Don’t ask me why but recently I was reading an article on “analogies”. It was a good article but what really caught my attention was a remarkable story inside this article about how observation led to innovation. An interesting and true story about the Ford motor company in its early years and how a process from another industry sparked an idea that revolutionized building car engines.Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom! Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! Proverbs 4:7 (The Message)
How is a Ford Model T like a dead cow?
By 1913, the Ford Motor Company had a lofty goal of producing two hundred engines per day, but its process remained inefficient, involving workers who fetched parts from multiple bins and moved them around on hand trucks.
One day, Bill Klann, a Ford employee whose colorful resume included working for a streetcar company, a blacksmith, a machine shop, and a shipbuilder, took a trip to a Chicago slaughterhouse. There, he saw a model of industrial butchering efficiency: animal carcasses moved by on overhead trolleys, while a series of butchers performed specialized tasks in sequence as the carcasses advanced. As Klann watched this bloody symphony of movement, he had an analogical epiphany: dismantling something (a carcass) was fundamentally similar to building something (an engine); therefore, adopting a moving assembly line at Ford would increase productivity and reduce costs.
“If they can kill pigs and cows that way, we can build cars that way,” Klann told his boss upon his return.
His boss protested. The differences seemed too pronounced: what could be more different than flesh and machinery? “Here you’ve got something else. You’ve got this and that and pistons and rods,” said his boss.
“It’s the same thing,” insisted Klann.
Klann prevailed, and the moving assembly line wound up a signature of Model T production, exploding productivity and enabling the company to cut the price of the car from $575 to $280. Ford doubled its market share in mere years.
Klann saw through the superficial differences between slaughtering animals and assembling cars. There, at the heart of both processes, lay an underlying structural analogy waiting to be exploited. Seeing Ford’s success, it took little time for almost every other industry to imitate, creating what is estimated to be “trillions of dollars of growth in virtually every industry.
As I have contemplated this story I have thought about how innovation occurs and believe this story highlights one of the keys. In our human nature we tend to analyze problems with filters that are familiar to us (our work, family, education, region of the world, etc…) but as the story of Bill Klann emphasizes we need to be open to being observant and curious enough to seek solutions outside our normal “box”.
Here is something I am going to challenge myself and our team to do; Take time once a month to observe other companies, people, and strategies outside of our industry to see if we can apply and adapt ideas observed to what we do.
Who knows maybe we will come up with a revolutionary idea or simply solve some of our challenging issues. Either way I think we will broaden our knowledge, gain wisdom, and expand the possibilities for what we do next.
Reference article by David Zax: http://www.fastcompany.com/3037014/my-creative-life/how-steve-jobss-mastery-of-analogies-sent-apple-sky-rocketing