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Off My Bookshelf

One of the oldest books on my office shelf is a musty first edition of Henry Ford‘s 1922 autobiography entitled “My Life and Work.” Somehow, the pages opened to a passage that rings so true today as we continue to struggle with the post-bubble malaise.

I’m often asked if there was anything to the New Economy. Of course, there was and is. The notion that massive investments in new technology and people would bring about unprecedented levels of productivity is as true today as it was in the 1990s. Yet, there were plenty of us who quickly grasped on the new ideas and models that made little sense, at least in retrospect.

So what did old man Ford have to say more than 80 years ago that has anything to do with this?

“I have no quarrel with the general attitude of scoffing at new ideas. It is better to be skeptical of all new ideas and to insist upon being shown rather than to rush around in a continuous brainstorm after every new idea. Skepticism, if by that we mean cautiousness, is the balance wheel of civilization. Most of the present acute troubles of the world arise out of taking on new ideas without first carefully investigating to discover if they are good ideas.

“An idea is not necessarily good because it is old, or necessarily bad because it is new, but if an old idea works, then the weight of the evidence is all in its favor. Ideas are of themselves extraordinarily valuable, but an idea is just an idea. Almost any one can think up an idea. The thing that counts is developing it into a practical product.”

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