and producer, a partner in the process of co-creating value. The senior partner in the process of co-creating value.”

    Have a look at the first visual that goes with my BusinessWeek article on the conversation economy. Goes perfectly with your text.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article here.

  35. Judy Rey Wasserman says

    Interesting post.
    Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and other innovators give the public what is does not yet know it wants. Great artists like Rembrandt and van Gogh did the same thing.
    Innovations are usually met with resistance, at least at first. Getting past the drag of what can see conservatism is an achievement.
    Human perception is partially to blame as we actually can see, taste, hear, etc. what seems familiar better and with more ease than what is new.
    The more startling new the harder it is to actually perceive. That’s the brain decodes the impressions it perceives through memories of previous similar people. places or things. Until enough new memories of something radically different are built up, it is difficult to perceive vs. what is familiar.
    The name “horseless carriage” demonstrates people attempting to see the new automobiles in a way that was familiar– as a carriage.
    While giving the consumer what he/she wants is a smart idea, and the world is quickly being dominated by niche products, it differs from true innovation.
    Ford though outside of the box by looking at what the customer actually wished to achieve (faster travel) than by listening to what the customer thought was the solution.
    Judy Rey Wasserman
    On Twitter :judyrey

  36. Josh Clauss says


    I was referred to your blog, and I have to say I am inspired by the content in this post. The topic is great, but I just don’t think it’s as simple as you make it out to be. The problem is, as we learned in great documentaries like “The Century of The Self,” that marketers (“Mummy” to use your analogy) at one point said, “consumption is best,” and the consumer has been on a path to un-do this hypnotism ever since. Consumerism itself is part of this suppressive education. So, although choice has increased over time, businesspeople have never let go of deciding what people consume – this is evident in the powerful automobile industry deciding that the electric car is not ready to be marketed when it so obviously is. The tyranny is not over, not by a long shot, and I, for one, believe an equally monopolistic ideal needs to take root in the industrialized world in order to clean up the damage caused by modern consumer culture.

  37. Richard Weiser says

    Wonderful article. And your reply to the posts is also very thought provoking. I have been very focused on creating innovative solutions to consumer needs – and that alone is a major shift for the corporations I work with – but now I see that if we allow consumers to share their desires, ideas, questions, the latent innovation(s) will be contained therein. Thank you.

Continuing the Discussion

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