Volume 10 Number 8 - August 7, 2012


If you know a company — customer, supplier, friend, or your own — that could benefit
from improved operations, let us know.
Your best interest is our best interest.

The Finish Strong® monthly e-newsletter is for business leaders who recognize Operations as a strategic function that creates competitive advantage, profitability and brand loyalty to the marketplace.

These brief articles, list of events, and amended quote will make you think.
Go ahead: test us


During the first half of the 1900's hundreds of thousands of small family farms employed people and provided food. As technology and science evolved, those small farms were replaced by large corporate farms. Agricultural employment plummeted as output skyrocketed. Displaced farmers moved to cities seeking industrial employment.

Farming didn't go away, but most farmers did. Luckily there were jobs that hard work and mechanical aptitude were sufficient to accomplish.

In the early 1990's I predicted a similar transition from manufacturing. Manufacturing would not go away, but most manufacturing employees would. The counterargument I heard was that farming produced a relatively limited number of commodities while manufacturing produced a vast variety of very specialized products. The same transition simply could not happen.

That somewhat credible contention has been overwhelmed by developing materials, technologies, and manufacturing processes. Mass customization and postponement strategies supported by appropriate product design, coupled with digitization of prototyping and manufacturing processes, create the foundation of near-immediate localized production of what you want when you want it.

Jobs will not be coming back to manufacturing, just as they didn't return to agriculture. And just as happened in agriculture, manual labor alone is of limited value in manufacturing. The Chinese who provided merely cheap labor have learned that lesson as companies reshore.

Farmers are scientists, logisticians, and economists, evaluating alternatives with statistical tools. Manufacturers are material scientists and mathematicians using digital technologies.

The majority of farmers became city manufacturing laborers. A vast number of city manufacturing laborers have become service providers, suffering permanent reductions in standard of living in that transition.

As the intellectual demands of manufacturing continue to grow worldwide, where will those who bring little more than a willingness to work hard go next?


As an Economics undergraduate, I took a graduate class in European History because it was in the right building at the right time. I was thoroughly unprepared.

I'll never forget the feeling of being completely lost, not sure if the professor was talking about countries, people, religions or something else. I took notes phonetically and then spent evenings trying to figure out what it all meant. What I couldn't figure out, I'd ask about before the next class.

I earned an A, but would have flunked without the willingness to admit how much I didn't know, both to myself and to the professor.

We are all ignorant is many arenas, even those we've spent years seeking to master. Ignorant is NOT a dirty word. It is the first step in learning. Those who pretend to know everything cannot grow.

So help me understand: Why do so many employees, supervisors, managers and executives insist they "know" and are speaking facts when they are really voicing opinions or experience-based guesses?

There's nothing wrong with opinions or guesses, except when they get in the way of discovering the facts. Facts are how we learn, drive out problems, and succeed.

Neither experience, nor education, nor organizational hierarchy, nor LOUD determine "right." Experience, education, and critical thinking skills can enable discovery, but only through hypothesis testing and a willingness to admit we don't know everything.

If "ignorant" feels harsh, at least be willing to admit "We don't yet have the facts required to truly understand the problem, but we will work to get them."

Be comfortable saying "Help me understand." Everyone will learn more.


The Starting Pistol
Milton Friedman:
“The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience."

The Tape
Rebecca Morgan:
"... and unless the hypothesis is clearly stated and the prediction defined precisely, the test is useless. Only with both can authentic learning occur."


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