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LIfe On The Mississippi

By Art van Bodegraven | 09/04/2012 | 12:37 PM

As Samuel Clemens recounted his education as a river pilot, we learned about the process of determining the water's depth, and the safety (or peril) involved in the revelations of the frequent readings.  In short, a long line was marked at intervals of one fathom (six feet) to aid in interpreting depth.  The reading of "by the mark, twain" indicated the minimum safe depth (twelve feet) for riverboat movement.

Thus, we have Mark Twain, arguably the most famous nom de plume in all of literature; burying the dead at a fathom's depth on land ("six feet under"); and burial to a depth of six fathoms at sea ("deep six").

Judging by the recent news that eleven miles of the Mississippi had been closed, stranding nearly one hundred vesssels, the practice of marking depth has surely fallen into disuse.  Or, perhaps, a newer technology has replaced the beribboned line, and has failed.  Could such a thing be possible?

It seems that other factors might have alerted those shipping by water to get alternative solutions lined up.  One would think that a small Spring melt could affect water levels, and increase the possibility that rail and truck resources might come into play.  And, it has been obvious to the entire planet that large sections of the watershed involved are (and have been) suffering, drought on a near-Dust Bowl scale. 

Given those elements, prudent shippers (and carriers) ought to have had contingency plans at the ready, if they had at all studied the lessons of Yossi Sheffi's The Resilient Enterprise.  Or, if they remembered the impact of Hurricane Katrina in shutting down river traffic.

A failure to recognize - by whatever means - that Mark One was as good as it was going to get in some spots may have been Strike Three for a few supply chain practitioners.  Who loses at the end of this game?  Everybody - suppliers, customers, carriers, and downstream players in the ultimate end-to-end supply chain.

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About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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