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Boys and Their Shortcuts: A Lesson from Henry Ford

I hear one complaint often; it usually comes from moms and female teachers who are frustrated over how much “effort” boys will put into written assignments.

It goes something like this: “He knows so much about the material, but he will only write a couple of things… he always wants to take the shortcut!”

I often ask, “Is the shortcut ‘good enough’?”

We all know, boys and girls are built differently. Generally, girls want the long story with all of the flowery details. Boys just want an answer.

Therefore, they don’t see the point of expanding on everything they know about a topic, simply to answer one question on their homework or for a test. To them, this is pure inefficiency.

Consider an employment situation. Would their answer be sufficient enough to get the job done at work?

Image courtesy of thehenryford.org

Grandpa & Mr. Ford

I grew up in Dearborn, MI, home of Ford Motor Company. “Back in the day,” my husband’s grandfather was a young engineer for Ford. As in, he reported directly to Mr. Ford.

Grandpa liked to tell the story about an assignment Mr. Ford had given to all of the engineers in Grandpa’s division. They were each to write a report detailing how they would handle a specific engineering challenge. The report was due by 10 AM the following Wednesday.

Wednesday morning arrived. Grandpa suddenly realized he had forgotten about the assignment. He was a diligent employee and upset about his oversight.

He scrambled and pulled together a short report, just before the deadline. He turned it in with his head hung low, ashamed of his last-minute effort. His colleagues each prepared detailed, multi-page reports; his one-pager stood out like a sore thumb!

Mr. Ford held a staff meeting later that afternoon to debrief on the ideas and suggestions from the reports. Grandpa was not looking forward to this meeting, knowing he would be singled out.

Sure enough, he was! Mr. Ford opened the meeting by holding Grandpa’s report up for everyone to see. Grandpa gulped.

To his total surprise… Mr. Ford complimented him. “When I ask for a report,” Henry Ford demanded, “THIS is what I want! Don’t make me read through pages of gibberish…get to the point! That is all I have time for and that is what I want!”

Grandpa dodged a bullet on that one! But, as he shared with us many times, he learned a valuable lesson that served him through his years at Ford Motor Company, and later as an entrepreneur…. Get to the point, quickly and clearly!

Now, I’m not saying that all shortcuts are equal. But quite often, “shortcuts” truly are about efficiency, not necessarily a lack of effort or a blatant attempt to be lazy. The next time you see your son or a student attempt one, ask yourself, “What would Henry Ford think of this?”

-Susan Kruger


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