Monday, August 24, 2009

Henry Ford a Change Freak?

I love old books. Just the smell, the texture, the excitement that comes from holding a book in your hands that is generations old can be amazing. I love reading primary history, history written by those who have lived what they are writing. History in many ways is corrupted when seen and summarized through the eyes of those who didn't live the events they write about. What becomes quickly apparent when reading old books is the reality that there is very little that is "new under the sun." Wisdom that creates best sellers today are often based on wisdom that is decades, if not centuries, old. A great example of this can be found in Henry Ford's "Today and Tomorrow," published in 1926.

Last week I shared the following quote from Ford's book with a Definity University Lean Certification class:

"Our own attitude is that we are charged with discoverinng the best way of doing everything, and that we must regard every process employed...as purely experimental. If we reach a stage...which seems remarkable as compared with what has gone before, then that is just a stage...and nothing more. It is not and cannot be anything more than that. We know from the changes that have already been brought about that far greater changes are to come, and that therefore we are not performinng a single operation as well as it ought to be performed."

It certainly appears that Henry Ford may have been a charter member of the Change Freaks! His approach to continuous improvement was certainly ahead of its time, an approach to continuous improvement that is still transforming organizations today. Here are a few thoughts on the wisdom we can find in the short excerpt above:
1. "Our own attitude..." Transformational change begins with attitude. It is not a program, an initiative, or a corporate goal. Real change leadership seeks to bring about an organizational culture that embraces change as the only way to move forward and thrive.
2. "...discoverinng the best way of doing everything" Every organization is on a journey of discovery. Be suspicious of any leader or organization that has a "program" to fix all the issues of an organization. As a change agent, don't slip into believing that all of today's problems can be solved with the same tools and methods you used in the past. This is expecially prevalent today with "programs" like lean, Six Sigma, ISO, etc. All of these are valuable, but they aren't silver bullets. Take the time to discover the new ways. Build on what you've learned, but don't limit yourself by making everything fit into your paradigms and previous experience.

3. "...every process...as purely experimental" Observe the current condition. Make plans to improve. Execute on those plans with the required challenges. Measure and study the impact. Adjust your approach where needed based on what you have learned. And then start the process all over again. Nothing but the laws of God and nature are fixed. Everything else is an experiment!
4. "...far greater changes are to come" Changes that are successful simply point the way to greater changes that are to come. Don't get comfortable or the world (and your competition) will pass you by. Henry Ford was also famous for saying "You can have a car in any color you want, as long as it is black." Unfortunately, in some ways, he failed to act on his own wisdom!
5. "...we are not performinng a single operation as well as it ought to be performed." As shared in a previous post, real change begins with a hatred for the current state. Hatred. Not dissatisfaction-many people live their entire lives dissatisfied with the way things are but do nothing to change. Hate the inefficiencies you see in your organizations. Hate the shortcomings you see in your own life. Resolve to stay on the journey of continuous improvement. Nothing is as good as it can be this side of heaven, so resolve to do all you can to make it better.
Ford Motor Company is the only major US car manufacturer that hasn't been in line for government bail outs and subsidies. They are the only US automobile manufacturer not contemplating bankruptcy. I won't venture to claim to know all the reasons why, but I have to believe at least one factor is that they have a legacy of finding a better way to do business, of never being satisfied with how things are today. What legacy will you and your organization leave? What you do TODAY will impact TOMORROW in ways you cannot possibly imagine!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Great blog, Rich. We too often only quote the "black car" statment from Henry Ford and forget to acknowledge how brilliant the man really was. He was definitey a man ahead of his time.

Chris