On October 10th, 1901 – 120 years ago, almost to the day – the grandstand was full at the horse track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. But not to see horses. There was a parade of more than 100 of these new things called automobiles, and several other events, including races of automobiles with electric engines and with steam engines.
But the main event was a race of gasoline automobiles. By the time the event took place, it didn’t look like it would be much of a race. There had originally been twenty-five contestants. Only three made it to the starting post, then just before the race, one broke down and had to withdraw.
So there were just two cars, driven by the men who had built them. One was the country’s most famous car manufacturer. The other, was a local. A failed car manufacturer, named Henry Ford.
At the time of this race, the most famous car-maker in America was Alexander Winton. He had made and sold hundreds of cars. He had gotten tons of press driving from Cleveland to New York.
At the time of this race, Henry Ford was a failed car-maker. He had made and sold a handful of automobiles, but his first car company had failed.
It was clear who was going to win this race: Moments prior, Alexander Winton had set the world record for the fastest mile traveled in an automobile, going around the dirt track in a little more than a minute and twelve seconds. Winton’s car was seventy horsepower. Ford’s was twenty-six. He had never taken it on a turn, and it didn’t have brakes.
The race was supposed to be twenty-five laps, but just before the event, the organizers shortened it to ten. According to Richard Snow, author of I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, they probably didn’t want to see the local loser lapped over and over. This race was more of a sprint.
The Foundation Effect Has this ever happened to you? You pass by a construction site for months, and there’s nothing going on. There’s just a wall with a project logo, peppered with graffiti.
Then one day, there’s a six-story building frame there. Now, each time you pass, it’s gotten taller.
There was no visible progress for months, then there was rapid progress. You saw what I call “The Foundation Effect.”
The Foundation Effect is the delay in your progress, as you build your foundation. You have false starts and failures, and it looks as if you’re going nowhere. But once you have your foundation built, you progress rapidly.
Back to the races Henry Ford, the failed carmaker, won the sprint. But it wasn’t until much later he also won the marathon.
Eight years after that race, Henry’s Ford Motor Company released a car that changed everything. It was durable enough to make it over rough country roads, lined with horse-drawn-wagon tracks. It was versatile enough farmers could use the engine to run a wheat thresher or move hay bales down a conveyer belt. It was twice as good as any car out there, at half the price.
The first year, they sold 10,000. The second year, 20,000. A few years after that, they sold almost 200,000. By the time the “Model T” went out of production nearly twenty years after introduction, the Ford Motor Company had sold nearly 15 million. More than half of all cars in the world were Fords.
Meanwhile, Alexander Winton’s company kept building custom cars, made-to-order. He just couldn’t compete with Ford’s Model T, and had to shut down. Despite having over 100 patents on automobile technology, few today have ever heard of Alexander Winton.
You need a foundation How did Henry Ford create such an incredible car, that sold in such incredible quantities? He built a rock-solid foundation. Over and over, he rejected the mere illusion of progress to scrap everything and start over.
As a creator, you may feel as if you’re getting nowhere. You’re starting projects, but not finishing them. The ones you do finish are failing. You’re throwing iterations in the fire, like Radclyffe Hall. From re