William Liao

March 11, 2021

A recipe for possibility: ship, listen, repeat

The tire company that could

In 1895 brothers Édouard and André Michelin leveraged their rubber company to create one of the first air-filled tires for what they expected to be a rapidly growing automobile market.

Unfortunately the next 5 years would reveal a market moving at much slower pace than expected. Rather than sit on their hands, the Michelin brothers attempted to intervene and grow the market’s appetite for cars and tires by creating the Michelin Red Guide — a free guidebook filled with information that addressed what they believed to be several barriers to market adoption: it provided detailed maps with locations of restaurants and hotels so people knew where they could eat and stay; it listed the handful of pharmacy locations that sold gasoline in sufficient quantities to refuel a car because there were no dedicated gas stations at the time; and it provided sunset and sunrise times because there were no street lights.

The laborious research required to plan a safe trip — a process that we can hardly appreciate given the convenience of today’s world — was being taken care of in a 399-page book that could sit in the back seat of a car that, by the way, became a whole lot easier to justify purchasing. ‘

20 years and one World War later, the Michelin guide’s growing value was validated when Michelin was able to sell around 100,000 issues at $2 per issue (equivalent to ~$26 in 2021 money). Enthusiastic readers were also generously providing feedback to the company on how to make the guide more useful, which led to the decision to hire full-time food critics whose sole job would be to eat at restaurants and decide whether they were worthy of what would become the heralded Michelin Star.

Fast forward to 2021, the Michelin Guide is still in production and the aura of Michelin Star ratings is present everywhere: travel guides, Netflix documentaries, film and pop culture. 

This impressive 121-year-and-going evolution and widespread impact of the Michelin guide wasn’t built on guarantees, it was achieved by committing to a practice:

The Michelin brothers could not have known with certainty that the market would eventually be willing to pay for their guidebook or that the guide would evolve into one of the most trusted resources worldwide for restaurant reviews.

Instead, their growth was the result of identifying an unmet need, committing to a process of shipping a guidebook once per year to help address that need, listening to their intuitions and the people they were aiming to serve, and shipping again. 

The moment things become valuable and the market catches on is often unclear and besides the point — what the tenacious focus on a problem and commitment to a process of shipping grants you is regular contact with the people you aim to serve and the possibility of sharing something that, in time, resonates and attracts.

The next time you feel fatigued by the process consider that it may be because you’re focused on the wrong things like the unsatisfiable need for guarantees. Instead there is much more fulfillment to be found when you focus on the creation of possibility which is what a process empowers you to do every day. 

And the next time you find yourself questioning the power of committing to a problem and a process, remember that one of the most prestigious food critics in the globe is a tire company that decided over a century ago that it would help give people directions.