A Conceptual Collage to Visualize the Relevance of Alleged Quote by Henry Ford over a Century Ago


In this article, I explore the intersection of innovation, customer input, and AI technology, notably ChatGPT. Drawing upon Henry Ford’s quote about “faster horses,” it delves into the value of leveraging past knowledge and customer needs while forging into the unknown. We highlight how the current technology works and raises questions about its reliance on historical data. Discussing the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 era and learning the lessons from Skyscape’s Buzz platform innovation, we highlight the necessity of balancing prior knowledge with agile anticipation of the future. Buzz, incorporating customer input and ChatGPT’s capabilities, exemplified how customer-focused innovation and unseen technological refinements create a successful product. 

While history is valuable, it’s also a prologue to an ongoing story, a balance of listening, understanding, refining, and innovating.

The Background

One of the famous and oft-quoted phrases from Henry Ford goes, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” As the Harvard Business Review confirms, it has been a polarizing argument to emphasize the merits of innovation vis-a-vis customer involvement. In an era of rapid technological advancement, the ability to innovate and adapt has become paramount for businesses. 

What’s the Connection between ChatGPT and Henry Ford?

You might wonder what ChatGPT has got to do with this. Before I show the connection, let me digress to explain how ChatGPT works. 

ChatGPT and similar AI technologies, like Bard, are machine learning models known as Large Language Models. GPT in ChatGPT stands for Generative Pretrained Transformer and is an advanced language model developed by OpenAI. It’s trained using a machine learning technique known as transformer neural networks. The model’s training relies on a large corpus of text data, learning patterns, and structures of human language. During this training, it learns to predict the next word in a sentence, helping it generate human-like text. When a user inputs a question or prompt, the model uses its learned knowledge to develop a contextually appropriate and coherent response. 

The bottom line in that capability is that these AI engines do not possess consciousness or understanding; instead, they mimic knowledge by leveraging patterns and information learned during training. The answers are purely generated based on patterns in the data it was trained on, not on any other vision or prediction capabilities. Additionally, the technology cannot access or retrieve personal data from users unless shared during the conversation (or entering the ‘prompt’ to the engine). We expect the technology to honor user privacy and confidentiality. However, the developers could overzealously mix this private information with the training data repository, making it treacherous.

Let’s get back to Henry Ford. His quote implies the danger of using the customers as input, as you may lose the potential to drive a disrupting innovation if you rely too much on the current information and knowledge. Does ChatGPT’s reliance on the “known history” relegate it to the same fate as the customer who only knows about the proverbial “horse carriages,” making us vulnerable to a regurgitated future? This dilemma about the known vs. unknown is what I want to talk about by including Henry Ford and ChatGPT in the same breath.

Enter COVID and Innovation

The last few years of COVID have taught us that it is better to be aware of the past and yet agile enough to anticipate the future. The pandemic further underscored the importance of this agility, as it posed unanticipated challenges that required swift and innovative solutions. Regardless of the type of solution, whether it is technology to connect people or vaccines to save lives, it was the combination of prior knowledge and the acute need to manage the unknown that ultimately led to a level of success. 

In this context, the role of customer input in driving innovation has gained renewed significance.

Skyscape’s Innovation in Home Health

Many challenges addressed during the pandemic are related to “remote” connectivity. The challenges, gaps in existing solutions, and opportunities with new solutions directly correlate with patient care and management in the Home Health environment. Skyscape’s Buzz platform focused on the latter, meriting a brief preview. 

The collaboration platform has proven the pivotal role of customer input in driving innovation. When face-to-face interactions were limited, Buzz filled the communication gap with features integrating secure, HIPAA-compliant phone and video to effectively address its healthcare clients’ needs. This process led to the development of innovative solutions specifically tailored to tackle the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Additionally, the Buzz team successfully implemented AI capabilities with CloudLink™ to evidence-based medical references & literature, augmenting with generative documentation with ChatGPT, an AI platform developed by OpenAI, in response to the direct challenges our clients’ medical teams face on an ongoing basis. These healthcare provider staff challenges have been brewing well before the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to exacerbate during and after the fact.

However, the innovation story of Buzz Innovation doesn’t end with customer input. The company also demonstrates the value of tech nuances that make their product easier to use, even if these did not originate from customer suggestions. A great example would be proactively anonymizing the identities of our providers and creating secure tunnels to connect to external services like ChatGPT to prevent the leakage of HIPAA-sensitive data to such AI engines. Integrating the documentation steps in the normal workflow and dispatching the information through the platform directly via channels like Buzz, phone, SMS or fax reduces the repetitive and mundane tasks that lead to exhaustion, burnout, anxiety and stress among healthcare providers.

While not always visible to the end user, these’ behind-the-scenes’ enhancements are crucial for providing a smooth and efficient user experience. They include improvements in processing speed, system stability, data security, and user interface design. Buzz Innovation continuously refines these aspects of its product, ensuring it remains reliable, secure, and easy to use.

Squashing the Innovator’s Dilemma

The journey of Buzz Innovation serves as an example for all businesses. In the dynamic and fast-paced world of technology, innovation is not just about creating the next big thing – it’s about listening to your customers, understanding their challenges, and continually refining your product. This balance will allow businesses to thrive in the post-pandemic world. 

Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen outlined the concept of “disruptive innovation” in his famous book “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” However, the dual approach of focusing on both customer input & needs and internal technological enhancements has enabled Buzz Innovation to stay ahead of the curve and keep the platform relevant, user-friendly, and advanced, proving that “the faster horse” analogy is, at best, an oversimplification. This lesson could significantly help established companies as well as smaller upstarts.

Tie the Historical with the Contemporary

In conclusion, customer input and preemptive advancements are not mutually exclusive sources of innovation. Instead, they complement each other in creating products and solutions that are faster and more efficient, and aligned with the customers’ changing needs.

Finally, I can’t stop without remembering my favorite phrase, “Past is prologue,” from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a broader sense, this discussion signifies that history influences and shapes current events and the future. In this context, the past is not something to be dismissed or frowned upon; instead, it is a prologue to the story that is still being written. The connection between Henry Ford’s apparent musing and ChatGPT’s capabilities ties the historical with the contemporary in an intriguing way!

PS: If you’d like to test-drive responsible AI in action, visit Buzz.skyscape.com for a demo & free access to our platform)


For more information on the future of lab testing and the full article visit: Surveying Laboratory Tests From a Health IT Perspective