Topics for the Times

The recent MFG Meeting touched on some of the most important and compelling issues facing manufacturing companies and their leaders today.

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The lineup of topics covered at the MFG Meeting in Palm Springs, California, last month is worth noting. It represented a good list of what professionals in manufacturing ought to be thinking about, worrying about or learning about right now. Conference organizers, I’m sure, were intent on bringing to mind many of the top challenges, opportunities and fresh ideas about leadership that would energize an audience deeply involved in the future of U.S. manufacturing.

Here are the topics and what I found to be the main take-aways from each presentation:

Navigating a sea of information. In a few years (three to five), more than a trillion objects will be networked. Products and user communities will merge. The structure of the factory will evolve into a social network. Designers and manufacturers must be ready to create products that behave like living organisms.

Cyber security. The pervasive interconnection of things (which exists today) exposes every company to a massive threat from cyber criminals and malicious hackers. Companies must adopt defensive strategies that build in, not bolt on, protection at every level.

Grace under pressure. Business leaders have always faced intense situations in which decisions and actions have extreme consequences. The latest science says the best approach is to see these situations as opportunities to win on one’s own terms. Visualize yourself performing at your best, and expect to overcome the odds.

Entrepreneurship is nonstop. One successful company founder used his personal story to emphasize the importance of constantly reinventing everything in life. Numerous times, he has refashioned his career, his products and his relationship with employees and customers. His latest big idea: offer machine tools as kits that buyers can assemble in their own shops. 

Overcome resistance to optimism. The economic outlook for U.S. manufacturing is positive, despite what seems to be persistently negative influences and nagging uncertainties. A leading economist asserts that a calm and rational analysis sees better times ahead—as indicated by the numbers, not the emotions.

Successful leaders plan leadership succession. Current company leaders must prepare future leaders to take over when the time comes. Owners of family firms face an especially complex set of dynamics. One key is communication that is open, honest, thorough and ongoing.

To succeed, outsmart your brain. Personal and professional success are almost always won by stopping your mind from stopping you getting what you want. This means taking immediate action (in fewer than five seconds) before the “nos” and the “can’ts” and the “don’t really want tos” can derail the energy needed to start on the path to accomplishment. Being able to force yourself to succeed is the only way to succeed.

Of course, bringing people of like mind together at this event was as important as bringing to mind fresh ideas and useful concepts. Excitement about manufacturing is contagious.