Henry Ford is an inspiration. His failures changed not only his world, but ours too.
IN 1903 Henry Ford set up the Ford Motor Company, his fourth business attempt to make a car the average person could afford. Ford was an innovator, not an inventor.
He did not invent the modern car but rather, he figured out how to make it a consumer product.
Records show his first business venture was a disaster. He could not produce quality cars at the right price and the company went bankrupt in 18 months.
He started his second venture 10 months later, only to leave the company within one year.
Ford did not agree with his partner to bring in a consultant.
He tried again for the third time but did not succeed, as he could not pay his bills. Only on the fourth try was he successful, and that too after his partner convinced him to bring in some serious investors who had business knowledge and insight.
The failures made Ford understand one key point – a good invention does not necessarily mean a successful product.
Ford was technologically competent, but business ignorance made him fail.
Having learnt his lesson, he focused his energies on the manufacturing process.
His first car (Model T) was very easy to manufacture as he had simplified the way parts were arranged.
It has been reported that he soon introduced moving assembly belts, which further reduced the manufacturing time from 728 minutes to a mere 93 minutes for each car.
This innovation made it much cheaper for Ford to produce cars and soon, he had 50% market share in America. Ford did not invent the assembly belt; he merely found a way to adapt it to improve his car plant for mass production.
By now, Ford had caught the drift and concentrated on business innovation. He needed a wide reach for his cars, so he started selling franchises to dealers around the country.
Local clubs were set up to position his cars as the perfect way to explore the countryside. He made car ownership desirable.
While these moves may seem like common sense today, they were radical and daring steps during Ford’s time.
His biography illustrates he took existing ideas and assembled them to create his product; much like a child does with building blocks.
This is the true essence of an innovator – let someone else invent while you figure out how to make the invention successful.
Some wait for the right circumstance to be present before they act, but not Ford.
When circumstances were less than ideal, he took the initiative to be proactive.
Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, once exclaimed that he always looked for the right circumstance to succeed. If he could not find the circumstance he was looking for, he made them. Clearly, this was Ford’s mindset too.
Ford’s work ethics drove him. Hard work, passion and a stubborn desire to succeed are necessary traits for the innovator’s journey and Ford had an ample supply of them.
Had he been complacent or given up after his third failure, transport may have taken a different path altogether.
Why do Malaysians shun failure, when clearly it lays the foundation for success?
It is rare to find successful people who readily admit to having failed multiple times before they finally made it big. Somehow, the stigma of failure, lingers.
My whole life is built on a series of failures and I am not ashamed to admit this. I have failed far more times than I have succeeded. I can’t help but echo Michael Jordan when he said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”.
My first business failure was at the age of 20.
The personal computer did not exist at that time, and the Internet was something only university professors knew about. I teamed up with a group of friends to provide a professional service to the legal fraternity, using a mini-computer.
The idea was innovative but converting the idea into a business that actually made profits was harder than I imagined. I learnt that good ideas don’t make good businesses if your customers do not see things the way you do.
It was a valuable lesson and I rely on it to this very day.
How can we create a platform where successful people talk about their failures and not their achievements?
I know there are such books around, but the reality is that Malaysians either don’t pick up these books or are not aware of their existence. Sadly, the lessons don’t reach those who need them most. Maybe, we should produce short videos of these individuals and put them up on YouTube.
Readers probably have better ideas on how to share lessons on failure. Please work with me on this and email me your ideas.
The best ideas usually come from the man on the street, not the experts. If feasible, we can carry out this project under my unit.
Let Henry Ford be our inspiration. His failures changed not only his world, but ours too.
Datuk Seri Dr Kamal Jit Singh, CEO of Unit Inovasi Khas, is hoping to jolt Malaysians out of complacency. The STAR Online Home News Opinion Friday Novmber 21, 2012