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Focus on productivity, not efficiency

That's how long it took to build a car before 1913.

Over the next several years, Henry Ford reduced the time-consuming process to an impressive 2.5 hours.

His goal was simple - make automobile ownership possible for every American by lowering the cost of production.

What wasn't so simple?

Figuring out exactly how to do more with less.

As a child, Ford stayed awake at night on his family's farm, taking watches apart and putting them back together again.

His father didn't support his ambitions, so young Ford ran away to apprentice at a machine shop when he was 16 years old.

Nearing the age of 40, Ford was often looked upon as a daydreamer by acquaintances; they criticized him for preferring to "tinker with odd machines" than work a steady job.

Lucky for us, some of Ford's friends did believe in him. The future icon started his company with an initial investment of $28,000 and never looked back.

Ford studied the continuous-flow manufacturing processes of breweries, flour-mills and meat-packing plants, before borrowing their ideas to increase efficiency in his factories.

One of his earliest moves? Breaking the company's Model T automobile assembly into 84 distinct steps.

Each worker was trained in one step and was only responsible for completing that individual task. While this enhanced efficiency to a degree, it wasn't until Ford implemented power-driven machinery that production really skyrocketed.

The man went on to develop the industry's first moving assembly line, manufacture more than 29 million automobiles and amass a net worth of $200 billion.

Doing more with less vs. doing more with the same

While Ford's story is inspiring, his accomplishments weren't entirely unique. The modern machinery spawned by the Industrial Revolution ushered an era of unprecedented wealth and success for several of his contemporaries.

Interestingly, the "efficiency mindset" embraced by Ford dominated the marketplace all the way into the early 2000s.

Industry leaders like General Electric, Honeywell and HP have all showcased their efficiency programs and associated bottom-line results.

As reported by Harvard Business Review, earnings growth for the S&P 500 ran at nearly three times the rate of inflation during this time period, despite several years of mild growth.