Ford Motor Company recently announced a 5-year plan to develop and begin mass-producing fully autonomous cars. As someone who has a 25 mile commute each way to work, enjoys a happy hour every now and then, and has 4 future teenage “drivers,” it’s easy to immediately think about the benefits of self-driving cars. Ride-sharing through the likes of Uber has already started to transform the automobile transportation industry, and technology players like Google are trying to enter the autonomous vehicle market.
The auto industry, especially American manufacturers, developed a reputation for being traditionalist and stuck in their ways. That tendency obviously caught up with them a decade ago when fuel efficiency and quality concerns caused them to lose significant shares, and they have been working hard to regain and maintain their edge ever since. It’s easy to see how new autonomous technology—the lessening of our love-affair with cars, seeing them more as a Point A to Point B commodity, etc.—would be seen as a threat to future profits, but instead of doubling up on lobbyist spending, Ford has decided to learn from past mistakes and embrace the shifting landscape by evolving to stay both relevant and profitable.
Their commitment to mass produce vehicles for ride-sharing purpose is fascinating because it not only shows a commitment to implementing innovative technology, but also to an innovative transportation system. By investing in developing both fronts, Ford acknowledges how autonomous cars will likely lead to fewer cars being needed (and therefore being sold), but still affirms that transportation will continue to be needed, and that there are other ways to profit within the transportation industry. Remember when IBM used to make computers? Now, they are heavy investors in this next phase of innovation; by doubling their Silicon Valley presence and continued investments, they are acquiring the right pieces to be on the front-end of an evolving auto industry.
The food industry is another place where large companies are evolving to stay relevant and embracing disruptive innovation. General Mills’ 301 team has gotten a fair amount of press for its evolution into an investment company that—rather than being an internal innovation company—is finding small innovative start-ups, giving them much needed capital, and sharing its expertise in distribution, production, research, etc. to help them leverage the passion and innovation that got them started and help them succeed in the areas where they struggle most.
The key ingredient to both of these examples if for key decision makers at large companies having the …let’s call it Fordsight…to see what their industry is evolving in a disruptive way, and then having the humility to accept the change and make whatever adjustments are needed to stay relevant and profitable.