The Vitality Drain
The human body is made up of many elements. Many of those, while contributing to general health and well-being, are not essential to life. There are, however, microscopic elements involved that are essential to life. The American special machine tool industry is one of those trace elements in the body of our society. It is microscopic in its stature in the daily lives of our citizens, but its role is life-sustaining. An example is the role that manufacturing engineering played in the miracle of production for WWII materiel. What is to happen if there is another such national emergency? (At that time much of that capability still resided within the auto industry, but more recently shifted to special machine tool companies.)
Over time, a company or an industry can become less adventurous and more comfortable as “this is the way we do things” paradigms, standards, and traditions accumulate to the point where originality is stifled. In those companies that are mass producers that phenomenon is problematic, but in technology-originating industries, such as special machine tools, it will be lethal, since originality is at the core of every product.
Events such as WWII can set the paradigm register back to zero by disregarding traditions, paradigms, or rules. That fresh start reinvigorated American industry in general. Today it is not uncommon to hear the term “downsizing.” It is a way for companies to set their paradigm register back toward zero and get that fresh start, if it is done correctly and not simply to take out excess cost. It is obviously less traumatic for all concerned if that freshening happens routinely and continuously by company philosophy and vigilance.
The challenge that all businesses face is lurking behind and is obscured by all the day-to-day challenges. It is the accumulation of standards, rules, traditions, and paradigms that encumber free thought, imagination, nd the freedom to originate. The temptation to play it safe, add a rule, guideline, procedure, or department, or to let tradition dictate policy, methods, or procedures can be very hard to resist. These measures soon become repressive.
It is even harder to resist the customer when he advises or brow-beats supplying companies to be a part of or belong to an industry standard organization, but the same result can be expected. That advice and the spread of standardization also has the effect of raising nearly insurmountable entry barriers. It forces overbearing infrastructure on start-up companies and dilutes the desire of new, free-thinking players, the small, isolated populations, to enter a business.
The true value of an enterprise is in its success, as it benefits its customers, its owners, and its employees. The challenge is to be better than its competitors, not the same as its competitors. The freedom to be fast on its feet and to use its Yankee ingenuity in all that it does and the way that it does it makes an important difference. To insist that supplying companies, particularly technology-originating companies, fit a standard profile and other paradigms is counterproductive. The war materiel successes in WWII were as much a result of creative ways around organizational and administrative barriers, rules, traditions, and paradigms as they were of technological innovation. The creeping rigidity of the single huge population can paralyze free enterprise. Yankee ingenuity thrives in the “no rules” environment! That environment must be conducive to and encourage free thought and the courage to confront challenge and risk and to endure the consequences of both success and failure.