“All right, what’s the next step?”
How many times have you heard that question being asked—in meetings with other executives or managers, or in discussions with suppliers or customers, or in talks with community representatives?
To ask "what’s next" is a logical step toward getting beyond the present, its successes, its failures, and its under-performances. In the world of manufacturing, it’s a common question.
And yet, I suggest, the next step should not necessarily be a logical step. It does not necessarily follow from the present. What, for example, if your underlying strategic premise is in error? It follows that, unless you revisit your production or marketing or distribution or social premise, your actions will be less effective—if not just plain failures.
There’s no better place to start those challenges than with questioning your strategic premises.
Sure, logic is comfortable way of structuring the complexity of manufacturing in a competitive world, of making stuff that is inherently complicated more understandable. For example, logic can be useful in identifying critical elements and exploring probable outcomes. And for sorting the irrelevant from the relevant virtually anywhere along the manufacturing supply chain.
Yet the fact remains that manufacturing in an intensely competitive and changing world of business is complex and complicated, even at times, to use an inelegant phrase, terribly messy. The next step is, in reality, many steps taken now and in the future—and they need to be challenged over and over again.
There’s no better place to start those challenges than with questioning your strategic premises. If you expect to prosper in business, you and your colleagues must question what you are doing now and what you have been doing for years. Ask whether they are relevant; ask whether they are effective; even ask what you might be doing instead. Examine the value chain link by link.
Carefully consider the answers, as they relate to product, supply, distribution, marketing, customers. Carefully consider the answers, as they relate to quality and process. Carefully consider the answers as they relate to employees, shareholders, and communities.
After questioning strategic premises, question implementing tactics. Ask if they are relevant. Ask if they are effective. Even ask what you might be doing instead.
Logic as an academic exercise can lead to unexpected and alarming conclusions. Indeed, a series of formally structured premises and conclusions can lead to positions the polar opposites of what is relevant and realistic. Logic fails. Trust me, I have participated in such exercises.
You and your colleagues owe it to yourselves—and to everyone else in the value chain—to not fall victim to the logic trap. The next steps do not necessarily follow directly from the present or the recent past.
This is another of a series of occasional essay by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer and photographer who retired from IndustryWeek as a senior editor in 2006.