My compliments to Kai Keppner for starting the ‘Wrong vs. Right’ series of posts on the ATSC blog for his willingness to be “satirical” when so many others face supply chain challenges with nothing but sternness.
Many of the posts that I have written for ATSC have dealt with new developments in automation, information, and technology. If these ideas had not been new – and in some cases experimental – there would have been no sense in writing about them. Anyone with planning responsibilities of any kind is prone to have developed a healthy sense of skepticism about the ‘new’. And while this is completely understandable, it can feed into the risk of being passed by when a truly great innovation comes along. One thing is certain when it comes to these new technologies: CHANGE is inevitable. There is a wrong way and a right way to deal with our changing operational environment:
You are just about to put your coffee down on your desk (10 minutes late on a rainy Tuesday morning) when you hear the familiar and terrifyingly fast footsteps of an excited executive coming closer between the cubes. Worse yet, he’s holding the latest edition of some intellectual business journal – already open to a page that you ‘simply must see’.
“Look!” he says, breathless with enthusiasm. “Why aren’t we already incorporating robots/AI/virtual platforms/spider monkeys in our operation? I knew we were missing something and this is just what we need to get ahead of the competition and demonstrate to our target customers that we are the most innovative, progressive solution on the market.”
You look at your computer for just long enough to roll your eyes safely out of sight, and then kindly ask to see the article. “But Bill – this is experimental,” you say. “They did it in a lab somewhere. I bet they didn’t test it in circumstances with half our complexity, and just think of the risk! You’re assuming everything will go smoothly. But what if we fail? What kind of damage would it do to our brand if we invested in this and had to cancel the program? Our customers would think we were crazy, our shareholders would rage at the loss of gains, and no one would touch our existing solution (which is just fine, thank you very much) with a ten-foot pole for six months. The risk is just too high.”
“You’re right of course,” Bill replies, visibly deflated. “I knew you would be the voice of reason.” And Bill turns and walks slowly back to his office for another day full of the same old same old.
You sit in your chair and take a sip of coffee (which is now cold) and think, “Whew! That was a close one!”
You are just about to catch the elevator to your floor when Bill, the COO, waves his arm to catch your attention.
“Come and see what I’ve been reading about,” he says with his usual enthusiasm in the face of new ideas. Bill shows you a glossy case study that describes how an airplane manufacturer is using predictive analytics to connect the data from in-use aircraft to improve the maintenance expectations for new models still in design.
“I know our assemblies are not nearly as big or complex as aircraft, but wouldn’t the same principle work? We have access to lots of data on equipment that is currently running. If we could somehow extrapolate the future maintenance needs and downtime of our designs based on what we learn from different use environments, wouldn’t that lower the total lifetime cost of running our product?”
It is still so early in the day, and Bill always gets worked up about new ideas that never seem to pan out, but this might actually have some merit. The last thing you want to do is be the person to squash his enthusiasm. What if he’s finally on to something? Better to be behind the potential from the beginning than standing in its way.
“Tell you what Bill,” you say. “I’m dying for a cup of coffee. Walk down the hall with me and tell me why this idea appeals to you so much. Then let’s sit and see if we can sketch out how it would actually work. If we can put down something concrete about the investment required, and the kind of data we would have to work with, we can see if the effort is feasible and if there is a legitimate ROI.”
“I knew you were the right person to come to with this.” Bill says as though you’re his best friend in the whole world. And he turns and practically bounces next to you all the way to the coffee machine.
Change is always uncomfortable, whether it is happening to you or whether you are leading it. Part of how you respond to this feeling of discomfort will be based on the tolerance level for risk and failure in your organization. Some companies seek to contain failure like a disease and others embrace it as nothing more than a pothole in the road to progress.
When faced with change, productive responses include:
- Research: Do your homework and make sure you are not unnecessarily anxious. If nothing else, you will be able to ask much better questions when approached with the new idea.
- Question: Sometimes the real opportunity has nothing to do with the disruptive idea you are being presented with. Ask, ‘What about this appeals to you?’ or ‘What is it about our current operation that has you feeling like something is missing?’ It may just be that the root issue has a much simpler solution.
- Breathe: Change is inevitable, and it usually ends up coming to fruition more slowly than expected. Try to break the change down into smaller pieces and adjust to them in a progression rather than as a shocking all-at-once adjustment.
What other tips do you have for dealing with change?
Header Photo: arka38/shutterstock.com