Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
While there’s little proof that Ford actually said it, it has a ring of truth. People who were used to using horses for transportation and farm work, and had perhaps never even seen an automobile, would have a hard time imagining how the automobile could do the job better.
Similarly, Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple Computer, is well known for having said that the company did not do market research when it was developing innovative products such as the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want,” Jobs said.
His point, and the point of the supposed Henry Ford quote, was the customers would have a hard time telling you they want something that doesn’t exist yet, that they couldn’t even envision.
In her book “When Old Technologies were New,” Carolyn Marvin pointed out that throughout history, people have conceptualized the technological future only as “a fancier version of the present.”
Just look at some of the “disruptors” that are expected to change trucking and logistics: delivery drones, platooning, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, the Uberization of freight, and other technologies that we probably would have had a hard time envisioning a decade ago.
I remember in the early days of the Internet when Amazon.com sold only books and I thought that was one of the coolest things I’d ever heard of. (But what was with the weird name?) Today, I buy everything from books and records to light bulbs and harissa sauce from Amazon, with free two-day shipping via Amazon Prime. I use Zappo’s to find shoes for my hard-to-fit feet, ordering 10 pairs at a time to try on. A subscription clothing service allows me to shop online and “rent” clothes, wear them once and send them back via two-day mail, keep them for months or even buy them.
All this is shaking up the logistics business, especially last-mile delivery, as customers expect same-day delivery, delivery windows of just hours, and want to know where their package is at all times.
UPS and FedEx are hardly in any danger of being put out of business, but it will be fascinating to see what drones, Uber-like delivery services and other technologies we may not even be able to envision yet will change this part of the trucking and logistics business.
It’s not clear how this will all shake out and affect your operations. What is clear is you need to realize it likely will affect you in some way. Don’t keep wishing for a faster horse when there may be something new out there you never envisioned.
It’s this spirit that drives HDT’s Truck Fleet Innovators, who we honor in this issue. We highlight fleet leaders who are willing to try and even invent new technologies, processes and ideas to make their fleets more efficient, safer, and more profitable.
As Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”