Henry Ford was one of the most influential businesspeople in American history, helping to revolutionize manufacturing with his mass production assembly lines. With the goal of making products affordable to customers so that they would boost their demand, Ford founded Ford Motor (NYSE:F) and made the automobile a quintessential part of American culture. Yet Ford's influence went far beyond the auto industry, and the things that he said showed his insight on many vital issues in business and personal life. Below, you'll find 10 of the best quotes attributed to Ford and some thoughts on why they're still relevant today.
1. On self-fulfilling prophecies
"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."
Optimism is a key trait that many successful businesspeople share, and the ability to maintain confidence even through hardship makes great entrepreneurs stand out from the crowd. Having a positive attitude doesn't mean ignoring reality, but it does mean not letting temporary setbacks derail your entire strategic plan. Ford's optimism brought him huge rewards, and it can help you as well.
2. On the secret to eternal youth
"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young."
Experience is a great teacher, but it doesn't mean that you can afford to stop having an open mind. Given the pace of innovation, it takes a constant openness to new ideas in order to thrive and sustain a competitive advantage. By continually learning about new things, you can stay one step ahead of the times and find ways to anticipate the needs that others will have before they even realize their needs themselves.
3. On failure
"Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again."
Too many people think that failing is always a bad thing. Yet if you're not willing to fail, then you'll never take risk, and you'll give up the possibility of ever achieving your true dreams. Embrace failure and know that it can bring long-term success more effectively than never making a mistake at all.
4. On thinking outside the box
"If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
The secret to success in consumer goods is meeting demand before it has materialized. The idea of a horseless carriage seemed like magic at the time that Ford was beginning his business, but now, it's ingrained in the world's transportation mindset. Coming up with any big innovation always requires a novel thought process that takes you outside conventional wisdom.
5. On getting things done
"Vision without execution is just hallucination."
Many people see visionaries as having great ideas. But to make an idea successful, someone has to realize it. In evaluating businesspeople, make sure to look not only at the ideas they come up with but also at how they make those ideas a reality. Both parts are crucial in defining a company's long-term prosperity.
6. On quality
"Quality means doing it right when no one is looking."
Anyone can put on their game face and produce the appearance of quality when they're in the limelight. Yet too many companies focus too much of their efforts on marketing, and lapses in quality mean that their products can't live up to their promises. When quality is part of a company's culture, it doesn't need a spotlight to show through -- it's simply there when it's needed.
7. On handling tough tasks
"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."
The beauty of the assembly line is that simple steps add up to create impressive products. That's true not only with physical goods but also with the services that many companies provide. Having checklists in getting things done simplifies the process and also helps make training easier when it comes time for new people to start doing those jobs.
8. On the value of money
"If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability."
Ford knew that as helpful as money is, it only acts as a facilitator for what you end up spending it on. For those who embrace learning, money can make it easier to train and gain experience. Yet those who simply squander money won't get any true value from it -- much less gain any security from it.
9. On the black box of finance
"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning."
Ford's comments on the financial system were directed toward a much different time, but they still apply today. With few understanding how high finance works, popular uprisings against Wall Street and its institutions have become much more frequent. Even as the 2008 financial crisis fades into memory, financial companies need to remember the public's distrust of their industry and take it into account in their future plans.
10. On innovation
"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."
Many businesspeople strive for certainty, perfecting a particular process. Yet by doing so, you close your eyes to even more immense possibilities. Keep your mind open to new potential, and it can serve you far better than tried-and-true strategies with predictable but uninspiring results.
Henry Ford played a vital role in America's development as an economic power. Taking his words of wisdom to heart can help you improve every aspect of your financial life, from your personal finances to your business acumen.
Dan Caplinger owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.