Henry Ford on Experts

Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company, had a lot of cool stuff to say. This quote, like a few others, has stuck with me.It is profound and has changed how I think when someone describes themselves as an expert.

“None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.”

I’ve found this to be often true. I’ve come across some very smart people who learn something well and then get stuck in their ways. They fail to evolve or leave themselves closed to new and potentially better ways of doing things.

There’s a difference between an actual expert, who’s no talk, and a hack, who’s all talk.

It’s the person who shows up to a project, solution in hand! They are the hammer and every project is a nail. This expert thinking usually results in missed opportunities to make something better. it also results in missed opportunities to improve their own craft.

We as engineers are particularly susceptible to this. Beware of hubris.

Have confidence in your ability to add value but don’t forget to keep learning.
 

The Speed of Implementation

Speed of implementation is a critical skill to foster if you want to grow your effectiveness as an engineer. As soon as you learn something, you need to practice it. Learn by doing; it’s easier said than done.

Whether building competence through learning or generating ideas and putting them to use, the same critical habit is required: speed of implementation.

Technological innovation is speeding up. If you have an idea, it’s very likely a number of other people have a similar thought or idea at the same time. That’s why it’s becoming more and more critical to move and act on an idea as fast as possible. The window of opportunity for a particular improvement or advancement is getting tighter and tighter.

The increasing consequences on relative laggards is very evident if you look at the general trend of how long companies and industries survive.

A researcher named Richard Foster calculated that in 1958 a company in the S&P 500 could expect to stay on the list for 61 years.  Today it’s 18.

Delay is suicide. What if the founders of Uber had waited a few years to launch their idea? If they had started three years later, their company would probably have had 1% of the success that Uber enjoys today.

When you’re thinking of building a product, the idea is less likely to be viable the longer you wait. Great ideas have a short shelf life; and its getting even shorter.

There is a story about Dan Sullivan, the strategic coach, who was running a workshop for two groups at the same time.  One group was $1000 a seat, the other group was $10,000 a seat. At some point, one of the people in the $1000 group asked Sullivan what he was teaching those people in the $10,000 group that he wasn’t teaching them. Dan said he was teaching the same stuff to both groups, and in fact wasn’t getting though as much material with the $10,000 group as he was with the $1000 group. He said the $10,000 group needed to go though the materials slower as they were trying to really understand the subject matter. Also, as soon as they got it they immediately needed a break so they could try to apply what they’d learned.

Test out your idea in the real world immediately, because the window is not going to stay open for very long.

If you just learned something useful, practice it right away.

If you just had a great idea, try to take the next step right away.

More on Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian Gilbreth is one of the most prolific women engineers in history. We have profiled Ms Gilbreth earlier on the Skellig blog.

Some of her notable achievements are: 

  • first female professor in the engineering school at Purdue University
  • first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering
  • second woman to join the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
  • until 2005, the only woman awarded the prestigious Hoover Award, jointly bestowed by five leading engineering organizations recognizing “great, unselfish, non-technical services by engineers to humanity” 
  • dubbed “the mother of modern management” 
  • In the 1940’s, was called “a genius in the art of living”  
  • two of her most well-known inventions are shelves inside refrigerator doors, including the egg keeper and butter tray, and the foot-pedal trash can
  • she filed patents on an improved electric can opener and the wastewater hose for clothes washers
  • as an industrial engineer working at General Electric, she interviewed over 4,000 women to design the proper height for stoves, sinks and other kitchen fixtures as she worked on improving kitchen designs
  • taught college and university courses at Bryn Mawr, Newark College of Engineering, Rutgers University, and the University of Wisconsin
  • resident lecturer at MIT in 1964
  • served as an advisor to at least five US presidents on civil defense and women’s issues
  • received more than 20 honorary degrees and several prestigious awards and was included in American Men of Science, Who’s Who of American Women, and Notable American Women: The Modern Period