Buggy Whips Not The Perfect Analogy Of Businesses Disrupted By Innovation?
from the uh,-no... dept
There were 13,000 businesses in the wagon and carriage industry in 1890, Mr. Kinney said. A company survived not by conceiving of itself as being in the "personal transportation" business, but by commanding technological expertise relevant to the automobile, he said. "The people who made the most successful transition were not the carriage makers, but the carriage parts makers," he said, some of whom are still in business.But that proves the point exactly (and goes directly against what Stross seems to think it says). Those companies, like Timken, that didn't limit themselves by the exact final product, did fine. They recognized that the end market was changing and worked to make sure that the products they offered made sense in the new markets as well as the old. The buggy whip makers, on the other hand, didn't do that. That's exactly the point of the buggy whip analogy and it seems to be supported by this claim. No one said that it was impossible for companies to adapt -- and the examples of companies like Timken, prove that. The problem was for the firms that didn't do this... like the buggy whip makers.
One is the giant Timken Company, whose signature products, roller bearings, were first used in wagon wheels in the 1890s. They easily adapted to the automobile because they could be applied "to nearly anything that moved," Mr. Kinney wrote.
The article also claims that many of the carriage makers did, in fact, try to make the shift from carriage making to automaking, with Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company being the most successful, before eventually going out of business. But, again, this misses the point of the story. The argument isn't that companies can't adapt, but that they will often be held back by legacy issues. Just look at the music industry and how it attempted to "adapt" to the online world by launching ridiculous music services that no one used like MusicNet and PressPlay years back. But, the vast majority of carriage makers were greatly hindered by their legacy business. The story of William Durant -- who founded both General Motors and Chevrolet -- is instructive (but makes no appearance in the Stross article). He worked for a carriage maker, and was one who spoke out against cars as being "smelly, noisy and dangerous." But when he realized that the world was moving towards them, and that his current company wouldn't be able to adapt due to legacy issues, he jumped ship to Buick.
So while Stross' story is entertaining, it doesn't seem to prove the point it set out to make, and does quite the opposite. It declares that "buggy whip makers never had a fighting chance" to adapt, but does nothing to support that claim, other than pointing to the fact that others did adapt. That doesn't prove the point. It just shows that adaptation was possible and that the buggy whip makers didn't do it. Whether or not they could have remains an open question.