Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Desparation versus Innovation

On my "other" blog I write about issues around culture and process. There's a new article on Ford in the Wall Street Journal that caught my eye, and I've had to post on both blogs about the issues Ford is facing. Ford is trying to remake itself in the wake of finally coming to grips with the fact that it is not customer-centric, and it is built and staffed to make many more cars than its customers can purchase.

As noted before, I take no joy in the wrenching change that is happening at Ford. I've had relatives and friends who worked at Ford, and was a loyal Ford customer until recently. Ford will play out as a case study for management thinkers and consultants over the next few years, based on what they get right, and what they get wrong.

I write about Ford in this blog about innovation because I'm interested to see what happens to Ford's recent focus on innovation, given the big changes that are about to occur. Will Ford retain it's message and focus on Ford as an innovator during the transition, or will innovation be cast aside during these significant changes?

Ford was built by an innovator, and has been through several cycles of boom and bust, risk and comfort. Ford led the industry when Henry Ford first started it, literally inventing the manufacturing process. But Alfred Sloan innovated with customer focus and GM took the mantle away from Ford. The Whiz Kids after World War II made Ford competitive again, but there's been a long slow slide with the brief exception of the Explorer and some Ford Trucks. Can you name a Ford automobile that really stands out over the last 20 years?

In these difficult times for Ford, their organization needs to stand for something. Will they try to reclaim the innovation mantle and put real effort behind it? Or will the sweeping changes force innovation into a back corner? Where does innovation belong? Should it be a part of the focus going forward or is innovation only pertinent when times are good?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:07 AM

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