No male child in America makes it
to his seventh birthday without going through a dinosaur phase. Boys who will
go on the flunk Latin effortlessly pronounce names like tyrannosaurus and
diplodocus. It’s part of growing up.
My problem is, I’m still hooked. Nothing
can distract me from my work faster than a Yahoo headline like, “Utah Dinosaur
Remains Reveal Missing Link.” So, it’s no surprise that the following question
should come up in my mind: Are the Detroit 3 dinosaurs?
As we all know, the dinosaurs were
wiped out by a sudden climate change – perhaps caused by a single event, e.g.
an impact from a mountain-sized meteorite. The swamps where the brontosauruses
once wallowed dried up, creating conditions that favored the mammals.
Well, the business climate has
certainly changed. And there was a mountain-sized event, the signing of the
World Trade Agreement. Does this mean the Detroit 3 (or at least one of them)
headed for extinction?
I don’t think anybody can answer
that question. There may be hope. When personal computers came to dominate
corporate information technology organizations, everybody thought mainframe
computers were dead, and pundits even used the phrase “dinosaur” to describe
them. Then IBM came up with a product they called T-Rex that has done quite
well, thank you.
But there’s no doubt that the new
global business climate that has arrived over the last twenty years is hurting Detroit.
And I’d like to point out that the species that survived the literal climate
change at the end of the Jurassic were the small, nimble creatures, not the
Okay, it’s time to drop this
tedious metaphor. But the fact is, small businesses that can quickly change
course with changing business conditions have a dramatically greater chance of
surviving than large bureaucracies that are stuck in their ways, with far too
much inertia and not nearly enough creativity.
Change is hard for any
organization, particularly when the old practices have been so successful for
so long. But small organizations have a fundamental advantage when it comes to
change. They’re small.
If you’re running such an
organization and wondering what to do as
orders from Ford, GM and Chrysler or other giants keep falling month after month, I have a couple of practical
The first is, contact the
engineering department or business school of your local university. They will
very likely be able to help you get started dealing with practically any
problem, from re-engineering old processes to finding new markets.
The second is, contact the
Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) organization in your state. (Click
here for a link.) The MEP offers consulting services much like most
universities, the difference being that the cost is shared by the U.S.
government, the government of your state and you. Basically, it’s top-notch
consulting at a third of the normal cost.
The final suggestion is, reach
out to other businesses. If you’re located anywhere near the Great Lakes,
there’s a wonderful organization called the Great Lakes Manufacturing Council
that sponsors events designed to help manufacturers network and find ways to
There is nothing like an outside
influence to help spark new ideas for dealing with the changing business