From the Model T to Drones: Anticipating Customer Needs

Most all of us are familiar with the quote by Henry Ford: “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

The truism here is that sometimes customers don’t know what they really want, because they haven’t envisioned newer possibilities. They’ve locked themselves into old paradigms, and they simply can’t think beyond them. So when the Model T came about, it was truly revolutionary in every sense of the word.

That was a hundred years ago. Since that time other fascinating inventions have come along that have transformed the world. Personal computers are one of those things. The internet is another. Air travel, smartphones and microwave ovens have all created their own new ways to approach the world around us.

Fortune magazine has stated that Google Drone Guru Dave Vos thinks that drone deliveries could begin as early as next year depending on acceptance and approval of the government and public. He notes that drones will be safer than commercial aircraft in delivering what he says might consist of “toothbrushes, business supplies, and coffee beans.”

I don’t think I need my toothbrush so badly that it needs to be flown out to me. I don’t drink coffee, so I don’t need beans. And there’s something about the possibility of being hit by a flying ream of paper that just doesn’t settle with me.

So as a consumer, am I as short in vision as someone who wanted a faster horse?

Speaking of horses and autos, the best kept secret at Apple is that they are building an electric, self-driving car. This is according to Tesla chief, Elon Musk, as shared by a BBC interview.  He thinks “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it.” Musk, along with Google, are working to build an autonomous car. He notes: “Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse – you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use.”

I suppose if I lived a hundred years ago, I would not only want a faster horse, but one that could get where it needed on its own. Still, there’s some sense of anxiety with this. Do you really want to  be on the highway, knowing that the semi-automatic truck you’re running alongside literally has a driver asleep at the wheel?

Is this what the customer wants? Is this the faster horse? What do you think? How do you think customers will respond to this new age of innovation?

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