THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 14

Subject:  Innovation/Analogy – Bill Klann’s visit to an abattoir

Event:  Henry Ford starts his first assembly line, 1914

In 1909, Henry Ford had a vision to “democratize the automobile.”  This vision began to be realized on January 14, 1914, when Ford’s assembly line began to produce his Model T.  Certainly Ford deserves credit for making the automobile affordable and accessible to the American people; however, there is one man — one of Ford’s employees — who also deserves a large share of the credit.  

In 1907, a machinist named Bill Klann got a job working for the Ford Motor Company.  Previously he had worked for an ice company, a streetcar company, a brewery, and a shipbuilder.  After demonstrating his talents for problem-solving and for building heavy machinery, Khan was tasked with speeding up the production of engines for Ford’s Model T.

In 1913, Klann toured a slaughterhouse in Chicago.  There, he observed the butchering of hogs, cattle, and sheep in the abattoir and was especially captivated by the way that the animal carcasses were transported through the facility on overhead trolleys.  Instead of being butchered in one place, different parts of the carcass were cut off by different butchers as it moved through the facility.  As he watched, Klann had an epiphany:  maybe this process for disassembling animals could be adapted for assembling automobiles.

Klann first applied his idea to assembling just engine components, and it worked so well that soon an assembly line was built for building entire Model T engines.  By January 1914, the entire automobile was produced via the assembly line process.  Before Klann’s idea came to fruition, it took 12 hours to produce a car; now it took just 90 minutes.

The Ford Motor Company’s ability to produce more cars in less time and with less labor allowed the company to reduce the price of each vehicle.  Soon a Model T was cheap enough that an average American family could afford it.  Ford’s vision of “democratizing the automobile” had been realized, and a large chunk of the credit goes to Klann.

Klann’s invention of the assembly line should be remembered as a celebration of the human mind’s ability to generate ideas through analogies — to make connections between even the most disparate ideas.  Watching butchers dismember animals doesn’t seem like a very logical pastime for a machinist whose job is to put things together.  Nevertheless, Klann’s imagination went to work, allowing him to see similarities in dissimilar things — to envision how the process of slaughtering cattle might be transformed into a process for constructing automobiles (1).

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How did analogical thinking by Bill Klann contribute to the success of Ford Motor Company?

Challenge:  Invention By Analogy

Research other examples of inventions and ideas that have come about through analogical thinking.  Klann took ideas from one domain — the slaughterhouse — and applied them to another domain — the auto factory.  What is an example of another inventor who applied this type of thinking?  What did he/she invent?

Source:  

1-Pollack, John.  Shortcut:  How Analogies Reveal Connections Spark Innovation and Sell Our Greatest Ideas.  New York:  Avery, 2014.  

December 4:  Pascal’s Apology Day

On this date in 1656, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a letter in which he expressed one of the central paradoxes of writing:  it’s faster and easier to write a long composition than to write a short one.  

Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPGPascal expressed the paradox as an apology to his reader:  “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter” (1).

According to Ralph Keyes in his book The Quote Verifier, Pascal’s quotation has been falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, Henry Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Voltaire (2).  The popularity of Pascal’s sentiment reveals both how much writers value brevity and how difficult it can be to obtain.  Being clear, concise, and cogent is hard work.

Another illustration of the “less is more” writing philosophy comes from an anecdote about Mark Twain, who received the following telegram from his publisher:

NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.

He responded:

NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES

Perhaps the best explanation of the value of concision in writing is by William Strunk in Elements of Style.  Instead of an anecdote, Struck uses an analogy:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

When you write, consider another analogy:  

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do.  You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

Today’s Challenge:   Exactly 25 Words – No More, No Fewer
How would you summarize an article in just 25 words? One excellent way to practice revision and to practice economy in writing is to write 25-word summaries.  Select an article of at least 200 words, and read it carefully to determine the writer’s main point.  Then, write a brief summary that captures the main point in your own words.  Don’t waste words saying things like:  “This article is about . . .” or “The author argues that . . .”  Instead, just state the article’s main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your first draft.  Next, count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the most clear, concise, and correct summary of EXACTLY 25 words.  Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination. -Louise Brooks

1-http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/provincial.xviii.html

2-Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier, 120

12/4 TAGS: Pascal, Blaise, paradox, The Quote Verifier, Twain, Mark, Strunk, William, Elements of Style, analogy, summary, 25-word summary