Aluminum, steel, trucks and innovation

by. Anthony Demangone

I read an article about Ford recently that caught my eye. Ford is tweaking the design of its F-150 truck.

That’s a big deal.

The F-series pick-up truck is the best selling vehicle in America.   And Ford has re-invented it, moving to a design that uses 97% aluminum in the truck’s body.

I won’t pretend to be a truck person, so I don’t know how the move will play out. But the change shaves 700 pounds off the truck, increasing fuel efficiency.

Aluminum, as CEO Alan Mulally himself a veteran of Boeing BA -0.05%, noted recently that has been used in airplanes for decades and is also used in military vehicles. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, as quoted by the New York Times, Mulally said, “It’s all about maintaining leadership. We don’t take risks we can’t deliver on… You have to take chances if you want to stay the leader.” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said much the same. “We couldn’t be happier about our recent success [with F-Series], but we cannot afford to be complacent for one second.”

Complacency is always problematic. As Jim Collins noted his book Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great.” Doing well operationally means doing what is necessary to get by. In times of scarcity – or outside pressure – it may be acceptable but too much complacency is not healthy. It is the avoidance of risk that leads to organizational inertia. It leads to loss of confidence and eventually companies succumb to a kind of lethargy and embrace the status quo because it is the only thing they know.

That takes some guts. They took the thing that worked best, and re-invented it. Usually, you see the opposite.  Folks leave well enough alone, and focus change on things that don’t work.

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