Henry Ford knew most humans were somewhat restricted in their thinking. He, on the contrary, was an innovator – one that many would say was “ahead of his time”. That is an interesting phrase and while none of us can bend the borders of space and time and be truly ahead of our time, there is meaning behind that phrase. To me, it signifies someone who is able to think outside the walls of their current situation. To think within those walls simply takes observation, but to think outside of them takes imagination and faith.
Since the beginning of time there have been the Marie Antoinettes and Henry Fords of our world. There are those who will look at a situation and a problem within that setting and the only solutions they can even begin to muster up involve the very components of their current environment. Since the ill-fated queen of France and Navarre was only fifteen when she married Louis XVI and was thrust into a social and political hurricane she was not prepared for, history should be forgiving of her famous words. “Let them eat cake” was not founded out of cruelty, but rather only being able to see within the walls of her personal situation. After all, when the palace was running low on crusty French bread, there was always those sweet little petit-four cakes.
Henry Ford had a very different upbringing as a farm boy in Michigan than Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna had as the aristocratic Austrian daughter of an Empress and Holy Roman Emperor. Henry’s days consisted of waking early and doing lots of farm chores. In fact, one winter, instead of doing his chore of shelling corn, he made a machine from scratch that shelled corn.
It is my opinion that creative thinking is fostered by need. If you have no need to find a very different solution, then you will just find a mediocre one. Henry Ford saw this logic or failed logic in the world around him. In his world of one-room schoolhouses and farm chores there were lots of opportunities to think independently and he was not limited by the do’s and don’t’s of many other children. He did not finish college and did not even attend college until later in his life, but he was a lifelong learner. In fact, he not only thought with imagination for his revolutionary factory production of the Model T automobile, but is also credited with “Fordism”, a concept that combined the production model with high wages for workers. If you see the theme here, you are following my thread. Innovation is born out of desire for positive change and made out of necessity to think differently than those before you.
Henry Ford, when queried about his invention, and the inspiration thereof, said “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” Let that sink in. Let us imagine If he had “crowd sourced” or conducted a focus group and asked the participants how they would think we should solve the issues around transportation. Someone might say that the roads needed to be improved. Someone else may suggest the steam locomotive be improved upon and rail tracks expanded. Then, there would be that guy who would say: “faster horses!”
Don’t get me wrong, we need those “faster horses” guys because sometimes a simple solution is the fastest and easiest way to get from point A to point B. Our world, however, really, really needs the innovative thinkers who can think outside of improving upon existing solutions to make something “impossible”. When Henry Ford first told his friends, he was going to create a mechanical horse on wheels he probably was met with the same sneers our friend Noah saw when he decided to build an ark in dry weather.
As creatures of habit and reinforcement, many people don’t want to step out with new ideas for fear that the crowd will disapprove. Please disapprove! I tell my strong, intelligent daughters that the fear of rejection keeps the best of us from finding the best in us. Throughout history there have been visionaries that have made possible the “impossible”. Throughout that same history there have been the sideline sneerers. I let them know, as often as I can, that throughout their “history” and future they can be the visionary that uses compassion, intelligence, and pure need/necessity to drive the world into a new, innovative direction.