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February 6, 2007

I contemplate the phrase “means to an end” and consider that “end” is the objective, or what I want to bring about, and the “means” are a series of tactics woven together as an optimized strategy that makes use of what I have, and minimizes what I have not.

The concept of “Vision” is perhaps that on a grander scale, where the end result is more than a new piece of technology or product to be developed, but rather an understanding and plan for how that product, technology, service, or policy will affect the target audience of one person or the whole world.  Put simply, we all could ask, ” What is my vision of how things should be, and what am I going to do to bring it about?”

Several years ago I was introduced to a vision statement that Henry Ford made in 1907.  I’ve looked online, but only managed to find excerpts of it here.

“To build a motor car for the great multitude . . . It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one–and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces . . . Everybody will be able to afford one, and everyone will have one. The horse will have disappeared from our highways, the automobile will be taken for granted.
– Henry Ford, 1907″

Ford envisioned the effect that he wanted to have on society, how he would change the economic structure of the country, the manner in which it’s populace lived and thought.   His strategy was to make use of process efficiency to drive down the cost and commoditize his product such that it would be widely affordable, while capitalizing much of that economic purchasing power by paying his workers twice the going wage.  This enabled his workers to infuse more cash into the economy, thus increasing the purchasing power of others to in turn, buy his product, the Model T.  The full vision statement is much more powerful than the excerpt above, and it would be a reader challenge to find it in it’s entirety.

Contrast the products and services being developed today and how they are envisioned compared to Ford, and his master plan.  Today, we make cell phones with new ring tones, built in cameras, even touch screens and a single button in the case of the iPhone.  We make cars with heated seats, satellite navigation, and active handling controls that help avoid accidents.  We make laptop computers with  DVD players to provide the ability to watch movies anywhere, and wireless / cellular connectivity to attach to the Internet and access our personal information from anywhere in the world.  All these technologies are innovative and incrementally increase our capabilities, but the development of each one was a short step, not all part of a well defined long term vision.   I don’t believe anyone declared in 1981 when the personal computer was introduced that they envisioned and set out to create these capabilities.   Did anyone say they foresaw a day in which a global economy would be made possible, where work could be done in real time, accross numerous timezones, viewed simultaneously by many?   Did anyone set out to make available a personal portal in every home, in every corner of the world, so that the great masses could be connected in as many ways as any would desire?   My writing here is not intended as an indictment of our daily workplace activities, but as a challenge to think beyond the individual projects and to ourselves what it is that we are trying to bring about.   We’ve come a long way in the last 25 years through technological innovation, argueably much by iteration and short term objectives.   What if we had a Henry Ford style vision for technology today? 

What would that vision be?  On what technological front would we focus?   Would someone forsee a day in which we could personally control the very function of our bodies, programming and reprogramming to the cellular level?  A day in which diseases would be simply edited out of our code,  where aging could be slowed or arrested.  Think about that one for a minute, why do our body’s cell growth rates follow the curve that they do?  That somewhere between 18 and 25 we begin to make fewer new cells than we need, and so we stop growing and begin to age.  What if that programming could be changed by yourself, in your own home?  

We have the power to transform the world, but we need a common long term vision such that the products and technologies of all companies advance humanity upon that course through deliberate effort, finding together that means to the end.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2007 3:59 pm

    Quite some food for thought, Mark, inspiring post, I’ll surely reply on my blog, since you’ve fired up a cauldron of thoughts….

    I did wanted to say that we had this sort of vision on the PC world, and I hate to admit it, but it came from Bill Gates: “A PC on every desk and on every home”; nothing as fancy and as humanly visionary as Henry Ford’s, but it still came true.

  2. February 8, 2007 12:01 am

    When I think of long term vision I think back to all the films they would show us in grade school in between the duck and cover drills. These visions of the future really stretched our ideas of what could be accomplished, but the future took some interesting twists.

    Some things turned out to echo the future visions and some never even came close. I remember when one thought was how easy it would be to dig new canals with nuclear bombs and, as a result, provide easy access for trade between continents. There was the vision of sky scraper cities with aircraft flying in between the towering buildings. Monorails – what happened?

    When you think of the United States that Henry Ford grew up in, it was a place where 50% of the population was in agriculture to supply enough food to the total population. Where the average life span was 47 years. The average worker made between $200 and $400 a year. One in ten adults could not write and only six percent of Americans had graduated from high school. Coming from that 1905 environment and being able to envision the change the automobile could and would make is astounding.



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