I wrote a recent blog about literature and business, so why not art today? An article recently published in Fast Company features the CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, describing how the inspiration for Ford’s success over the past few years was a 1925 painting titled ‘Visions of tomorrow.’
This painting originally featured in a Ford advert so it wasn’t that Mulally stumbled into his inspiration in an art gallery, but even so it is unusual to see a business leader credit a painting with an enormous turnaround in car sales.
In 2007, Ford was struggling. The company was almost out of cash reserves and every single brand within the Ford group was running at a loss. Things were getting desperate. Mulally chanced upon the old advert and noticed that the attitude of Ford in 1925 was very different to what he saw in the present day.
The use of words like ‘mankind’ in the advert and the idea that the company was doing something that would help all of society was taken as read in 1925 – that’s what a car company could offer to the world. Mulally took the spirit of that message and started applying it internally, getting the entire company to start seeing beyond the cars they are selling, creating a deep understanding of how their customers were using Ford products.
That single painting created a customer-centric strategy that has now resulted in Ford reporting their highest-ever Q1 profits on record. But it wasn’t just the art that changed everything for Ford. It was the man at the top taking the time to start thinking in new ways about how customers really use and relate to their products.
It’s worth thinking about how much has changed for Ford in just five years because of this approach – thinking hard about what the customer really wants.
Photo by Alex Watson licensed under Creative Commons