Henry Ford is famously quoted for stating that if he had asked people what they would want when he was creating his new mode of transportation, they would have said faster horses. Ford was referring to the fact that for many people change is hard and having a vision of something new and unique may not be in everyone’s comfort zone. He was also referring to his creation of the first car. A horseless carriage, as it became known in his time, was something very new and out of the box. Such a change is scary to those who feel that life should stay as it is. Maybe they also felt a horse was much more trustworthy than a gas spewing hunk of metal.
However, Ford hit on the reality of many. Change is hard especially when the status quo has worked so well and is so comfortable to be in. Yet if we look back on history, it was fearless visionaries who have pushed humans forward through the various inventions that we take for granted today. Many of those inventions took years to come to fruition and often had a lot of pushback from those who were threatened by the changes. Why is there so much fear around change?
I believe the fear comes not just from having to change behaviours (in this case, needing to learn how to drive a car) but also from having to change minds and long-held beliefs which tie directly into a person’s understanding about themselves: the world they live in and how they fit into that world. Yet those who venture forward can also have fear. They just choose to push through it and not stop the thing they are attempting to bring into the world.
If we think about the twentieth century when Ford made his cars (and therefore, his statement), many changes have happened since. We now not only travel in horseless carriages but we also fly in planes to all corners of the earth or travel by the internet into many worlds with machines created by other visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These inventions not only brought new experiences to the individual but they also brought about profound changes in human society. A change came in the workforce, and by association, the educational system as people had to be trained to work and get paid to create these new inventions. New systems were also put in place as people needed the knowledge to operate these new inventions, such as learning to drive a car or navigate the Apple or Microsoft cyberspace. Ford’s first car, the Model T rolled out in 1908 and the demand grew to the point where he established the first assembly line plant in the US in 1911. The technology industry has spawned a whole new skill set and creative thinking needed to keep up with the rapid changes. It’s as though a team of wild horses has been unleashed into the world.
Despite resistance to change, it is the one constant we can count on, as stated by Greek philosopher Heraclitus. A new invention may be jeered, scoffed at or rejected but eventually, with a lot of persistence, support, and ingenuity on the part of the inventor, it becomes part of the human experience. Ford was aware he had his critics which was evident in his statement, yet he forged on, finding like-minded people and investors to completely change the ways in which humans live mere decades after his first car rolled out.
Having a vision is nothing if one does not have the courage and conviction to follow through with making that vision a reality. There is the belief that Ford did not really say the statement about faster horses because, as a businessman, he was aware of the power of the consumer to move, promote and purchase his invention and would have appealed to the human nature of innovation, imagination, and discovery. However, it is clear that all major changes in the world have survived resistance of some form or another and have come to be in spite of those.
Major change happens whether we want it or not and whether we are ready or not. As easy as it can be to just want faster horses, it’s truly the acceptance and embracing of modern advances that can move us into yet another comfort zone…until the next major invention comes along.