It’s hard to imagine the sense of freedom and prosperity that people must have felt when the automobile was invented. By the 1920’s, Ford was able to mass produce the Model T for as low as $260, making it affordable for average families. It offered mobility to find new higher paying jobs, suburban homes with backyards and many new leisure time activities.
Mass production was the catalyst for the surge in prosperity in the 20th century. It lifted family incomes. It made homes and material goods, unimaginable in the 19th century, an affordable reality. Today, the prosperity catalyst is something much more subtle. It’s not discussed often yet it’s responsible for all of the job growth in the last several decades.
It’s our progression to “tailoring solutions for individuals” from “individuals conforming to products”.
One hundred years ago, Ford Model T’s were all black, phones were all black while attached to the wall and few homes had backyards. Today, we have infinite choices and options for cars, phones and homes. Even our products are intuitive enough (maybe with a kids help) to personalize to our individual needs without the lengthy owner’s manuals of the past.
The good news is that we are getting what we want and getting really good at tailoring solutions. 85% of our workforce are now in services jobs tailoring or delivering solutions for customers. Most of the mass production jobs have been replaced by robots or lower wage locations.
Yes. We are good at it. We are tailoring solutions for customers and likely our family members every day. You may be a waiter, nurse, teacher, stockbroker, or an engineer. It is less likely you are working along the mass production line. The jobs in the back have been replaced by jobs in front of customers, learning their specific needs and desires. People and companies focusing on addressing individual’s problems and unmet needs, will continue to be the most successful in the 21st century.
“When you obsess about the customer, you end up defeating your competition as a byproduct,” said K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a fuel-cell company. “When you are just obsessed about the competition, you end up killing yourself” as a byproduct — “because you are not focused on the customer.”(1)
For those who were introduced to Baxter the robot on CBS’ 60 Minutes (see video), no need to worry that your waiter or waitress will be a robot anytime soon. I can’t imagine a robot ever being able to tailor a solution for the patrons of the restaurant in this video (see video).
While automated self-service enables us to tailor our own solutions, it only works if the action is discreet or it’s picking items from catalogs. Automated self-service banking, phone attendant and booking travel only works when you order off the menu. Automation struggles with individual special orders or nuances.
Who better to personalize a solution than a person? Emotions, expectations, concerns, required change, benefits, reactions by others and feelings all play a role in tailoring solutions. The tailor may have to cut some ugly material, get the customer to stand still and ignore unusual odors. The tailor then must flash a sincere smile while telling their customer how great they look. The smile has to be sincere, so tailors must be nice inside to make customer’s feel the same.
To achieve a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation, you need to tailor many solutions for many individuals. It requires developing trust, establishing competence and a human connection with the individual (or customer). Once they trust you relate, you can get their help to make almost anything happen.
(1) Friedman, Thomas. Collaborate vs. Collaborate, New York Times Op-Ed, January 12, 2013