Miracles at Work

27 March 2014

Changing Times

These essays are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturing business units in the pursuit of Sustainability. As Adam Werbach says, “… being a sustainable business means thriving in perpetuity.[1] However, thriving in perpetuity begins with surviving in the present.

In fact, the number of manufacturing facilities in America has been in decline for decades — and the rate of decline approached free fall during the Great Recession. Part of that decline is attributable to the rise of international competition. [2] A greater part, in my view, should be attributed to some fundamental ideas that have become obsolete.

What ideas? Ideas which were once intrinsic to the Industrial Age — ideas like:

>> “Inspection assures quality”

>> “Product costs depend mainly on how fast people work”

>> “There are two kinds of people in a factory — labor and management”

>> “Safety will improve when the workers become more careful”

>> “Customers? As P. T. Barnum says, there’s a sucker born every minute”

These are only a few of very many foundational ideas that require examination by manufacturers who intend to survive now, and to thrive in perpetuity. The zoomed out work of honestly and diligently examining foundational ideas isn’t easy. But examination is only part of the task. Once an obsolete premise has been recognized, it is then necessary to determine what to replace that idea with, then how to do so.

Principles and Practices

John A. Adams suggests that examination begin with first principles. John’s book, Miracles at Work, [3] draws on his personal experiences in creating and growing an entrepreneurial business. His book proposes ten Principles of Upside-Down Thinking and ten Practices of Business Success.

Miracles at Work book cover The whimsically titled Principles of Upside-Down Thinking expresses timeless values.  And appropriate values — transcendent core beliefs — provide a bedrock foundation for thriving in perpetuity. As John puts it, the Principles and the values they express “… come from ageless wisdom adapted for creating an illuminated business.” And “These are truths and natural laws common to all cultures, all religions, of all nations. Because the Principles are not of the physical world, they turn the methodologies of most businesses upside down.”


The Practices of Business Success interface the Principles to daily operations. John discovered the Practices in the course of starting up and growing his own business. Again allowing John to speak for himself: “The Principles of Business Success are not to be found in the curriculum of our business schools either. At least, not yet. One reason is their intrinsic nature.” … “If I had received a business degree, I may have never realized them. They are inward ways of building your business.”

The Industrial Phoenix

Here in the U.S. we are in the twilight of the Industrial Age that most of us grew up in. That doesn’t mean American manufacturing is doomed. It does mean that much of yesterday’s foundational thinking needs to be reexamined. Foundational re-thinking begins with an assessment and clarification of values and a vision for the future, which, taken together, lead to a clear definition of mission or purpose of the business. [4] The ideas presented in John’s book can add fresh perspective, perhaps even a miracle or two.

One practical way to approach foundational re-thinking is to assemble a five page Organizational Profile [5] for your business as it now exists, then create another Organizational Profile for the business as envisioned at some time in the future (five years from now, for example). The questions to be answered in the Organizational Profile are simple enough. And I know five pages don’t sound like much. As Nike says, “Just do it”.

Jera LogoThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.


[1] Adam Werbach, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009), page 9.

[2]  “… rise of international competition”, while a fact, is also a convenient scapegoat. Consider Switzerland: the Swiss have a higher GDP per capita than does the U.S. ($51,230 vs. $48,110). Manufacturing in Switzerland accounts for 18% of GDP, while manufacturing in the U.S. accounts for only 13%. In other words, the Swiss do a significantly better job against international competition in manufacturing than the U.S. does — never mind Switzerland’s cost structure. (GDP data from The Economist, “Pocket World in Figures”, 2014 Edition.)

 

[3] John A. Adams, Miracles at Work, Life Without Limits Press (2005). The direct quotes are from the Introduction, pp. xx -xxi

 

[4] For more on articulating vision, values and mission, see The Vision Thing, this blog http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/01/02/the-vision-thing.aspx, also Values, Culture and Gravitas, http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/01/23/on-values-culture-and-gravitas.aspx

 

[5] An Organizational Profile is sort of a preface to a National Baldrige Award application. It outlines the specifics of an applicant’s business, providing context for the applicant’s responses to the questions that constitute the application itself. The information needed to complete the Organizational Profile is of sufficient scope to define the business. Everything needed to construct an Organizational Profile is available for free download at: http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/publications/upload/2013-2014_Business_Nonprofit_Criteria_Free-Sample.pdf