The Harley Davidson Way
After promising myself to take a nice, long weekend away from all things work and just relax, I find myself here in front of the keyboard. Saturday morning in Milwaukee started as normal as any short vacation. While eating breakfast and sipping on a mimosa at a local pub, I decided to find something to do to occupy my time, so I was not tempted to head back to the hotel and write. Then, while scrolling through the internet, I happened on the Harley Davidson museum.
Although it was tempting to keep scrolling, I thought a visit might eat up some time, and I certainly would be free from the thoughts of my books, my work, and my invention that seems to consume most of the empty space in my brain. My only fear was I might fall asleep standing up from the boredom of looking at motorcycles. Boy, was I wrong.
What a fascinating place and an inspiring story! I won't go into every detail here, but I can highlight three takeaways from visiting this historic place.
1. The company's response to the Great Depression. 2. How vision drove the design. 3. The joy of pursuing one's passion.
The Great Depression
The depression hit most companies hard, and Harley Davidson was no different. People could not buy motorcycles, which were considered mostly a luxury for outdoor exploring at the time. Because people had less disposable income, the company found sales were dropping. This caused a slow down in research and development as prototyping new ideas was a costly endeavor. But William Harley and the Davidson brothers responded by finding new ways to innovate that did not require a large investment. They innovated the design, colors, and style during those hard years. You can see the before and after photos below.
Before and during the Great Depression, the colors and design of the motorcycles were fairly boring. The vehicle's look was not the focus; the team was passionate about the invention and loved building the machines. But during and after the Great Depression, the team did what they could with the limited resources they had, and the result was amazing.
You can see the difference; by 1934, the company had polished the look and feel that gave birth to today's designs of modern motorcycles. Under immense pressure, the company didn't focus on what it couldn't do but rather on what it could do. The theory of constraints, working with what you have, resilience comes to mind.
Vision Drives Design
The company enjoyed expansion during World War II by supplying motorcycles to the US military and other allies. But after the war and with the expansion of automobile usage, the company again faced the threat of becoming irrelevant. So the founders turned their attention to racing and focused on developing racing bikes and dominating the racing frontier.
I noticed another pattern when looking at the new racing bikes. The speedometer became a focal point of the design. I went back to look at the early motorcycles on display and noticed there was no speedometer in the early days of 1903 through the 1920s. Then when the speedometer was added, it was just a small, hardly noticeable piece of equipment. The new bike built for racing made the important piece of equipment prominent by design. So again, Harley Davidson adapted to pressure and changed the design to stay relevant.
Joy of Passion
Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycle companies were the only two to survive the Great Depression. But, the manufacturers of the Indian motorcycle faltered and struggled several times before finally stopping production in the 1950s. Why? What made the two companies different? Although it is not directly stated, I noticed a core difference between the two companies. William Harley and the Davidson brothers were passionate about the machines they built. They saw motorcycle production as a way to create jobs, and they believed they were creating joy in people's lives, thus making the world a better place. In contrast, the Indian company seemed to be passionate about making money. Over the years, constant struggles and disputes resulted in changes in leadership and even owners.
The Harley Davidson owners and creators were enthusiasts. They loved what they did, and they created a community of people who shared their passion. It was a healthy passion, one that leads to the betterment of people's lives. To this day, the community that the founders of Harley Davidson set out to build is thriving, and they are achieving the business results as a byproduct of what they built. Not the machine, the people.
Although I never identified with the HOG (Harley Owners Group) community with all their clubs and badges, I now have a new admiration for how it began in a small shed in 1903. The community is a result of a healthy passion, not one that fed the founder's ego, which can be paralyzing, but one that fed the needs of others.
This brought to light some of the concepts I am reading in a book titled, "Invite Change," written by Janet M. Harvey.
In the first chapter, she discusses how fear impacts and stifles us. How we can get stuck on the plateau of success and feel like our whole value is wrapped up in it. This feeling cripples us. I have felt that most recently when publishing my first book. I was so sick to my stomach for a month before the book was available. I felt like I was making an ass of myself and was in a near-constant panic attack. But, when I let go of the fear of being defined by sales and taking personal responsibility for its success, I was free to pursue new things.
Like the original owners of Harley Davidson, I realized I am not passionate about book sales. But rather, I am passionate about inventing and sharing my work, making a better place for people in organizations and customers to enjoy quality products that change the way they live for the better. I realized that in my final moments on this planet, it won't be the millions made by top executives that I will be most proud of, but rather how I helped make the world a better place in some small way. This drives me to continue to inspect and adapt, change, and modify as I understand needs. This is what has set me free to pursue more, push myself out of my comfort zone, and continue on my journey.
Thank You, William Harley and the brothers Davidson. I will never look at a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the same way. Now when I see them, I will see how three people had the vision to make the world a better place. And that is exactly what they did!