In our creativity keynote presentation “Tennis Shoes & Blue Jeans” (Back-to-the-Basics Approach to Creativity and Innovation),we share an interesting anecdote that decisively confirms the point that creative ideas aren’t always original.
Each and every person reading this article has been the benefactor of two very creative minds who knew how to borrow, tweak and succeed in such successful ways that the entire world has been impacted. Sadly, far too few people are aware of these historically documented facts.
Many are aware of the fact that Henry Ford developed the “assembly line” and, in doing so, changed the face of manufacturing forever. Or did he? It’s true that Henry developed the automobile assembly line, but where did his idea actually come from? You may be surprised.
The honorable Mr. Ford never hid the fact that his inspiration for assembly-line production came from a visit he made as a young man to a Chicago slaughterhouse! In his autobiography, My Life and Work (1922), Ford revealed that he studied the stock-yards “disassembly line” and simply reversed the procedure. Chicago packers used an overhead trolley in the process of dressing beef. Watching this activity led Ford to the division-of-labor principle he would later adopt to produce automobiles.
The slaughtered animals, suspended upside down from a moving chain, or conveyor, would pass from workman to workman, each of whom would perform some particular step in the process. The workmen were forced to conform to the pace and requirements set by the assembly line itself, producing a higher level of quality, more continuity, and a reduction in the time required to complete the process. If it worked with carcasses, it could work with cars. The rest is history.
Let’s fast forward from 1908 to 1959. A man by the name of Berry Gordy, working on the production line at Ford Motor Co. in Detroit, borrows this novel concept to create a proven method of producing hit music as well as hit stars.
Gordy founded Motown Records in a very modest wood-frame house in the middle class residential neighborhood in mid-town Detroit. He lived upstairs and converted the garage into a studio and called it “Hitsville, USA.” Today that same house is now a Motown museum.
Note the similarities between the Ford assembly line and the Magic of Motown music:
- All the songs were written in standardized format by a team of in-house songwriters.
- The same in-house band, The Funk Brothers, provided the same distinctive Motown rhythm for every hit.
- The same choreographers familiarized every artist with the characteristic Motown dance moves.
- The skilled team of make-up artists created the same Motown look for each performer.
- The same wardrobe staff made certain that every performer hit the stage in that very unique Motown finery.
Whether we realized it or not, as an audience, we had that very comfortable feeling of deja vu every time a Motown performer graced the stage. Little did we know that feeling had been engineered as precisely as Ford Mustang. As Ford produced its classic car models, Motown, too, created classics that will live on in the hearts of music lovers forever … The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Diane Ross, Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, The Contours, The Marvelettes, The Ruffin Brothers (Jimmy and David), The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Jackson Five, The Commodores, Lionel Richie, and the list goes on and on.
Henry Ford borrowed from the meat-packers. Berry Gordy borrowed from Henry Ford. No one lost. Everyone gained.
Who will you borrow from? Keep your eyes peeled and your mind open. As you view life around you, consider how it can be “tweaked” for other uses and benefits. Consider the two examples above and how they, simplistic as they were, changed the entire world as we knew it. You, too, have that potential.
About Harry K. Jones
Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.