Just don’t look down

Build your platform. Take the plunge.

diving platform arc b&w

How could you reconfigure your assets to tap into new demand, redefine markets and win across boundaries?

Consider these first three lessons from a bold champion of platform design.

In the weeks ahead I’ll share a total of eight lessons learned from a pantheon of platform innovators. Why just create a new solution when you can build the foundation for many?

Lesson 1. Boost your ambition

honda a1 motorized bicycle 1948

Honda launched his company in 1948 with the A1 motorized bicycle.

After four decades, Soichiro Honda — “the Henry Ford of Japan” — found his car company stagnating as new competitors eroded the leads set by his subcompact Civic, Accord and Prelude. He believed in the potential of his company to produce more and better products than the world — and possibly his own young executives — could appreciate.

Honda started his career as a supplier to Toyota, rebuilding from the devastation of World War II. A fire destroyed his humble factory. And when he set up shop again, it was to compete with Toyota, and then the world.

He knew how to do one thing exceptionally well, and it would beat as the heart of Honda’s future.

Lesson 2. Issue a challenge

73 honda civic

The Honda Civic arrived in North America in 1973 exactly as the gas crisis made the subcompact extremely desirable .

Soichiro HondaHondasan shocked his executives when the revered leader took the podium to jar their vision with an impossible command.

He extolled them in a single short statement.

Put six Hondas in every garage.”

He stared out over a sea of stunned faces.

And then he left the stage.

Lesson 3. Play to strength

At Honda's heart - the cheap, efficient engine

Honda’s founder recognized that their cheap, efficient engine could fuel new growth by serving new needs.

Hondasan recognized his company’s unique underlying competence from the beginning of their history: producing small, cheap, reliable, quiet internal combustion engines.

Organizing around their singular strength, Honda went to the field – studying the American use of the garage as storage facility, recreation storeroom, workshop, man-cave. They pondered and scribbled and prototyped.

In wave after wave, Honda released a cascade of products to serve consumers’ transportation, household and recreational needs. Every idea specific to an observed problem, and every product born of the same differentiating asset — small, cheap, quiet, reliable power.

honda products

“There is a Japanese proverb that literally goes ‘Raise the sail with your stronger hand,’ meaning you must go after the opportunities that arise in life that you are best equipped to do.”
~ Soichiro Honda

Remember supply follows demand.

Hondasan got lucky. Just because you do something well doesn’t mean there’s a buyer for it. You need to find real need to match your supply.

There are a few routes to improve your luck. Here’s a good one for starters:

  • Discover your unique competence. Dissect it so you really understand the underlying capabilities and assets.
  • Prove to yourself that it matters. Is it repeatable? What happens in your current offering if you STOP doing it? How do you know.
  • Forget yourself. If you make hammers everything starts to look like a nail. So ignore what you can do while you uncover real consumer needs.
  • Keep digging. Don’t be surprised when you don’t see it. Like your car keys under the sofa cushions. There is always an unmet need. Keep looking.
  • Find it and consider how you would solve it. Can you? In a way that matters?
  • Now look for adjacent problems. If you can build a better lawnmower, why not a snowblower? What are the lateral needs that sum up to a platform?
  • Now, if you’re really persistent, you may get lucky and discover that what you do well for an old need you can do well for a new need.
  • Try it out. Don’t be discouraged by early failures. Learn from them.
  • Then iterate your way to your new platform.

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Look around. Got a platform yet? If not, change your audience, your market, your context or your discovery tools.

If so, congratulations. You built a platform, and we’ve only covered three of the eight lessons for finding and designing platform innovation.

Take a breath. Smile. You earned it.

Okay, back on yer bike. Plenty more problems to solve out there, slacker. Go get lucky.

Next week, lesson 4: BYOB.

Until then,

Make better.

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