For many companies sending delegates to IMTS in September 2012, business is good—even great, especially compared to the situation just a few years ago. Yet, I don’t expect much overt exuberance among attendees at the show. The prevailing mood is more likely to be purposeful determination. Shops and plants need new equipment because the current level of activity demands it. They are buying because they have to. Even those companies beefing up in expectation of growth will do so soberly. Lingering caution from the harsh 2008-2009 downturn, concern about the shaky recovery and uncertainty over the financial situation in Europe must be to blame. However, these reservations will not be enough to deter determined buyers. Sales at the show will be strong.
I detect a tempered temperament elsewhere. For example, we generally feel good about manufacturing because there is renewed regard for its importance to the economy. Adding value by transforming materials is perceived to be a solid prospect for creating real wealth. The good in producing goods is clear. There’s no bubble about it. What would make us feel even better is an indication that public policy toward manufacturing genuinely reflects a solid understanding of its needs—support of investment, a balanced approach to regulation, an end to cronyism that favors big firms, and educational reform not biased against technical careers, to mention a few positive changes. These would do much to sustain the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing.
Lean manufacturing promotes a guarded outlook on progress, too. Although adopting lean is likely to boost morale because it seeks to make better use of everyone’s time and energy on the job, lean means never being satisfied with the current state. The effort to reduce waste and add more value in every activity is unending.
Many of us have a subdued outlook on America. We should feel good about our country because democracy and the rule of law are well established. The land is rich; the people massively intent on peaceful existence. There is no tolerance for corruption when it is exposed. What might make us feel great to be citizens is an end to the persistent antagonism that seems to embitter every difference in opinion, viewpoint and belief, thus making it difficult to address challenges created by a fragile economy, shifting moral values and disruptive changes in demographics. Less bickering and more respectful dialog would boost the national spirit, especially as we head to a contentious presidential campaign season.
In our personal lives, digital technology is also a mixed blessing. We are connected to, linked with and liked by more people than ever. Yet as good as that seems, the constant wash of shared thoughts, opinions, news bits and revelations can leave these relationships shallowly rooted and thin. Meanwhile, the call to know friends more deeply and understand ourselves more keenly still hearkens.
Perhaps the appropriate motto for these muddled times is one borrowed from another era and another place: Keep calm and carry on.