That Henry Ford “faster horse” quote is the wrong analogy for BIM

The CEO of Autodesk, Andrew Anagnost, in this article, Autodesk CEO: ‘Automation will solve the world’s capacity problems’, by John Kennedy, says:

“The single biggest change we’ve seen since the 1980s to today is really the move from drawings to models, and now we are moving from models to systems.”

In this post I’m going to critique this sentence. I’m not going to say that there’s anything wrong with it. There isn’t. Rather, I’ll just say that it’s worth taking a minute to think about what it means. This idea, in this sentence, or the first part of it, has been used in software marketing in the AEC industry for a long time. Let me just get to the point. There’s a difference between what this is intended to mean, and what some people take it to mean.

As marketing language, the first half of the sentence (“…the move from drawings to models”) actually means, intentionally in my opinion:  “…we’re now selling you another product and you should buy it”. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I recommend anyone hearing it, hear it for what it is.

Also as marketing language, the second half of the sentence (“…and now we’re moving from models to systems.”) means: “now the company intends to enter new kinds of markets (IoT, electronic controls, etc…) with new kinds of products.”

You know, I mean, look, if companies wrote, instead of standard marketing language, my translation as marketing rhetoric, sales would fall through the floor; you’d feel much less interested in buying those products. I mean that’s obvious. We all kind of know this. We live many generations now in the age of advertising and we know automatically a lot about how it works, its structure, the sound of it. In any case we’re conditioned to hear that sound, and both to automatically take it with a grain of salt in some cases, and in other cases to subscribe to it with tremendous devotion. It depends on our affinity to particular things. It’s part of the basic nature of life these days.

What needs to be criticized though is the interpretation that many tend to read into a statement like this. Many take it literally, where, “the move from drawings to models”, is understood to mean: a move away from drawings, leaving drawings behind as they’re superseded by models, that models, in other words, replace drawings.

When viewed as marketing language, you can see that Mr. Anagnost did not say this. What he said was that in the past he sold you another product, and in the future he’s going to sell you some more products. He didn’t say that drawing is to be kicked down the back stair into the dustbin of history. But YOU might have taken it that way. That’s OK. Just know: you don’t have to take it that way.

Alright, so this segues into that Henry Ford “faster horse”  quote attribution.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The use of this quote, in opposition to the idea of trying to listen to what customers want (and in support of it), is discussed in this article, Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote, by Patrick Vlaskovits. The article is extremely insightful. I highly recommend it. Vlaskovits debunks the attribution of the quote to Henry Ford. Turns out he never said it. But though interesting, that’s the least interesting bit of the article. I won’t summarize. Just read it.

But this:

The quote’s been applied to BIM (or “digital twins”). People have said,

“yeah, BIMs (models) are like the Model T. And no one asked for that. If Henry Ford had asked what people wanted they would have said “faster horses”; or if the software industry asked draftsmen, they would have said, “faster drawings…”

And so, of course the implication is that drawings are like horses, shown the door to obvious obsolescence by models, just as automobiles kicked horses into (again) the dustbin of history, and so on.

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But wait a second. That’s an analogy. And a water-tight one at that. Right? So it seems. Certainly it sounds like it might be right. What could possibly be wrong with it?

Let’s test the soundness of that analogy by considering another analogy instead. Let’s ask if there’s another analogy that’s a better fit.

A better analogy, that better fits

100 years ago there were two closely related but totally different media: recorded sound, and silent film (moving picture). We could have had people at that time kicking sound down the back stair declaring that silent film is the sea change we need!”, and “down with sound!.

As a matter of fact, such people existed. As cited by wikipedia: “In September 1926, Jack L. Warner, (himself!) head of Warner Bros., was quoted to the effect that talking pictures would never be viable:

“They (talking pictures) fail to take into account the international language of the silent pictures, and the unconscious share of each onlooker in creating the play, the action, the plot, and the imagined dialogue for himself.”

But Warner was wrong, obviously. Further from the wikipedia article on Sound Film:

“Much to his company’s benefit, he would be proven very wrong—between the 1927–28 and 1928–29 fiscal years, Warners’ profits surged from $2 million to $14 million. Sound film, in fact, was a clear boon to all the major players in the industry. During that same twelve-month span, Paramount’s profits rose by $7 million, Fox’s by $3.5 million, and Loew’s/MGM’s by $3 million.[135] RKO, which did not even exist in September 1928 and whose parent production company, FBO, was in the Hollywood minor leagues, by the end of 1929 was established as one of America’s leading entertainment businesses.[136] Fueling the boom was the emergence of an important new cinematic genre made possible by sound: the musical. Over sixty Hollywood musicals were released in 1929, and more than eighty the following year.[137]

Here’s the thing. Horses and automobiles have no compelling interrelationship with each other. One (cars) DOES replace the other (horses). Sound and film are not like that because they DO have a compelling interrelationship and one does NOT replace the other. Sound and film are distinct media of different but related purpose. Really, the purpose of each is to make the other make more sense, each of unique value best revealed, and amplified, in fusion, sound IN film (not film REPLACING sound).

And this is the better fit analogy with drawing and modeling. Drawings and models are distinct media of different but related purpose. Really, the purpose of each is to make the other make more sense, each of unique value best revealed, and amplified, in fusion, drawings IN models (not models REPLACING drawings).

I write more on my website and my blog here

I wrote and gave away a free book on Apple Books last year. Chapter 3 of the book is a specification for software developers that envisions the future of the expression of the FUNCTION of “drawing” in-situ within spatial visual media/models of any kind. The rest of the book is commentary from my personal experience building models and making drawings. Download links are here on my website: Tangerine Media Innovation Spec 2018

Yeah, it’s a better fit, a better analogy. And there is a tremendous amount of innovation that matters that’s going to follow from it.

Earlier Media Innovations 2012


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