Four Great Innovations Past and Present: Four Disruptive Players from Four Different Industries and How They did it – Part One Mazda MX5

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Commentaries | 0 comments

In our previous July 7th commentary piece, we shared what Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said at the DBS Asian Insights Conference on 4th Jul 2014.   Mr Shanmugaratnam had said that it was unlikely that Singapore would ever return to the formula of relying on cheap labour for its competitiveness.  Instead, Singaporean corporations and businesses must rely on an innovative culture within the organisation to spearhead productivity and innovation to outperform the competition.

We listed in another earlier article “4 Signs Why your Business will need to Innovate in the New Economy” four imperatives for innovation in corporations and businesses:

1) Factors of Production

2) Sophisticated Domestic Demand

3) Supporting Workforce and Industries

4) Domestic Rivalry

In this four-part article, we would like to share the first of four great examples of innovations past and present that can illustrate how four disruptive players from four different industries have made use of the above imperatives for innovation, with special emphasis and highlight on one factor for each.  At the end of each part, we also highlight the relevant Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking principles and techniques that were embedded within the factors of innovation for that particular example.


Part 1.  Mazda MX 5 (1982 – 1989)


What is the Innovation:

The Mazda MX5, also known as the Miata in the US, and the Eunos Roadster in Europe, was a worldwide winner and to this day, the Guinness World Record best-seller of its genre, conceived at a time when the market for roadsters (two-seater convertible sports car) was taking a nose-dive.    Mazda in-house innovation research team conceived the MX5 from the ground up.  Every single part, including the bolts and nuts, was designed from scratch based on the conceptualisation of the research team.   This conceptualisation began with an important document which defined the very concept of a sports car for Americans, where the market was.  The report highlighted the key essential desirable features which were consolidated from the list of features that each member of the in-house innovation research team felt was most important to him-/herself:

  • a long nose containing a front-mounted engine which drove the rear wheels
  • did not have to be fast in absolute terms, but it had to feel faster than it was
  • conservative design based on the British roadsters of the 1950s and 960s that had left an indelible impression on the US motoring public
  • had to have a convertible top
  • image to inspire cult-like devotion

A sexy, fun-to-drive roadster with good performance and affordable price was thus conceived though in-house innovation and developed into an all-time-winner with the model remaining essentially unchanged for a total of ten years!

Factor to Highlight: Factors of Production

Like many other Japanese car makers, Mazda had identified the vast potential for sales in the USA during the 1960s and entered the US market in 1970.  The RX-7 it introduced took the US market, and many others, by storm, a success that in large part could be attributed to its use of rotary engine technology.  By 1981, Mazda had established its own headquarters in the USA, Mazda (North America) Inc.  The Mazda MX5 was the brain-child of Mazda North America.  Thus Mazda had specifically conceived the MX5 for its primary US user market by adopting a truly global approach to locate its R&D facilities in the US to take advantage of the market access as well as the R&D resources available.

Relevant Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking principles and techniques

One of the first things that the lead designers Bob Hall and Mark Jordan asked all the in-house innovation and research engineers do during the brain-storming and design thinking workshop was to ask them to imagine themselves as owners and drivers of a dream sports car and to list down all that this sports car would do for them and how they should feel driving it.  This initial brain-storming was to prove instrumental to the break-through innovation of the Mazda MX5.  The appoach to “put yourslf in the shoes of your customers” is a key principle of The Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking methodology.  The tecnique involved here was as simple as what the Mazda North America in-house innovation and research team had done, which was to ask yourself how the perfect experience would be like using this product and/or services.  The importance herein is the emphasis not merely on the physicalities of a product and/or services but on the emotional aspects as well.


Please read Part Two of this article.

If you have any queries about our in-house innovation training and design thinking workshops, please do get in touch with us!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: