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Take Me To The River

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/20/2014 | 8:11 AM

OK, I know that the Al Green song is not gospel, but there is something that resonates in the chorus, which calls out to "take me to the river and wash me down".  And, I am mesmerized by the cover in the frighteningly moving film, The Commitments.

I thought on this after listening to the reigning queen of honest gospel music, Mavis Staples, this past Sunday, singing about her eternal truths of Canaan and Galilee.  My earliest memory of Mavis is a vision of a mere slip of a young lady, one of the legendary Staple Singers led by patriarch Roebuck (Pops) Staples.  The family were arguably the brightest stars in the firmament of Chicago's gospel scene.

That vibrant setting gave proof that there was life after Mahalia Jackson (think Albertina Walker, for example).  A highlight in those benighted days was Sid Ordower hosting Jubilee Showcase on local televison, wirh a stable of supremely talented regulars, including the mighty Norfleet brothers.  On those rare occasions when the Staples were appearing we made sure to watch.  Sid dealt with eternal truths of his own, shooting Nazis in WW II, and coming home to fight dark forces as he fought for civil rights (long before that struggle became fashionable) and did battler on behalf of labor unions.  An unabashed Progressive, he was an ally of Henry A. Wallace (no relation to George) in his presidential bid.

Of course, not everyone shares a universal definition of eternal truths.  And, honestly, there are several kinds of truth.  There are the immutable and unchanging.  There are the ephemeral, that disappear in the night.   There are those that evolve, as we learn more and as context and environment change.  And, there are those that are promoted as turths that turn out to be merely wishes, hopes, dreams, or worst of all, fabrications.

Our supply chains are full of examples of each type.  One of our most important tasks is figuring out which truths are of which type. There are some core concepts and values that, having withstood chaos for generations, are likely to be here to stay.  There are those that were true in the last century, but must be adapted to be useful in the face of new realities.  There are those that emerge from misty swamps of deep thought, accompanied by swarms of publicity and promotion, that quietly disappear as the day's sun burns off the fog.  And there are those that only later we see as solutions in search of problems, or self-serving attempts to create artificial (often superficial) differentiations that might encourage a buyer to buy what the seller is sweating to sell.

So, it's probably not useful to apply the learnings from automotive service parts inventories to high-tech product stocks.  The imperatives of a high-service customer-centric supply chain may wreak havoc with the pratical limitations of  low-cost set of policies and processes for a close-out retailer.  Voice recognition could slow down order picking in certain environments.  Enterprise systems might or might not cure the Data-Rich, Information-Poor disease.  An automated solution that is 120% better than the baseline, but only 5% better than the next best solution while costing 30% more, could be a foolish investment.  Superb information put into the hands of people who don't understand it could lead to bet-the-business wrong decisions, and get the horse in front of the cart. 

Are high-rise facilities making a comeback?  Can AS/RS applications really payoff without tax breaks (except in isolated special circumstances)?  Did anyone think about an exit strategy for getting tow lines removed at the end of their useful lives?  When was it too early to be a pioneer in RFID application?  When was it too late?  Did you reconfigure your distribution network when production moved off-shore?  Was your solution too expensive to re-do when near-shoring/in-shoring/right-shoring looked like the next big thing?

And so on.  It feels like there are eternal truths to be obseved, modified, or discarded sprinkled thoughout this short list of examples and questions.  Meanwhile, take a few minutes an listen to Mavis.  You might not agree with all of her eernal truths, but you will feel better for having spent a little time with her.

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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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