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CEO Daily: Wednesday, January 6

U.S. car sales, we learned yesterday, hit an all-time record in 2015. But in spite of that, Ford CEO Mark Fields sounded last night like a man on a burning platform.

 

Fields was FORTUNE’s guest at our Brainstorm Tech dinner at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In an interview with Adam Lashinsky, he said his company is “transitioning” from an automobile company “to a mobility company.” He said Ford is “tripling the size of its autonomous vehicle research fleet,” and touted a range of futuristic projects that would allow you to turn on your house lights from your car or run a drone from the bed of your pickup. “Any business has to have one foot planted in today,” Fields said, “and one foot in tomorrow.”

 

The car industry is an extreme case, having barely survived the downturn only to discover its competitive set now includes Google, Tesla, Uber, Lyft and probably Apple. But Fields’ talk of the need to remake his business is increasingly common among today’s big company CEOs. They are a generation of leaders who, in language at least, have taken to heart former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s warning that “only the paranoid survive.” They speak the language of continuous change.

 

Like many, Fields traces this back to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma – a defining book for this generation of business leaders, and one Fields said he read 20 years ago. “I never forgot it,” he said. Never mind that Professor Christensen has recently protested his theory of “disruptive innovation” has been applied too broadly. Disruption has become the language of business.

 

Fields insists his company’s 113-year history is not a liability in this race for the future, but “a huge advantage.” In truth, of course, it is both. Right now, the markets seem to favor the new entrants, unburdened by the baggage of the past. But the future likely belongs to those who can somehow figure out how to embrace the new while preserving the best of the old.

 

More below.

 

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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• Apple shares dip on iPhone report

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Cars sales hit a record in 2015

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Around the Water Cooler

Why Twitter could tinker with character limit

Twitter is reportedly considering increasing the maximum length of its users’ posts from 140 characters to 10,000—an idea that has inspired a wide range of reactions, from intrigued to horrified. But, Fortune‘s Mathew Ingram writes that, with this idea, the company is not trying to please its current users. Instead, Twitter is angling to increase its user base by offering enough real estate for their content to compete with blogging sites, like Medium. The feature could also give content publishers like news organizations the space to post entire articles on Twitter, similar to what they can do with rival Facebook’s new “Instant Articles” feature.  Fortune

Bernie Sanders’ unrealistic plan for Wall Street

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has made it no secret that he wants to reform Wall Street. But, Fortune’s Chris Matthews argues that the Senator from Vermont’s latest plan—in which he promises to impose a federal breakup of the nation’s biggest banks within his first year in the White House—is “radical and unrealistic.” Matthews is unconvinced that Sanders’ breakup plan would make it easier for the government to fix issues in the banking industry and he also points out that the presidential candidate would likely face far too much Republican opposition within his own federal government to ever implement the proposal.  Fortune

More automakers highlight self-driving tech at CES

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5 things to know today

Market bombs and Fed releases minutes—5 things to know today. Today’s story can be found here.