A camel is a horse designed by committee
I heard this phrase again recently and it has really stayed with me.
Apparently the quote is attributed to Sir Alec Issigonis, a British car designer who worked at the Morris Minor Company from the age of 18 and went on to design the Mini. The Mini became one of the most loved cars of all time and Alec was knighted in 1969 to honour his success.
I love this phrase and what it says about how to produce truly great design like the Mini. To be a true innovator and visionary you can’t listen to too many people. You have to be more of a benign dictator and trust your instincts. They say that to come up with a truly disruptive idea you have to be a truly disruptive person and again this is getting at the same point.
When you come up with a new idea people will always put it in their own context of experiences, knowledge, preferences and personality. And you will always end up with a mixture of feedback both positive and negative. You’ll also come up against people (most people in my experience) who are uncomfortable with change and like to take the world that they find around them and think about how to make incremental improvements to it.
To be a great innovator you have to trust your instincts and have the will to drive your idea forwards no matter what people say about it. That’s how big breakthroughs are made.
Take the example of the Mini – Alec Issigonis was focused on designing a small, simple and economical car. Putting an emphasis on size and fuel efficiency had never been done before and cars were still not affordable for most people. The car included a revolutionary front wheel drive design that allowed 80% of the floor space to be used for passengers and luggage. The Mini went on to become one of the most popular cars ever produced and influenced a generation of carmakers; indeed it was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century.
The Mini could never have been designed by a committee – something that I think is true of almost all inventions. People would have insisted that the car was a bit bigger, that the front wheel drive design wouldn’t work or that people don’t really care about fuel efficiency. Before he knew it Alex would have ended up with a camel – or is the modern day equivalent a Vauxhall Astra?