In the aftermath of world war two, Germany was in complete chaos. Defeated, bombed and demoralized. And while the country was being carved up by the allies, Major Ivan Hirst, a British army officer, was given temporary control of a sector in Saxony. His job was to keep some order and to try to help the area get back onto it’s feet. As an engineer, he was fascinated by the huge factory at Wolfsburg, then, as now, the largest car factory in the world. Built to manufacture the “Strength through joy” car, designed by Ferdinand Porsche, and part of Hitler’s dream to get the masses onto the roads, the factory had been heavily bombed in the last year of the war.
Hirst realized the best way to help the people of the area, was to get the factory working again. And he set to work with the locals and his team of Royal Electrical and Mechanical engineers. Over the space of a few months, they resurrected what they could of the original production line, and made as many Volkswagen types 1’s as they could manage with the parts they had found.
Realizing he wasn’t qualified to run a business, the Major contacted Lord Rootes – Chairman of Rootes group, which produced Humber, Hillman and Singer cars in the UK. Rootes flew to Wolfsburg, examined the plant and car, and refused any involvement, on the grounds that the Volkswagen would never sell. History records that The Rootes Group, and all it’s brands would be gone within three decades, while the Volkswagen would become the world’s best selling car.
Undeterred, Hirst contacted the world’s press and invited them to see the Volkswagen, and it was a visiting American journalist who described them as being like “little black beetles.” Although never officially christened as such, the name stuck. All the original press cars were black as that was the only paint they could find in the factory.
Hirst concentrated on getting production going and started running the business to the great benefit of the townspeople.
By 1948, he was finally able to hand control over to local engineer Heinrich Nordhoff, who became a legend over the next twenty years, turning the Beetle into a world wide phenomenon.
The idea he pioneered was Constant Improvement. The Beetle was an inherently ingenious design. Reliability came from being air cooled and totally over engineered when compared to other cars of the period. Strength and simplicity in every part was Porsche’s legacy. And by placing engine and gearbox in the rear, the interior space was amazing for such a small body.
Nordhoff applied Constant Improvement across every aspect of the business. In production, he managed to reduce the number of man hours to produce a car from 400 to 100 – an astonishing 75% improvement! But he also applied it to the car itself. The marketing department managed to make a virtue out of the fact that the car didn’t change visually from year to year, but that there were numerous mechanical changes, which simply made it better, stronger and even more reliable.
Instead of throwing away a fantastic design and making a fresh one every few years, Volkswagen simply continued to improve it, little by little, year by year.
This was how a legend was born.
So how, I hear you ask, does that relate to blogging? Well, I feel we should learn from Constant Improvement. We bloggers are pioneers, at the cutting edge of a new technology, a new medium. And because of that, we love new projects, new ideas, new themes – we love change! I often see a great new product launched – an E Book, a training course. There’s a big splash all over the net for a few days, and then it goes quiet. The next thing I hear is that the blogger is working on her next project, and the same thing happens all over again – the first one forgotten.
And finally, here’s the point: I don’t think we should be doing that. When we create a good product to sell, keep focused on it, make it better, offer more value – constantly improve it and keep focusing on selling it.
That’s my plan for 2010. I’m going to focus on making my own products better. I’ll add to them, refine them and expose them to more and more people. They’re good – people buy them and love them, so my job is clear. I’m going to constantly improve them.
Maybe you can do the same? Whatever you’re offering now, instead of moving on to the next new idea, make what you have better, get the message out to more and more people, improve your after sales service, offer more support, write a better sales page. Putting your resource into what you already have that works may pay off in the long run with a much smoother income flow.
A Word of Caution
What I didn’t mention in the Volkswagen story was what happened next. After Nordhoff died in 1968, the board became obsessed with staying with the Beetle, based on his legacy. That obsession almost brought the company down when the huge US market finally fell out of love with the car, and in love with Japanese cars. They saved themselves with the launch of the Golf (Rabbit in the US) and then by launching a whole series of fantastic cars, and buying and revitalizing other brands like Bentley, Lamborghini, Skoda and Seat. And this year the company came full circle by taking over Porsche, the business founded by the original designer of the Beetle.
But it was a close run thing, and Volkswagen took it too far. The message for us is that Constant Improvement is good, but also to know when it really is time to move onto to something new.
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