I guess there is an innovation equivalent to a drunk hitting bottom. If only the drunk could see where they are headed — maybe they could avoid the hard fall into the gutter.
Case in point: General Motors. GM hit bottom, and, the good news, they’re in recovery.
As an owner of General Motors, I’m feeling pretty good about their progress. GM is now innovating. The fighter that was at 9 in the ten count is up and battling again.
I say I’m an owner, and in two ways: 1.) as an American tax payer who helped bail them out, and 2.) stock in my retirement IRA. I care if GM innovates!
The most positive signal for me is not that they are finally making money (and, that’s good.) The signal is, at last, once again, they are making exciting cars. Both the new Corvette and the new Cadillac ATS have crossed bridges in design and they reconnect GM to their core story of sexy, romantic cars. Yes, romance. A good car, well, you have a relationship with it — and it’s a life long one.
Americans of a certain age grew up seeing the Corvette as the hippest possible sports car and the Cadillac as what you’d aspire to when you made the grade. As a 10 year old caddy at the country club I’d see those big tail fins pull into the lot, and it just screamed luxury. My favorite golfer, Jack Wood, had a white Sting Ray with a special horn we’d always beg him to sound. I briefly owned a Chevy Malibu — and I loved that car, wish I still had it! These are memories that stick. One could write a book on the joy of a fun and cool car, and, it’s innovation that creates those memories and that joy.
These brands got a bit dusty over the years. As a huge company GM lost it’s focus, and seemed to design by committee. All its cars seemed to end up looking like a box, and frankly, they were boring, unmemorable cars. It’s a sad truth that it often takes a drastic emergency to get an organization into more active innovation. Most companies would have died as a result of the inattention to innovation. GM got a bit lucky. At GM, in the past, I think it would be fair to say it was a leadership problem. Clearly, they had the resources to innovate. What they didn’t have was the vision, and the focus, on creating exciting and useful new products.
The lesson here is not to wait until you’re bankrupt to innovate. It’s a simple point but profoundly difficult for some organizations to do. It’s a culture thing. If the culture doesn’t encourage and implement exciting innovation, they are that drunk headed for the gutter. Is that your organization? Take steps, and drastic ones, now, if that’s the case. Start with training.
It’s hard to get a peek behind the curtain at GM. I’ve tried to reach their R&D center to talk to someone, but without an introduction I’m not getting through their front desk. Still, if you look from the outside, it’s evident that there is a new focus on information technology (both internal business ops and with the vehicles), and a re-committment to excellence in design. Whatever they’re doing, I hope they keep it up. If anyone from GM reads this would love to talk to you directly.
For GM to continue on its path back it needs to make innovation process spin faster, and, leadership needs to take more risks. What’s happening now is a good start.
Welcome back GM.