Buggy Whips. The Definitive Obsolete Industry.
Used as a humane equine instrument that makes a cracking noise in order to prod horses harnessed to wagons and carriages, buggy whips started to become obsolete when automobiles started to become commonplace in the late 19th century. The buggy whip is now known as an analogy of businesses disrupted by innovation.
Buggy whips are often cited in business cases as one of the industries that did
not adapt with the advent of the automobile, and thus began the demise of the industry.
The roots of the analogy can be traced to Theodore Levitt, a Harvard Business School
professor. In 1960, he wrote about their plight in a Harvard Business Review article,
“Marketing Myopia”; hundreds of thousands of reprints have been sold. Today, any
line of business facing the life-or-death challenge of a digital age will be described,
sooner or later, as a contemporary buggy whip maker.
Survival of the Fittest
Not all horse and buggy suppliers suffered the same fate as the buggy whip manufacturers.
Some adapted and did just fine. According to Thomas A. Kinney an assistant professor
of history at Bluefield College in Virginia and author of
“The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America.”
There were 13,000 businesses in the wagon and carriage industry in 1890, Mr. Kinney
said. A company survived not by conceiving of itself as being in the "personal transportation"
business, but by commanding technological expertise relevant to the automobile,
he said. "The people who made the most successful transition were not the carriage
makers, but the carriage parts makers," he said, some of whom are still in business.
One is the giant Timken Company, whose signature products, roller bearings, were
first used in wagon wheels in the 1890s. They easily adapted to the automobile because
they could be applied "to nearly anything that moved," Mr. Kinney wrote.
Those companies similar to Timken that didn't limit themselves by the exact final
product survived. They recognized that the end market was changing and worked to
make sure that the products they offered made sense in the new markets as well as
the old. The buggy whip makers, on the other hand, didn't do that, which is exactly
the point of the buggy whip analogy. No one said that it was impossible for companies
to adapt -- and the examples of companies like Timken, prove that. The problem was
for the companies that didn't adapt... like the buggy whip makers.
So what is the next Buggy-Whip in the digital age?
- Electronic Media (VCR, CD, DVD’s)
- Printed Books