Faster Horses

People claim that if Henry Ford built what people asked for, we wouldn’t have cars; we’d have faster horses. This statement is more myth than truth, but the idea holds water.

When I worked at GE, my users wanted “more storage” or “faster file transfer” when designing gas turbines. But these solutions were costly and didn’t solve the underlying problem: collaboration. My boss framed this as a collaboration problem to help me avoid a faster horses situation, which enabled me to implement lightweight virtual desktops and version control software—solutions that weren’t initially considered but solved the issue. Faster horses are everywhere, as we tend to over-index on the surface without going deep enough to understand the actual problem.

The danger of faster horses is the unforeseen outcomes they can create. For instance, saying “I want to lose weight” might be a faster horse—an uninspired, knee-jerk solution to a surface-level problem. The quick answer might cost an arm and a leg (literally) but then create other problems without solving the core need for better health.

Don’t let the current state taint an understanding of the problem.