Henry Ford was driven by the vision to “democratize the car.” He envisioned a better world where everyone had the opportunity to have and use the car as their primary means of transportation. By building 15 million T Fords, he was a strong industrial force that affected people’s lives and their surroundings. It was Henry Ford who, with their capacity for innovation opened the highway to the modern mobile society where distances radically shrunk.
The idea of democratizing anything is appealing. At the core of the concept of democracy is that it involves all, or at least many. The word democracy comes from the Greek and means the people rule. In Sweden, women got the right to vote until 1921 so when Ford launched its democracy thought he was way ahead of the general Swedish suffrage.
That many can and want to use something closely linked to commercial success. That way there is no difference between successful political ideas on the one hand, and the products and services on the other. Individual people’s votes will determine the election outcome – and similarly determines their choice of a company’s success.
It was not Henry Ford invented the car. Whoever did it is hard to say for sure. Historians believe that the car’s origins can be traced back to the Italian universal genius Leonardo da Vinci during the 1400s second half of the design of various vehicles. As the modern car’s ancestor mentioned most often German, Karl Benz who around 1855 built a car with a combustion engine.
It’s one thing to be an inventor and develop new technologies and quite another to be the one to democratize it. The latter is about understanding people’s needs and come up with the innovation that best meets them. Sometimes it is the novelty of creating needs. Often it’s about putting your finger on the practical application and make it user friendly.
It was not Thomas Edison who came on electricity. It did Nikola Tesla (who also came on the radio). It was not Google, nor their founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who came on the Internet. Internet is the result of many people’s efforts, but Tim Berners-Lee is considered to be the one who had the greatest impact on its creation. But Edison was able to commercialize the application of electricity, including the light bulb. A project that eventually became the business giant GE, General Electric. Google, GE on the tracks when they managed to capitalize on the Internet as a phenomenon – Google Everywhere.
Another story that in itself is fascinating is that of Microsoft Excel. It started with a student at Harvard in 1978, who built the first program VisiCalc. The creator Dan Bricklin could hardly have realized that it was his software that would give it the personal computer it needed to break through. But it was the spreadsheets that democratized PC. The thing that most worked as a toy for the technically minded found by VisiCalc, Lotus 123, and eventually excel their way to the workplace desktop. In April 2002, it had sold over a billion personal computers. The rest is as they say history.
In June 2007 released the iPhone. Apple’s smart phone opened the door to the mobile computer is today our daily lives. Only in 2013 sold 990 million smartphones in the world. Steve Jobs and the team at Apple had put his finger on what we really wanted and made it easy to use – and buy it.
There is every reason to distinguish between inventions and innovations; the latter is something new that has found a commercial application. An innovation is democratized invention that won the hearts of many. To undertake the journey from drawing board to the hearts of many requires good luck, timing and talent, as noted in the earlier chronicles here on Business Model Blog. Luck and timing are usually difficult to influence, but by talent – or competence – can shift the odds in our favor.
To commercialize a new, potentially groundbreaking, technology is about to succeed to apply the new technology in attractive ways by matching it with a pioneering business model. There is no harder or easier than developing the actual invention – but that’s another matter.