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Is The Karma Bus Running Late—Again?

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/17/2016 | 6:53 AM

Maybe; maybe not. The Karma Bus runs on karma time, which is not comprehensible to human beings. Especially not North Americans. We are into instant gratification, same-day shipment, and swift justice; we have the attention span of fleas, and cannot wrap our heads around today's events having impact on an unknown tomorrow.

For those not initiated, karma is often over-simplified to mean "What goes around, comes around." That is close enough for the moment, and for this discussion.

We often talk about actions having consequences, and opine that no action is a kind of action (with consequences) in and of itself. Karma is more subtle, and is immediate only when swiftness might come as a shocking surprise. It is generally longer-term—and often more devastating. I dare not speculate around the extent to which karma might wreak justice in an afterlife, not wiping the slate clean at the moment of slipping off this mortal coil.

The Karma Bus is a perverse version, perhaps, of Harry Potter's Knight Bus, memorably crewed by driver Ernie Prang and conductor Stan Shunpike. One difference is that wizards, witches, and warlocks would need to flag down the bus when needing transport. The Karma Bus comes for you—and me, and all the others—unbidden, and at times that could be inconvenient. We have no choice in boarding or not; when it arrives, we are on it.

The Karma Bus comes for saints and sinners alike. Where and how it takes us depends on what we have earned. Yet, we cannot get our tickets automatically punched by doing good, and we are probably blind to accumulating demerits when we fall short of goodness.

Opportunites for both bad and good karma abound—in supply chain managment, in all business operations, and throughout personal lives. When a boss takes credit for an analyst's clever maneuvers to reduce inventories, or presents a staff associate's report as his or her own. When a faux leader fails to develop the talent on hand to reach higher levels of achievement, or gives the axe to someone who has intelligence and talent but needs training. When anyone blames another—internal or external—for his or her own failure.

It's too easy and tempting to lay a botched fulfillment on the 3PL, or claim that the problem could be solved if only we had the right systems. Too few cringe at the prospect of "negotiating" a supplier into financial failure. It is SOP in many places to fudge volumes in order to secure favorable pricing. And, it is ridiculously simple—and believable at the moment—to claim that the goods are still somewhere on a slow-moving boat from China.

Of course, when times are tight, one can always pretend that no one can get paid because a customer has not yet ponied up for the last shipment. And on and on—openings to do right, be accountable, take the hit, and get cracking on making root causes go away. Or, point fingers, make excuses, lay blame, and duck and cover.

A hint: The Karma Bus runs 24/7/365 on a timetable of its own. Your choice is either to be ready or not to be surprised.

Whatever your karmic destination, you've earned it.



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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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