He'd been hired as an engineer.
But after a few months he realized it was a bad fit. So he asked to move to sales and marketing. That's where things really took off for him. He was in his element, and he started closing deals, and creating creative ways to get more sales.
Some people might imagine he was in the right moment at just the right time. After all, it wasn't like people hadn't been buying the product before he did his magic. But they started buying a whole lot more of it in his district.
In no time at all, he was moved to HQ because his promotions and campaigns gained national attention. “56 for 56” meant that you could buy a 1956 Ford for 20% down, and 3 years of $56 payments. Lee Iacocca conceived and ran the promotion and the results helped propel him to his ultimate spot as President of Ford in 1970.
But this isn't a story about Iacocca.
It's a story of what was happening in the 1950's. See if you moved back to the early 1900's, Fords cost the average wage earner about half of a year's salary. That was a lot of money.
The result was that few people owned cars (roughly 5 out of every 1000 by 1910). By the 1930's over 75% of cars were bought on installment plans and so adoption rates went up but flattened for two decades (roughly 200 for every 1000). It wasn't until the 1950's that it started moving up again, jumping by 100 per 1000 every decade. So you can see how Iacocca found himself in the right spot, at the right time.
But this isn't a story about car adoption rates.
It's a story of what was going on when everyone started having cars. See, as more and more people owned cars, people couldn't imagine living without them. You know, like how kids feel today about an iPod Touch or many adults and smart phones.
You can imagine, can't you, living in the twenties or thirties, thinking that this “car thing” was really taking off. And if it was taking off, then logically it meant you'd have to know something about cars. After all, they'd be a part of everything you'd do.
And by the 1950's more and more people were owning cars. And young men were learning to tinker with their own cars, almost as a right of passage.
But this isn't a story about mechanics.
It's a story about the fact that everyone around me uses cars. But everyone I know isn't a mechanic. It's amazing. Everyone is able to work these cars without knowing how to fix them. And we no longer tinker with the latest cars, because they're filled with computer chips.
But it's easy to remember when everyone thought we'd all be driving Volkswagen Beetles (the originals) because they were easy to repair and we could all do things ourselves.
Today we all use computers. We can't imagine not using computers for everything we do. And so we assume we'll all have to learn how to make them do things. So of course, we should all learn to code.
And that's where I disagree.
Because this isn't a story about coding.
Yes, you all own cars, even if you don't know how to fix them. And yes, many of you own computers, even if you don't know how to code.
Knowing how to use something doesn't require you to know how to make it do something. We have mental models that help us. I don't know the details of how the brakes work on my car, but I know that if I push harder, my car stops faster. So I assume that I apply pressure and something applies pressure to my wheels. It's simplistic, but it works.
Plus, when people run around saying everyone should learn to write code, do they include these two lottery winning guys in the “everyone?” Because I'm pretty sure I don't want to run any programs they write.
No, not everyone should learn to write code.
So what is this a story about?
This is a story about the fact that Lee Iacocca found more success in sales than he did in engineering, because he leaned into his strengths. It's a story about (you know I have to go here) Steve Jobs who couldn't write code but could manage product development and marketing better than most.
It's a story about you and me. And the strengths we bring to the table. And yours may not be coding. That's fine.
Refine your mental models. Learn what's possible. Add value in other ways. But don't let someone tell you that you have to learn to code – especially if that's not you.
As Kevin Hart says, “Do You.”