Innovation – Old Cars Teach Us Lessons from History

Categories: Innovation Insights

A few months ago I went to visit DaimlerChrysler in Stuttgart. I arrived early for the meeting, and was able to spend some time in their museum. There I was able to see the earliest cars, and how they evolved over the years.

I was running a little late for my afternoon meeting, so I was only able to get up to the 1920’s, but it was amazing to see the process of innovation in action. In the beginning there were many visible technical innovations (such as the steering wheel). It is remarkable how quickly the engineers realized that their vehicles had to be usable by consumers – it was only a few years before running boards appeared, so refined ladies could climb into the automobile without showing too much leg.

I will go back again and do some more research. The nice thing about historical innovation research is that we know what was good and bad, and often know or can guess the reasons why things worked. Contrast this with the work I and my clients are doing now. We presume that our projects will all be successful (although we acknowledge a certain failure rate), but it is hard in advance to complain about the future. The past, however is fair game. No one will lose their jobs now that Ford’s Model-A car, the successor to the Model T, came out ten years too late and cost Ford leadership on the car market [excellent history write-up – link]. Everyone involved in that decision lost their jobs ages ago🙂

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