Stop Chasing ‘Faster Horses’

    By: Elizabeth Conner on Aug 02, 2016

    Find opportunities in unmet customer needs.

    Henry Ford is credited with remarking, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford knew that innovation has its roots in a keen understanding of peoples’ needs rather than product improvements. The following activity can help you uncover your customers’ needs and begin to explore the opportunities they create.


    What you’ll need:

    • Sticky notes.
    • Felt-tip pens.
    • A large working surface.
    • A wide range of experience and perspective.

    If you’re a product manager, consider involving people from design, development, R&D, sales, marketing and even finance.

    To start, identify a specific customer

    Many companies have multiple customer segments, but try not to think in age ranges, average incomes or other standard demographic data. If possible, select a customer who represents your average user. Quickly draw or write your response on a post-it note and label it.

    Choose which phase of the customer journey to explore

    If you’ve already mapped your customer journey, select a touch point that seems most promising. If you haven’t, think of the journey in three phases: pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase. Eventually you’ll want to do this activity for all of the phases, but for now, start where you’re most comfortable.

    Identify your customer’s needs

    Next, brainstorm all of the needs that your customer has during this phase or touch point. Be specific and write them on sticky notes. Place them in the following categories:

    1. Functional Needs. These are the practical jobs to be done, like drilling a hole or travelling from point to point. Functional needs can be written as “I need to accomplish (X).”
    2. Emotional Needs. These are how the customer would like to feel, such as confident, connected or informed. Emotional needs can be written as, “I need to feel (X).”
    3. Social Needs. These are similar to emotional needs but with an emphasis on the outcome experienced by others, like bring family together or be seen as community-minded. Social needs can be written as “I would like others to feel (X).”

    Continue generating needs

    Working from your initial collection of needs, explore each in depth. Why is the need important to the customer? Does it reflect another need? If so, add it to the board. . Does the collection of needs point to a larger, unexpressed need?

    Evaluate and prioritize needs

    Once you’ve captured your customer needs, it’s time to move them around. Identify which of the needs your product or service currently satisfies. Place those in the satisfied column. Move the remaining needs to the unsatisfied column.

    For the satisfied needs, consider how well you are delivering on these needs. Does an alternative product or service deliver on the need better? Make notes and organize according to which needs you could better deliver.

    Now look at the remaining needs. These are your unsatisfied needs. Do you see patterns or similarities? Ask yourself why each need isn’t being satisfied. Again, make notes and organize by which needs you think would have the biggest impact on the customer.

    Ultimately, you should come away with two sets of needs, both of which provide starting points for selecting an opportunity. Some might point to product or service improvements, while others might suggest an entirely new product or service. Remember the point of this exercise isn’t to define a new product or service, but rather to identify which needs you might help your customers satisfy.

    For more insights and exercises, visit

    matt.jpgMatt Morasky is a co-author of “The Art of Opportunity,” (John Wiley & Sons, 2016) a practical guide to identifying, developing and seizing growth opportunities using hands-on, visual-thinking activities and illustrated theory. Morasky is also a senior consultant and associate creative director at XPLANE, a business design consultancy with offices in Portland, Oregon, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

    Released: August 2, 2016, 7:54 am | Updated: August 2, 2016, 9:48 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog

    Mark A Hart, NPDP Henry Ford did not pursue a 'faster horses' approach
    By: Mark A Hart, NPDP | Posted: August 5, 2016, 9:58 am

    In “My Life and Work” (Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther. 1922) Henry Ford provided information critical to dispelling the myth of the ‘faster horses’ attribution.

    It was life on the farm that drove me into devising ways and means to better transportation. I was born on July 30, 1863, on a farm at Dearborn, Michigan, and my earliest recollection is that, considering the results, there was too much work on the place. That is the way I still feel about farming.” (Ford. Page 22)

    My ‘gasoline buggy’ was the first and for a long time the only automobile in Detroit. It was considered to be something of a nuisance, for it made a racket and it scared horses.’ (Ford. Page 33)

    Perhaps the most compelling information to dismiss the possibility that Henry Ford considered ‘faster horses’ a desirable outcome comes from the Antique Automobile Club of America. When the Model T production was beginning to scale in 1909, The American death toll in horse-related accidents is 3,850-more than in motor vehicle accidents

    For more information, refer to 


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