Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Activists Needed
February 4, 2009, 2:17 PM
Filed under: Innovation | Tags: , ,

Most likely, you learned it in history class – how Henry Ford launched the automobile industry. But Hayagreeva Rao has a different explanation. It was actually automobile enthusiasts that drove the popularity of the automobile and provided a market for Ford once he developed his mass-production techniques.


These automobile buffs helped the cause by staging reliability races to counter the public’s concerns about safety, and lobbied for licensing and road-use laws to deal with the issue of cars and horses on the same roads.


This is just one example of activists that can make or break innovation, as described in Rao’s book Market Rebels. Other examples include the micro-brewing movement and the integration of French cooking into modern cuisine. Rao contends that two forces are needed to make innovation successful, a “hot cause” and “cool mobilization.”


A hot cause is an issue that can build emotion around it, like the auto enthusiasts that were excited about driving. Cool mobilization is when a larger audience is engaged and mobilized around the issue, as happened when car clubs were able to gain wide acceptance of the safety and potential of owning an automobile. By the time Ford began mass-producing the Model T, the public was excited and ready for a reasonably priced car. His innovations were successful because the market was primed.


So the question for the rest of us in the business world is how can we ignite and mobilize a market around our innovations. There is much potential for this activism in social media, although Rao doesn’t mention the Web as a potential source of mobilization. There is also much emotion around environmental issues, which can be mobilized around strong products. Wanted: Market Rebels!


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