Successful Innovation For Human Progress

By addressing human needs we expand business possibilities

In the race towards autonomous driving and delivering mobility as a service, the focus is often on the next technology advancement, the latest sensor or the newest iteration of a business model. Take Uber, for example, a start-up that at its inception attempted to improve a basic human need; to get from A to B in the Paris rain. Uber was more than just about helping you get somewhere, it represented how as humans we find new ways to progress even when there are barriers to doing so.

Part of Uber’s problem relates to how it lost sight of its fundamental reason for being, of solving a human need, much to the detriment of its business and culture. It ran roughshod over legislation, it insufficiently addressed safety concerns, and it had constant challenges in its relationships with its drivers and its competitors, including taxi drivers. Uber lost empathy with its core purpose and why it existed – to improve not just its users lives, but everyone else’s.

Instead, its laser focus on expansion and a win-at-all cost approach overrode its capacity for understanding how it needed to integrate into a wider transportation system. Critically, this resulted in a singular and isolated approach to delivering transportation, with an inability to maintain a human centred approach to its business, not just its product.

Uber represents a lesson how innovation in any industry, and the technology that drives it, requires a deeper understanding of and connection to the sociological impact of innovation by designing around human needs. In contrast to Uber, its main domestic rival, Lyft understood this requirement, focusing on building a strong human focus into every aspect of its business, before seeking to scale.

The automotive industry is at critical juncture, as cars become more connected, more capable and autonomous. Much is talked about the transformation of the industry, the shift from ownership to access and how this will reshape the value chain and how value is created. However, in all the enthusiasm of technological progress, we are at risk of forgetting the purpose of the innovation. Technology might be removing the human, but it does not remove the human need.

The innovations that will win out in the future, and the companies that deliver them, are those that focus on the human need. In the case of the auto industry, the winners will be those who recognise that mobility is a not just a human need, but also a human right.

Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., recently spoke to the Detroit Economic Club members at Ford Field in Detroit and said: “This (shift towards mobility) is all about people. It’s not who is first to market, but who is most thoughtful to market. We will be one of the winners. We’ve been great at keeping the human being at the center of what we do.”

His statement serves to underline that the technology underpinning innovation is merely an enabler, not the innovation itself. Instead a human-centred focus is required to deliver a successful innovation in order to underline the purpose of the advancement: people.

Ford was built on the belief that freedom of movement drives human progress. That’s how Henry Ford pioneered the Model T and it’s the basis upon which Ford will pioneer its development in mobility.

Being thoughtful also requires innovation to be considered as part of a wider network, its role in an ecosystem, its contribution to society and in particular the second order effect of any shift that innovation creates in a system.

Across transportation, personal mobility doesn’t take place in isolation. While mobility needs are individual and local, they are defined and shaped by the wider transport network and the environment in which one is moving around. This applies equally inside cities as it does in rural villages.

Successful innovations in personal mobility will therefore evolve in response to a dynamic system and transport network. They will deliver both the emotional and rational value of personal mobility – freedom, flexibility, time efficiency and individuality – while allowing people to move around freely within an integrated and intelligent transport network; autonomous movement, on demand, personalised and even more time efficient.

Innovation in mobility is about more than moving from Point A to Point B – it is at the centre of human progress. The future is bright, and the choices for the customer will be abundant, with intelligent mobility driving economic growth and prosperity by facilitating the movement of goods, services and people for continued economic and social progress.

Being thoughtful about your innovation and more importantly, why you’re doing it and for whom, will define success. Consider the impact that innovation is having on people’s lives, and focus on the positive transformation it can create.

In a world of constant change, of technological evolution, one thing remains constant: us and our human needs.