Prepare For Prosperity

March 1, 2004
Just what constitutes prosperity?

A few weeks ago I was at dinner with a group of industry executives and the subject inevitably turned to the Wal-Mart/overseas manufacturing topic. One person stated that Wal-Mart has enhanced the prosperity of the nation because its low price policy means that people can buy more things.

I have always been of the belief that I’d rather have fewer things that have better quality. Anecdotal evidence points to a lowering quality of products that can be purchased at discounters in order to meet the insatiable downward price pressure, and in order for the manufacturers to still try to make a profit. On the positive side, though, it is true that the Wal-Mart effect does make it possible for less affluent people to own things never before possible in history.

One thing is certain, if most Americans vote for cheap with their dollars, we’ll get more things and fewer manufacturing jobs.

Be a futurist

What sort of skills could you use to make yourself more prosperous? This month’s Futurist Update newsletter from the World Future Society features the Top 10 Skills for the Future by Syracuse University public affairs professor, Bill Coplin. These are general enough to fit about any career, but specific enough to be right on for those of us in the automation industry.

Without further ado:

• Work ethic, including self-motivation and time management

• Physical skills, e.g., maintaining one’s health and good appearance

• Verbal (oral) communication, including one-on-one and in a group

• Written communication, including editing and proofing one’s work

• Working directly with people, relationship building and teamwork

• Influencing people, including effective salesmanship and leadership

• Gathering information through various media and keeping it organized

• Using quantitative tools, e.g., statistics, graphs or spreadsheets

• Asking and answering the right questions, evaluating information and applying knowledge

• Solving problems, including identifying problems, developing possible solutions and launching solutions.

If you’re thinking of making your company more prosperous in the future, check out the series of articles on energy management in this issue. Rockwell Automation vice president Chuck Edwards told me a few months ago that energy should be viewed as a resource to be managed rather than a cost to contain. Several articles in this month’s Automation World will give you ideas about how to accomplish this.

I’m especially impressed by the folks at Abitibi Consolidated. They started out with one goal, developed a system that they could afford, then discovered completely new uses for the system. Starting with the goal of assuring a supply of electricity at manageable prices, company managers discovered that they could not only manage use of electricity but also sell their surplus gained from internal generating capacity back to the grid—realizing a nice new profit center in the process.

The Motor Decisions Matter group deserves your attention. Not many people think about “managing a fleet of motors.” Motor management is usually viewed as a painful experience. Developing a strategy to manage the motors in a plant or company could be another way to make your company more competitive.

I continue to believe that the future goes to those who deal creatively with the present. Jobs are predominantly created by creative people who start new companies with a dream and a product that serves society. Rather than doom and gloom, let’s think about where we can make a difference. Then do it.