Innovation

I often wonder what life was like for Mrs. Henry Ford. Clara was married to an engineer who was obsessed with gasoline engines. Perhaps Henry had friends over at night and on weekends, tinkering about in his garage or workshop to all hours. I can just see it: they’d be making a racket and occasionally tromping dirty boots into the house for meals and she’d put on her best hostess game face and try not to show her vexation. Clara would even find herself periodically going out to the workshop to see if they needed any more coffee or maybe another box of Twinkies.

No, wait, that’s me (at best).

On a recent podcast, This American Life talked about “Garage Entrepreneurs,” like the Hewlett-Packard team and Jobs and Woz (Apple). I can’t help but watch the members of Illuminati Motor Works putting in their hours on nights, holidays, and weekends and think they, too, are following a great tradition of garage inventors.

The American economy has tanked and there is so much focus on whether “consumer confidence” is low or high. Are we as a nation still spending money? Are we doomed if we don’t continue to buy products?

I think the emphasis is misdirected. Perhaps we should be focused on innovation instead of simply how much we as a nation are buying. Most of us are hurting financially. We’re having to be creative to get through these times. Everyone’s innovating: finding new ways, small and large to do things, even if this innovation is a new way to budget household finances in order to pay bills. Or managing to juggle work and family.

The guys with the dirty boots hanging out in my husband’s workshop are innovating, too. I’m not just talking about engineering and building an ultra-fuel efficient car that you might some day see on a showroom floor. That’s an old story: these guys were driven to do something that the automobile industry wouldn’t do. They felt called to the challenge. But the press doesn’t cover their other innovation: how they manage to juggle full-time jobs, wives, family, bills, while volunteering their many hours to try and build “Seven.”

They’re sacrificing a lot to meet the X Prize deadlines and reinvent the original spirit of the US automotive industry.

I try to keep that in mind when:
…I see my husband hard at work and yet I miss him…
…he misses gatherings with family and friends…
…the money is tight because most of it is going to build “Seven”…

And I know I’m not alone in this. Football widows have nothing on the wives of team IMW.

I imagine Clara was a better hostess than I. Calm, supportive, and an awesome baker of cakes, I’d bet. Not like me, usually missing my husband, occasionally freaking out about the cost of this project, and throwing frozen pizzas and sodas towards team IMW to keep them fueled. I try to make up for my lack of hostess skills by keeping up the IMW web site, promoting their adventures through Facebook, and spreading the word:

American ingenuity isn’t dead. It’s alive and well in a workshop in a midwest corn field.

And it needs more pizza.

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