Ford’s Secret Weapon – Innovation

The last five years have been a nightmare for the US car industry. General Motors, once the largest company in the world, declared bankruptcy. Chrysler also hit Chapter 11, and then was sold to Fiat in an effort to save the company. Major brands such as Pontiac and Saturn have been shunned altogether, and will soon fade into a distant memory.

So how is it that Ford recently reported a $2.1 billion quarterly profit, raised their 2010 outlook, and declared a bright future ahead?

These three companies’ headquarters are within 20 miles of each other in Metro Detroit. They have access to the same talent base, the same suppliers, the same agencies, the same tax incentives. They all faced legacy issues from the past, intense global competition, and identical union challenges. Why is it, then, that one company thrived in the midst of the other two’s economic catastrophe?

One word: Innovation.

While the other two firms were mired in bureaucracy and focused on “running an automotive business”, Ford got back to the idea of making great cars. They reconnected with their customers and used innovation to make cars that people actually wanted to buy. The Ford Fiesta and Focus became cool again for young drivers. New models like the Ford Flex were bold enough to get noticed on the street. And even the Taurus, a car that was once boring and tired, is now billed as “America’s most innovative full-size sedan.”

In addition to design, technology breakthroughs such as the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Sync from Microsoft, and EcoBoost are forging new ground and inspiring demanding car buyers to add Ford to their consideration set.

From design to technology to advanced manufacturing to a re-energized corporate culture, Ford has used innovation and creativity to save the day. Despite their myriad of challenges, they won where others failed by embracing fresh thinking and original thought. They realized that you can’t just cost-cut your way to success, or make tiny incremental improvements and hope to prosper. Instead they were bold, and now the results speak for themselves.

Think for a moment about your industry. Is your company focused solely on cutting costs, managing workflows, and driving efficiencies? That’s what Chrysler and GM were busy doing up until the day they filed for Bankruptcy. Or… is your company embracing the most important business need of all – innovation? Even if your challenges seem insurmountable (Ford’s sure did at one point), you must focus on innovation and creativity to drive long-term growth and success. In fact, it’s the only way to win in this new era of business…and life.

This week, look up from your spreadsheet and rally your team to innovate. Break the mold. Create. Reject the status quo. Be Bold. Focus on big ideas. Re-connect with your customer. Let your creativity shine.

Your company was undoubtedly founded on this approach, and now is the time to reconnect with those entrepreneurial, creative roots to tackle the challenges of today. Ford did it, and you can too.