Did The Assembly Line Kill Our Purpose?

Henry Ford launched the assembly line, and he may have killed our purpose. It used to take 12 hours to build one car and the assembly line dropped that time to less than 1 hour. Pay went from $1.25/day, to $5.00/day. Henry got seriously good workers. Real serious. This sign was in Henry Ford’s assembly line shop:

Fraternizing during work hours is terminable and smiling is gross insubordination. This is serious work.

So began the era of consumer vs. citizen and we continue to redefine work. In 1900, WORK = PRIDE. In 2000 WORK = PAY. 

The assembly line may answer the question, “When did we become so self-absorbed and less self-conscious?” We are all about us – our title, money, trips, experiences, etc. We claim that our values are centered on our family, sensitivity, honesty and health. Therein lies our lack of balance – what we say we stand for, versus what we actually do with our effort, money, and time. In our spare time we have choices – to decide what we choose to do or what we get to do.

For all the good Henry Ford did for America’s economy and mobility into the 21st century, he also changed forever the way we look at work. Before the assembly line was launched in 1913 in Dearborn Michigan, we could see crops grow, guitars strung, cabinets built, and enjoy the tangible end product of our effort. Our work gave us purpose. We could see our effort affect the end quality of a product and fellow co-workers built products of substance side-by-side with us. We gained a sense of pride and quality to our work and teamwork. We shared, sweated, and saw the fruits of our labor.  

Today we shuffle papers in large multi-national companies, talk about talent instead of labor, and can’t actually see our product. We all know many employees inside these monster companies that do not even know the names of the products they produce! We don’t see it built, and often the end product is vague – services like financial, legal, or human resources, or something intangible like insurance adjusting and laboratory tests. Seems the biggest products we produce are entities built by consultants and later torn apart by lawyers.  

This is not an editorial statement about consultants or lawyers doing good things, it’s just a sign-of-the-times as we are about the money and not the pride of craftsmanship. Our signatures are electronic stamps, cursive writing is near dead, checks have become card swipes, clocks are phones, kids toys are 3D printed, and workbenches are storage. The automation and speed of what we do is killing our purpose of becoming something greater than us, and we end up with just us being bigger – bigger wallets and tummies, more game playing, and bigger amounts of downtime full of meaningless emails and faceless gossip.     

Our purpose is less defined by what we can see of value and instead shifts to taking care of ourselves. And we are all about it – 25/8 ; 366 days a year! Because we don’t see the final product and can’t get recognition for something done – we become self-absorbed.

We can get back to a better purpose if we look around beyond ourselves to a greater good. We can take an example from Andy Griffith raising Opie –  when Opie had to raise three baby birds on his own, they gained strength and were ready to fly, and it came time to let the birds free from the cage. Opie individually freed each bird, and he was excited to see his success as they flew away. He comments to his dad, ”Hey dad, the cage looks so empty!” and in typical Andy Griffith fashion, Andy says, “Yes son, but don’t the trees look nice and full!”   

Citizens to something we believe in and care about deeply about versus Consumers of WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.

C’MON Man!

Jim

p.s How many Opie’s do you know?  Where did they get that name?

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