In the wake of the economic carnage are endless possibilities.
I must admit that when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I have had mixed success at best. Every year I think of things that, at least on paper, sound like good, doable initiatives to commit my heart and soul to, just to have some of them not pan out.
For me, the resolutions that most often don’t pan out are the self-centered ones, such as losing those few extra pounds (tons?) that build up as we age, or starting that exercise routine that is supposed to lead to (or lead to consume?) six-pack abs. The resolutions I have greater success with tend to be external. This year I have a few of that type: resolutions that also revolve around our industry.
The first is to open my mind toward the possibilities, not the problems. All the news, it seems – be it global, national or industry – has revolved around the gloom and doom of a contracting economy. Yes, there are far fewer fabricators, designers and assemblers today than last year – and the majority of the carnage has been in the West. That said, so many exciting and innovative technology developments are taking place that are creating possibilities. New industries, such as photovoltaic, printed electronics and fuel cells, may be the poster children of the “green” movement. And all these emerging industries require electronics to operate, control and monitor their functions. Those are the kind of possibilities we need to focus on.
When you get past the gloom-and-doom rhetoric, you hear companies crying for technological help in meeting the demands of emerging technologies and new markets. My first New Year’s resolution is to focus on the possibilities and those companies involved with those possibilities.
The second is to open my mind toward the many people I work with – and focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. When people work together for a relatively long period of time, it is easy to start to nitpick about their idiosyncrasies and perceived shortcomings. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, but dwelling on one’s weaknesses will obscure their strengths. Especially when business is tough and everyone is stressed, we often miss opportunities simply by assuming an individual – or the entire staff – cannot or will not do something.
However, it’s the experience of your staff that provides the foundation from which companies blossom. All people and all companies have personalities. Equally, all people and companies have strengths – strengths they are proud of and strengths they want to harness for success. When you move past minor shortcomings and focus on the extraordinary talents is when you realize the possibilities. My second New Year’s resolution is to focus on the talents and possibilities of all the people I work with.
My third resolution is to listen better and not assume – especially with customers. Conversations with many customers (and suppliers) of late have felt one-sided and not always positive. Price negotiations with customers have been fierce. New materials to meet new technical and legal requirements have been daunting. Suppliers have reduced in number, while spreading their staff thinner, causing every company to experiment on the fly. All this has had the undesirable side effect of too often just assuming what the question is, and worse, what the answer might be.
But the technological challenges continue, and many customers are seeking dialog – interaction – so they can understand all the implications of a new material or process, and assistance in developing the most cost-effective and robust product. Designers need assistance with manufacturability issues. OEMs need assistance with understanding new materials. Everyone wants a touch-point, and now is not the time to assume anything in any conversation. If we all listen better, especially to those who seem to be seeking the same old, same old, we might be surprised to hear something different. We might be hearing an opportunity to provide value-add by helping them. My third New Year’s resolution is to listen better – especially for the possibilities!
My final resolution is to embrace – not fight – change. This may be the toughest to tackle, but the most necessary. As I look back over just one short decade and the change in all aspects of our industry, I am reminded change is the only constant. Much of the change has not been easy to handle or fun to watch. Literally hundreds of companies that reigned supreme are no longer among us. Countless friends have retired or been retired, and the number employed in our industry a mere shadow of what it was. All of that has been painful to experience.
On the other hand, the technological advancements and process improvements have been phenomenal to be a part of. The product we now consider “low tech” is so far beyond what most imagined feasible just a few years ago. The cutting-edge of tomorrow seems so attainable if we rethink how we approach change. And by change it is the entire gamut of how we look at possibilities, look at people and look at customers and suppliers. It’s how we look at our facilities and then dare to look at them with a fresh set of eyes and ideas.
And that’s what is so daunting with any kind of resolution: letting old habits die while embracing change. Embracing possibilities requires looking at everything differently and embracing the people around you differently. Scary stuff at any age. But even scarier is not changing, instead continuing down the same difficult road, while hoping for a better outcome. I’m not sure how I’ll do with this year’s resolutions, but I know I want change and that only by my changing will that change occur.
Happy New Year! I think it will be a good one.