Rose Wilder Lane’s biography of Henry Ford paints a picture of an ever-curious man, who was always seeking to improve himself.
Wilder tells a story about how as a boy, Henry Ford was fascinated with his friend’s new pocket watch. The boys skipped Sunday school to take it apart and see how it worked. They spent the day excitedly disassembling and reassembling the various springs and gears.
Ford’s curiosity eventually drove him to drop out of school. At age sixteen, he quit school to get a job learning about steam engines. When he wanted to learn about electricity, he got a job at General Electric. In the evenings, he worked on building his horseless carriage.
Optimized for Growth
After two years of tinkering in his shed, his wife’s eyes filled with tears as she wondered if his automobile would ever be ready. Ford’s family and friends thought he was crazy. One rainy night at 3 am, his dreams came to fruition as the metallic creature lurched from his shed through the yard.
He never optimized for money or an easy life. He could’ve lived a familiar cozy life back at the family farm. Instead, he optimized for innovation and personal growth.
Money was just a transmitter of value to which he felt compelled to put towards its highest use of making things.
Ford encouraged his employees to innovate. He said it was a rare employee who actually used their imagination to gain efficiency. Most were happy to do their job and go home.
In everything he did, he sought to innovate. He’d rather learn something new than optimize for a higher salary. The money eventually came, but that was not his main goal.
Ford was always interested in the world around him. He sought answers to tough questions by learning out loud.
Ford teaches us to practice being curious. To always be learning. Don’t always optimize for the highest salary. Stay curious. Do free work. The knowledge and connections you gain can offset the cost of a lower wage.