What the Dodge Bicycle Tells Us About Innovation

The full story of the first-ever automobile helps us better understand how to innovate in an era of rapid digitization.

By Shazia Manus, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer, AdvantEdge Analytics

The automobile is arguably the most often cited example of disruptive innovation. Most everyone can agree Henry Ford’s invention was life changing. However, two things often get glossed over in the telling of the automobile’s story.

The first is that society didn’t go from horse-and-buggy to four-wheels-and-an-engine overnight. The second is that Henry Ford had a lot of help.

These two missing elements of the Model A’s historic birth story are crucial to our modern understanding of innovation in an era of rapid digitization. Without them, we miss out on the most essential pieces to the innovation pie: iteration and collaboration.

The “Real Story” of the Model A

man on old bike

How often do you hear about the Dodge bicycle? Not very, I suspect. While it’s true the Dodge bicycle wasn’t an actual branded product, Ford’s two business partners, brothers Horace and John Dodge, spent a great deal of time perfecting the bicycle before they ever got into cars.

Horace Dodge was an avid tinkerer. It was the dirt-proof ball bearing he invented that ultimately got him and his brother into a partnership deal to manufacture bicycles. And it was the sale of that bicycle business that secured the brothers the funds they needed to set up their Detroit machine shop in 1900. Ford called on that very machine shop to deliver the most essential parts of the original Model A automobile.

When I’m asked to give a talk on data transformation and the innovation it requires, I often tell the “real story” of the invention of the car. First, it demonstrates that innovation is NOT invention. The next great idea doesn’t come as a lightning strike to the brain or after an apple falls on your head. Innovation, growth, evolution, transformation – whatever you want to coin it – takes work, intention and an openness to exploration.

The idea of partnership is the second thing l like so much about the “real story” of the Model A. Henry Ford may get all the love, but there were a lot of people behind him. A lot of talent and a lot of prior innovation helped him recognize the possibilities and leverage people, processes and materials that had already been discovered. It was the result of several partnerships that ultimately catapulted the automobile into the place it has occupied for well over a hundred years.

Lessons We Can Learn From the Model A

Every credit union today is, in some way, asking how they can adapt, evolve and transform to bring members even richer, deeper value than they are delivering today. There’s no shortage of market pressure on credit unions to generate their own version of a dirt-proof ball bearing to fuel growth.

To get there, leaders in the movement must be comfortable with disappointments. Micro failures are what drive innovation. We can’t learn without making a few mistakes. Imagine how much tinkering went on in Horace’s shop before that ball bearing worked as he’d envisioned.

Fortunately, most credit union people are already pros at collaboration. It’s the spirit behind the movement and one of the reasons more consumers than ever before are engaging with the financial cooperative model. To maintain this engagement in a digital era, credit unions must transfer their knowledge of financial collaboration to new kinds of partnerships:

  • Internal partnerships across departments are the foundation of agility. The diversity, critical thinking and creativity that come from a breakdown of silos are the core elements of a culture of innovation.
  • External partnerships with fintechs and other innovators deliver speed to value for new products and solutions; they also provide necessary scale for in-market innovations.
  • Industry partnerships with colleagues at different stages of the transformation journey give credit union leaders the inspiration and the “how to” of evolution. We’re enabling this here at AdvantEdge Analytics by providing several of our credit union partners the chance to network and learn from one another through a series of digital and face-to-face forums.

During our lifetime, we will see the transformation of the human race. The power of exponential technology, quantum computing and machines that learn is reshaping consumer expectations, and credit union members are no exception. They expect the same level of personalization, seamless experiences and speed they get from brands like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple.

But, that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and wait for the digital natives to sweep members off their feet. There’s far too much expertise, passion and purpose within the movement to stop us from “doing well by doing good.” As an industry, let’s embrace iteration and collaboration as we explore new ideas and new ways of working together to improve consumers’ financial lives.