The Fastest Coffin In Mexico City

Mexico City taxiThe picture reminds me of some good times had in Mexico City and a couple of key lessons regarding competition and simplicity. The famous old VW Beetle taxis are being phased out now but will remain in peoples thoughts forever.

Most were never in very good condition but somehow the drivers always seemed to be able to ply their trade. Many were modified by the removal of the front passenger seat. They were ideal vehicles for two people and a mountain of shopping.

The drivers were ingenious and found ways to keep the cars cool in hot weather and devised some very clever hacks to stop them being stolen. The cleverest (and most weird) thing I saw was during a ride around Mexico City late at night.

It was hot and we had the windows wound down whilst driving briskly (some might say VERY) across the city. We looked to our right and we were being overtaken by a green and white taxi with a huge coffin strapped to the top. This was not a small object but one of the enormous coffins favoured by the Roman Catholic church in Central and South America.

There was no roof rack or carrying device. The driver had wound down both side windows, laid a length of thick carpet over the roof, put the coffin on top (with some help I guess) and then used some stout rope to bind the coffin to the car by passing it through the car itself.

I assume that the driver then jumped in through the open window. I also made the assumption that the coffin was empty, but knowing Mexicans, it might not have been.

A nice story, I hear you ask, but what has this got to do with me? There are two real lessons to learn here.

The first is that ingenuity is not confined to the western or developed world. There are some very clever people everywhere and not just inventors. Not many years ago Aston Martin had some prototype cars made for the Geneva Motor Show – in India. The quality was superb and the cost was a fraction of what a UK or German company would have charged. Competition is everywhere.

The second lesson is that simplicity is key. How can you achieve the results you want in the most straightforward way? When we are out walking we try to find the shortest way home when we are tired, not try and be clever and find the most complicated.

Another example related to motor cars here! Cuba has for a long time been the subject of trade embargoes. Ingenious mechanics who desperately wanted brake fluid found that they did not need to try and work out the formula and then produce it in a manufacturing plant. They mixed a well known brand of shampoo with sugar – simple! This would not work for a car manufacturer of course but enabled some Cuban mechanics and car enthusiasts to remain on the road.

So remember, competition is everywhere and simplicity is key.

 

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Innovation – Food for thought

innovation foof for thought

If you search Amazon for “Innovation,” you’ll get over 43,000 book titles with many more ebooks and blog articles scattered around the Internet, many of which I am responsible for. So what are these volumes all about and why so many for such a simple word – Innovation? This provides some food for thought.

The challenge starts with the definition of innovation. Most of the definitions I’ve seen are overly complicated and do nothing other than help persuade the man in the street that Innovation is too complicated and should be left well alone. It can be made complicated but need not be.

The founder of the low cost airline JetBlue said “Innovation is trying to figure out a way to do something better than it’s ever been done before”. And Thomas Edison’s said “There’s a way to do it better-find it”. Which just about covers it all.

So far, so good. Our high level definition opens up innovation, and makes it accessible, regardless of industry sector or function. Let us move on to some basic principles, what I call the Three Pillars of Innovation:

  1. Ingenuity. Ingenuity is human creativity plus application, idea plus execution. Ideas on their own are invention and execution is simply working harder not smarter. We need both.
  2. Perfection. Imperfection is what drives innovation, because nothing’s perfect. Perfection is a pursuit, a journey, not a destination. The destination is a place called “Better.” We may have to know when to call it a day and move on to our next challenge as we can never actually attain perfection.
  3. Fit. Any innovation has to fit with your customers, market and expertise. There is no point creating something just for the sake of it. Or to put it another way, if you have the best mousetrap that the world has ever seen, you must have a really big issue with mice!

There has to be some element of each of the above for an Innovation to be successful. The big challenge for businesses is to ensure adherence to these key principles on a daily basis.

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