MFG 2.0

100 Years Of Lean And What Have We Learned?

A history teacher once told me that history never repeats itself. I think sometimes that it does, only we don't know how to listen. I was doing some research on Independence Day and came across this, from Wikipedia:

"American industrialists recognized the threat of cheap offshore labor to American workers during the 1910s, and explicitly stated the goal of what is now called "lean manufacturing" as a countermeasure.

Henry Towne wrote in the foreword to Frederick Winslow Taylor's Shop Management (1911):

We are justly proud of the high wage rates which prevail throughout our country, and jealous of any interference with them by the products of the cheaper labor of other countries. To maintain this condition, to strengthen our control of home markets, and, above all, to broaden our opportunities in foreign markets where we must compete with the products of other industrial nations, we should welcome and encourage every influence tending to increase the efficiency of our productive processes."

It all sounds so familiar, doesn't it? Wait, except for the "proud of the high wages" part. Oh, and the "control of home markets" -- that got signed away a while ago, for good or ill.

Oh, and also the "opportunities in foreign markets." Those are tough to come by too these days (witness a balloon-like trade deficit that expanded to $764 billion in 2006).

In fact, the only things that sounds the same is the threat of cheap labor, 100 years later.

And also that, same as it ever was, manufacturers should of course "welcome and encourage" efficiency wherever and whenever possible.

As I sit here writing on our national holiday, I know that the spirit of America, our relentless innovation and drive for efficiency, coupled with the boundless and ever-increasing productivity of our workforce, comprises all the necessary tools we need to ensure that we're still around and competitive as a nation 100 years from now.

I just hope that by then we'll be looking back at some other lesson we haven't yet learned!

TAGS: Innovation
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