How Henry Ford destroyed humanity

Images: From the Collection of The Henry Ford. 1) P.833.380 and 2) P.833.896
Images: From the Collection of The Henry Ford. 1) P.833.380 and 2) P.833.896
Most people would argue that the assembly line has done more for the American economy than any other invention or idea. While it may have stoked the economy and got us working more efficiently, it is perhaps the single most mis-applied business idea to date that has destroyed any quality of experience. Let me explain.

Last year, we went to Denmark. Our flight was to leave Dayton, Oh. at 11:30 am, hop to Detroit, then to Amsterdam and then to Karup, DK. Anyone who has ever flown out of DAY knows the only flights that will ever be on time are the first one and the last one. All others, it is a crap shoot. Needless to say, our flight was 11 hours late getting off the ground.

But, when we were finally leaving, the ground crew shifted into high gear, efficiently corralling us onto the plane. “Were our connecting flights notified?” “Was our luggage handled?” “What if there is no flight to XXX?” The ground crew didn’t know and didn’t care. Their job was to get us on the plane from DAY to DWF and they were going to do it quickly, efficiently and with a minimum expenditure of capital and effort.

You can imagine how the rest of the trip went. Four different stops, each stop was manned by an efficient flight and ground crew, each making sure that we were efficiently “handled” at each stop. While the experience of the entire trip was horrific, each stop was handled by a crew that had no memory of the previous stop and no anticipation or anxiety of the next. For them, they were efficient at their jobs and that was all that mattered.

You can experience this type of “efficient handling” just making a simple call to a tech support department. While you are experiencing the on-hold music and the endless prompts to “press this, then that…” the person who is handling your call will not answer or talk to you within the context of your total experience. That is not their work station. Their job is to “handle” you efficiently.

Or worse, try calling a credit card company about an inconsistency in your statement. At some point, their “efficient handling” of you will become so annoying that you will erupt into unpleasant language.

“Sir, there is no need to use that kind of language.”

But, there is a need. Because while they have apologized for the inconvenience, they have not recognized the totality of your experience. They did not acknowledge the fact that you feel helpless in a sea of “efficient handling.” They did not respect your time you spent on hold, waiting for them to “efficiently handle” their mistake. Time you will never get back. They should respect your need to use language consistent with your level of frustration, not their level of efficiency.

So, Henry Ford, congratulations on making the assembly line the de facto model for handling products and human beings. You may not have ever intended for it to be applied to human being transactions, but it has been. And applied efficiently.

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