English Essay

Title: General George Patton

General George Patton is famous for once saying that one should never tell people how to go about doing things (Langfred & Moye, 2004). General Patton argued that it is better to tell them what to do and one would be surprised by their ingenuity (Langfred & Moye, 2004). The aim of this paper is to discuss what Patton means by this statement. In my view, Patton means that by telling someone how to do something, we are limiting his or her ability to explore and discover new, innovative ways of doing things. To explain this point, I use experiences from my own work as a sub-editor.

By asserting these words, Patton understood both the reality of life and of human nature. The reality of life is that there are many ways of achieving the same objective. Two people may do things in different ways but end up with the same outcome. This means that goal identification is the most important thing in the process of solving problems in this world. Regarding human nature, Patton appreciates the fact that humans work best when they are given an opportunity to innovate and to be creative. For people to be creative and innovative, they should be given freedom to explore.


Once a person is given instructions on how to do things, he is denied the opportunity to be creative in the process of coming up with instructions. When a person is told to do something, he is effectively being given the task of not only coming up with a plan but also seeking the best ways of executing that plan. Different people will naturally come up with different ways of executing the plan to achieve the intended objective. This is the point at which the surprising element of ingenuity comes in.

In many work contexts, it is always better to give employees targets to meet instead of guiding them through the problem-solving process. For example, when I worked as a sub-editor for a local newspaper, the managing editor used to give us instructions on how to come up with interesting titles for almost every headline story. In many cases, my team would end up adopting the titles suggested by the managing editor. In this situation, the creativity of sub-editors was greatly curtailed because they were not given opportunities to be innovative. They knew what needed to be done but were not being given an opportunity to do it in the best way they knew how.

One day, the managing editor announced that he would be away from the newsroom for over a week. He gave me instructions to take the responsibility over the creation of titles for headline stories. I gave my team the freedom to come up with the best titles. I did not tell them how to do the job; I simply told them what to do. At the end of the day, we would all discuss the titles and make a decision on which one best captured the essence of the headline story.

The managing editor was impressed by the titles that my team was generating. The newspaper even recorded an increase in sales across the country. When the managing editor returned to the workplace, he realized that the best way of promoting ingenuity in his team was to refrain from telling people how to do things. Instead, he simply needed to tell them what to do and the ingenuity would naturally come out. In conclusion, General Patton meant to say that people should be given freedom to be creative and innovative in the process of doing things. Whenever people are instructed on how to do things, this freedom is eroded, leading to lack of ingenuity.


Langfred, C. & Moye, N. (2004). Effects of Task Autonomy on Performance: An Extended Model Considering Motivational, Informational, and Structural Mechanisms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 934 –945.

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