Archives for March 2017

The Decline Of Exceptionalism

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/31/2017 | 1:32 PM

Much ado in the present divisive social/political climate accompanies thoughts that the US is the beneficiary of Providential intervwntion, setting it apart from and above other lands on this planet.

It is true that, even somewhat perverted, our system of government is unusual, even rare.  We do enjoy a history of economic prowess.  Innovation abounds, and has since the day of settlements and colonization.  Our lands are generally super-fertile, and our natural resources continue to power growth and prosperity.  Between agricultural effort and science (hybrids, GMO, nutrients, crop rotation, and planting schemes), we are teaching the world to feed itself.

Some become ahgitated at what they see as an over-emphasis on "that ol'time religion" as the root of exceptionalism.  Others bemoan the failure of humanists and those following non-traditional spiritual paths to fall on their knees in homage to the divine source of exceptionalism.  The intensity of that faux debate waxes and wanes with the political seasons.

Academics populating alternate universes contribute to a diminished appreciation of, whatever the source, American exceptionalism.  Perhaps a sign of the long-term effects of cannabis intake, some would abandon classic measures of economic health and growth, the Gross Domestic Product(GDP), in favor of some sort of Happiness Index.

Thus, praise from a distance for such world powers as Bhutan, and models of modern societies like Colombia.  Not to mention considerable dithering over the "why" of Russians not being as happy as the Danes.  Meanwhile, Singapore, Korea, and a few others are examining their satisfaction and quality of life - and the range of their ICBMs.

Hey, I'll take US exceptionalism any day, before committing to emulate Bhutan.  Who's the next exemplar?  Eritrea?  Bangladesh?  Maybe North Korea's day is about to dawn.

Some days, it's hard to think that the erudite scholars who obviously don't understand history are getting all their gears to mesh.

Translating to the mysteries of supply chain management, despite all going around all about us, our customers expect and deserve exceptionalism in performance.  Not just for the appearance of it, but because their customers absolutely demand it.

An 'umble proposition: Failure to be truly and visibly exceptional will doom global economic success, with SCM leading the collapse.

Another Miss Jones (The Bald One)

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/29/2017 | 12:54 PM

Many blogs past, I wrote about the indomitable Sharon Jones, the tip of the spear, with the Dap Kings, in the current high-energy soul-funk revival.   Her album, Give the People What They Want, says it all, and she delivered, in spades.

Sharon appeared on CBS's Saturday Sessions as the album was released and she contemplated next steps, and resurfaced at the conclusion of her tour.  Oh, yeah.   She hit the road and left it all on stages across the nation.

I think of her often.  With two is-this-the-end? races to the ER toward the end of 2016 , I am conscious that I've conquered pancreatic cancer,- and that there are consequences that will be with me - preferable to the alternative - until the end.  Sharon Jones had (or has) pancreatic cancer, and underwent the Gold Standard, the Whipple Procedure.

She believed, as did I, that she had more to give, to her audience, to her craft, and to those around her.  Her thing is performing - singing, shouting, rousing, swaying, dancing; it's what she does.  For myself, it was creating sustainable solutions for complex, interwoven, supply challenges - and writing - and teaching/training; it's what I've always done.  

And, one way or another, somewhere a clock is ticking off the time we have left to pursue redemptive, we hope, giving and giving back.  Maybe, and I hope not, Sharon will go the Patrick Swayze route and work until death can no longer justify the overtime.  Maybe, and I hope so, she'll work as much as, and as long as, a new life expectancy supports.

That's life . . . What I'm learning is that we have so much in common, as humans, afflicted and otherwise, that our differences are so infinitesmal, even trivial, invisible, or imagined, that we are truly brothers and sisters under the skin.

The life/work lesson here is that, no matter how grim or desperate the situation, rescue and/or overcoming are worth careful examination - and giving it all. Then giving it all, all over again.  You might die in the attempt.  The case might be hopeless.  Or, you might just overcome, and get stronger in the process of being weakened.

And, you have, aways, the option of enlisting others - perhaps not natural allies - who have weathered catastrophe. And learn from them - or just take away moral support, inspiration, and renewed dedication.

How you handle it is all up to you.

Nota bene: Sharon, who led the Dap Kings for twenty years, left us on 18 November.  Pancreatic cancer won another titanic struggle.  But, Sharon fought the fight on her own terms, and I salute her defiant effort.

Taking The Short View

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/28/2017 | 8:20 AM

Some managers focus on the short term, on getting immediate results, managing or wow, rather than leading for tomorrow.

The Incomparable Norah Jones

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/26/2017 | 4:40 AM

There's nothing quite like Norah Jones playing and singing to make one rouse from a stupor, sit up, and take nourishment.  A healthy dose of Miss Jones can cure the ill, heal the wounded, and revive those knocking at the Grim Reaper's door.  And, I am living testimony to her powers.

Happily, CBS weekend news produces a segment called "Saturday Sessions", featuring a spectrum of established musical stalwarts (the old pros), hot new talent in all genres (the up-and-comers), and several luminaries who defy easy labeling.  The estimable Miss Jones appeared (again) in Autumn, in the waning days of make or break, do or die, college football seasons.

I was one again transported to a land of giants, and took my place among a race who wore tear-'em-up kicks, flashy socks, shirts of a style and a substance known only to English designers, and possessed guns on par with The Rock's.

I'll grant that Norah has a few things going for her.  One is a kick in the teeth for normal folk, a genetic heritage beyond comprehension.  Another is a lifetime of exposure, beginning in infancy, to an array of talent (the personal network) unknown and unknowable to mortal humans.  And, she works like a dog to hone her craft and refine her art.

So, how are you handling the opportunities and challenges in parallel supply chain management processes?  Are you cut out for the role?  Do you love what we do?  If not, you might consider alternatives, such as  funeral director, or pest control.

How robust is your talent network?  Are you a mentor?  A mentee?  How, and how actively, do you build and strengthen your personal talent collection?

Finally, how much effort do you put into both staying current, and mastering new skills?  Don't waste the first two components of greatness by ignoring the criticality of the third.


La Migra; When We Welcomed Temporary Immigrants

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/24/2017 | 2:28 PM

There are more and more days when I feel like the interim caretaker of the hands of time. Now, we are flooded with paid protesters, carrying buckets of vitriol and preprinted anti-who and whatever signs and placards. Add to these the misguided do-gooders who have spent way too much time in Sunday School, and are devoted to creating and maintaining sanctuaries—states, cities, churches, restaurants—and threaten violence if the ogres in DC were to stop sending money with no social purpose, and little accountability.

To indulge in looking back over my shoulder, when we were landscaping the latest adventure in home ownership, the nurseries were largely crewed with what today would be undocumented immigrants.  On days when the gummint was on the hunt for lawbreakers and evil-doers, the men from Michoacán would scrunch down among the arbor vitae and yews, creating shadows that escaped notice by the Immigration and Naturalization folks, and stuff got planted, pretty much on schedule. We all chuckled, and there was no outrage, at least until the lads from Laredo escaped the tree truck and took some brutal roofing and other construction-related jobs. Even then, we appreciated the quality, hard work, and skills involved.

In an earlier life, I picked strawberries, in hot sun and pouring rain, along with the families of migrant farm workers who followed the crops through the US. I could beat 'em all, except for mamacita, who was the Queen of the Driscoll harvest. Later, with advantages of being Anglo and able to do sums in my head, I was made Barn Boss, and did quality inspections and payouts for the pickers. Once again, no big deal.  Farmers were glad of the help (and provided limited living accomodations) and migrants were thrilled to have both an income and a place to return to the next season. I never heard any talk of La Migra.

And now, Latino immigrants, legal and not so much, have become cannon fodder in vicious political wars.  Racist know-nothings are ready to commit unspeakable acts in the name of law and order.  And criminals and cartel drug runners are hiding under a blanket of self-righteous charity. Dim-witted politicians are polluting talk radio and biased television with uninformed blather. And, our discussion has become littered with talk of Dreamers and Daca, not to mention sanctuary and the civil rights of non-citizen law-flouters.

What has become of civility? Who has stolen our capacity for mutual respect?  And, how is this constant threat of near-riot affecting the SCM workforce?

Finally, what are you doing to make things better in our corner of the galaxy?

Passing notes: Maybe I misunderstood, but, based on a Consumer Reports piece, is appears that Buick (GMC) is manufacturing an SUV model in China for US (and other) sales. The review is critical of performance, especially when compared with comparables, with lower MSRPs.  Now, there's an All-American solution. Offshore production of the hottest vehicle type in the country, and price it too high while short-changing handling, ride, and driving characteristics.  Buy American; hire American, my aspidastra.

Delta Is Ready When You Are . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/22/2017 | 6:34 AM

When we resided in the ATL, transplanted Yankees were frequently reminded of Delta Airlines slogan du jour when we would complain about the cost of pest control, or a weakness in others for sweetened iced tea.

In these latter years, travels have taken us on regional commuter craft on both United/USAir and American Airlines, with budget constraints driving us to, and too often, into the waiting arms of Southwest.  It's, perhaps, a matter of good sense sneaking up from behind and snickering before bursting into uncontrolled laughter.

How quickly we forget.  But, a recent flight with mijn vrouw on Delta brought back what it is like to fly on a real airline.  Weird stuff, like not being in the 17th group to board.  A full complement of flight attendants, whose smiles were not pasted on for a one-time-use application.  Room for one's knees.  Seats for full-sized adults, not designed for the dimensions of indigenous Amazonians.  Good attitudes, with no jokes.  Engines capable of keeping a plane aloft even if one were to fail.

Truth to tell, there is a diminishing return on any savings imagined with low cost carriers, or with Embraer/Bombardier variations on the theme of sardines who did not suffer in the canning process. I gotta find clients who understand that grumpy and tired are penalties waiting to be assessed, rather than an avoidance of reckless waste and un-necessary cost.

Meanwhile, what are you doing?  Have you caved and joined the chorus of those with self-inflicted foot wounds who strive for impossibly low transactional costs?  Are you capable of getting goods and services from Point "A" to Point "B" more or less whole and in an otherwise unremarkable state?  Or, do you differentiate from others with superlative service, anticipatory exceeding of expectations, and a top of the heap mentality?  

(HInt: Real winners concentrate on being the best, not just the best of the rest.  And, they lock in on heing the best they can be, not simply better than average, or better than they were 10 years ago.)

Notes in passing: We lost two giants last week, neither directly involved in our profession.  Chuck Berry invented popular rock 'n' roll, as we know it, and his work was immortalized by all who followed.  Jimmy Breslin, the compleat observer and reporter, was New York's greatest newspaper journalist since Damon Runyon (the most high praise I can muster).

The Klomp of Klompen; The Allure of Wooden Shoes

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/19/2017 | 11:33 AM

La Diva has apparently found a Type "A" personality on school grounds, and has claimed it as her own.  On her long list of short-term objectives, a triumphant return to conquer Manhattan ranks high.  She's definitely on her own for Hamilton tickets this time 'round, though.

Other powerful pressures are building up, though.  Mijn vrouw and I have been to the Netherlands (primarily Amsterdam, but all over the lowlands and Belgium) some dozen times.  We always visit the Anne Frank house and the Jewish Museum, no matter other agendas for the visit.  The Diary of Anne Frank was one of my first books outside of the kids' section of our little home town library.  La Diva soaks up our Dutch (and other European) stories, has read Anne Frank and was featured in the play.

So, a small jar holds her growing Amsterdam fund, and she is determined to go - and soon.  And experience the Joods Museum, Anne Frank, the Rembrandt house, the old and new churches, surrounding towns and markets.  Klompen, romantic?  Depends on who's doing the walking, and to where.

The issue at hand is one of deliberately expanding horizons, of experiencing and learning new relevant things, and committing how to support the personal growth involved.  There's a corollary; how much are you committed to making an investment in going and growing beyond the rote and routine of executing yesterday's professional concepts?

Once again, La Diva and The Kid provide useful insights and concepts into how we do our jobs, only better.  It's worth paying attention to their lessons for us.


Notes in passing: Trinchero installs fast, modern material handling; oenephiles rejoice!  Brits distraught that off-shore content may have big-league tax consequences, as "made in the UK" designation for autos is lost.  Ford will make cars in China to meet local demand (and avoid import duties).

Leadership And The Elephant

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/17/2017 | 10:07 AM

Much is misquoted and/or misapplied from the fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each man has a limited physical understanding of one feature of an elephant's exterior infrastructure. So, where one imagines a wall, another perceives a hose, or fans, or a tail impersonating a rope.

And, so it is that almost everything I read about elements of, or tips for, leadership is fragmentary at best, and misleading at worst. Now comes the part at which I become conflicted. Shawn Casemore quite recently summarized elements of employee engagement, which relates closely to empowerment—and leadership behaviors. Not to pick on Shawn. I don't know him, and I couldn't possibly pick him out of a police lineup. And, realistically, there are print and electronic limitations on the real estate available for blogs, posts, columns, and the like.

Any event, Casemore lists five keys to engagement. My peptic upset relates to the genuine reality that leadership is not a slogan, not adopting a fistful of tips, or learning the mantra of "keys", but is a complex, robust, flexible, and people-centered lifelong commitment.

Today's keys are sensible, to be sure, but woefully incomplete, and not useful without both intellectual and emotional internalization—and repetition until one's significant other complains bitterly.

They are easy to say, and difficult to master. The opener is dialog. No secrets, no hidden messages, no weasel-wording, no euphemisms, and no obfuscation. Without honest and full dialog, the other keys are just so  much blah, blah, blah.

Then come meetings. No artifice, no predetermined agenda or time frame.But, no hiding behind email and emotion. Facts. Relentless pursuit of correctives.  In-person, face to face.  Look into the others' eyes; you will get a sense of the soul.

Agreement on collaborative goals. That ought to go without saying, but, for whatever reason, needs to be covered over and over again in a dynamic environment.

Active listening. Developing the sense and sensitivity needed to ask good and relevant questions, and lots of them. Relax. The answers will come later. The tendency is to give answers, or issue orders, before the question gets fully formed and clarified.

Visualization. Make as much as feasible visible.  Processes. Final appearance. Performance status. Progress toward goals. Deviations from expectations.

All these are, or should be, part of the leadership package. So, do keep them in mind. But also buld a full suite of leadership behaviors and attributes to provide some context for all the elements that a leader must master to be effective over the long haul.

Time For Angie's List? Or, More?

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/15/2017 | 8:36 AM

OK, maybe I've gone overboard on the ER vs. Doc In A Box decision.  Or, maybe you don't think the choice is really all that stark.  So, let's shift venues a trifle.

In life, and in work, we face challenges.  Things gone wrong.  Preventing future failures.  Correcting the fallout from problems.  Designing process and content changes to reduce the chance of, and severity of, recurrence. Off-loading tasks we're not good at, or getting the training and education to get better at them.

In each case, we have to determine what level of help - experience, expertise, education, engagement - to enlist for a time, skill, and cost-balanced solution.

So, there's the obvious of the ER and the Urgent Care Center.  Staying with health, there are vision options: an optometrist who can, year after year, make stronger lenses to counteract steadily declining presbyopia - or an ophthalmologist who can search for underlying causes of decline (damage or disease), anticipate inevitable glaucoma development, stay ahead of the curve on macular degeneration, coordinate with other effects of Type 2 diabetes, etc.

In other arenas, you'll have choices between an engineer and a mechanic, a fixer or a designer and builder, a carpenter and a cabinet maker, a painter and an artist, a furniture buyer and a decorator, for example.

Also at work, you get to decide whether you want to manage a function, or manage the outside profesional who executes the function.  Whether to engage a working 3PL or someone who has written about 3PLs.  You'll need to critically question your own experience and its applicability.  If you've done something once, does that qualify you to to do it again?  Did you learn all you need to know the first time 'round?  Or, should you find someone who has been successful at a task or role over and over again?  And, irrespective of your own (or your organization's) capabilities, is the time well-spent on the priority an event or condition warrants?

Reiterating, it's your call.  

And do remembers that highest cost is not always the best indicator of matching a correction with a condition; likewise, a lower cost is not always a money-saver over time.  Superb qualifications might be too much horse for the race, but thin experience can result in more and worse conditions down the road.

Jurassic Muscle

By Art van Bodegraven | 03/12/2017 | 11:34 AM

There was once a time, back when dinosaurs walked the earth, and GM (aka Government Motors) was not owned by the UAW.  True enough, in those times, even before the Flintstones, GM was both arrogant and pedestrian, full of yes-men and devoid of women, and, like well-dressed lemmings, a horde streaming toward grey flannel suited elegant mediocrity.  But, it remained the dominant mass market auto manufacturer on the planet.

It was a time when the magic was beginning to fade.  Profits were dwindling, creative energy had been sapped, and leaders could be named and called "Bunkie" with a straight face.  Pontiac, especially, suffered from pervasive low energy that would have been called out by Donald Trump.  And, in general, younger buyers were deserting the auto behemoth in waves with the corporate exit from racing.

Fortuitously, a relatively new divisional General Manager, pirated away from the Oldsmobile Division, possessed a gift for imagining a future of his own devising.  So, "Pete" Estes broke the rules and broke the mold by putting a huger engine in a mid-sized car, and beefed up other components to create what became an iconic legend, exalted in prose, poetry and song - the gran turismo omologato, the GTO.  And, the age of muscle cars broke down the door and took over the room.

Estes went on with further innovations, the wide track concept to improve the driving experience (and interior space), redistributed weight for improved handling, and more.  He wound up as President and COO of the entire GM corporation.

No great secrets here, just reminders of what it takes to succeed - creativity, commitment, willingness to disrupt, and the pursuit of continuous improvement.  Hmmm, sound just like supply chain management, even though this example comes to us through the dim mists of over a half century ago.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

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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