April 2000 | Sponsored | Knowledge Base

Start-me-up, Scotty!

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In the classic Star Trek series, whenever someone wanted to go from here to there in an instant, they just said, "Beam-me-up, Scotty," and there they'd be. It was more than transportation. It was transformation.

And "beaming up" might be a way to describe what is happening today. Our bold new 21st Century has vaulted us into a time—the Information Age—and a space—the Web—that not even the most imaginative futurist could have envisioned.

Our businesses, our industry, and our lives are being transformed. Fallout from the explosion of e-commerce reaches every corner of the marketplace and alters every aspect of the supply chain. Suddenly the business we have known becomes a business we must keep learning. Our knowledge base moves beyond boxes and buildings, trucking and tracking. We become—for ourselves, for our customers, and for their customers—the managers and the masters of change.

This transformation, the process of taking our business from what we know to what we must learn, will be the focus of our "Logistics Knowledge Base" column. We will open a dialogue, compare our experiences, explore together the changes in our logistics and supply chain universe.

WHERE DO WE START?

Our economy is ripe with opportunities, including the blossoming field of dot-com businesses and subsequent new logistics "start-ups". They don't just start-up; they literally burst into existence. It's "Start-me-up, Scotty—and do it NOW!"

These days, dot-com start-ups may transform themselves from first inspiration to full implementation in less than 45 days. Often they turn to logistics partners with knowledge, experience, and resources. Yet, in this crazy, mixed-up world, what we know may not be nearly as valuable as what we are able to learn. All of us—no matter who we are or where we are or what kind of business we are in—need to learn to think and act like our enterprise is brand new. Not just new, but maybe one of those daring, break-all-the-old rules, go-for-broke dot-coms.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM DOT.COM START-UPS?

Speed. Start-ups are unencumbered by things that slow other companies down. Old habits. Red tape. Preconceived notions. Corporate politics. If they waited to work their way through a maze of hierarchical obligations, their moment in the sun would be over.

Steep learning curve. Start-ups don't expect to know things. They are set up to learn things. They devour information and data. They inhale new ideas and creative thinking. They thrive on connecting the dots in different ways. What's valued in this economy is hands-on knowledge—knowledge that can be exchanged and shared.

Structure follows strategy follows structure! The cycle spins in constant motion. Start-ups adapt and re-configure themselves constantly to get the outcomes and results they want. When the next business cycle erupts, they start from scratch, one more time.

Specialist/generalist thinking. Start-ups give new meaning to the concept of teamwork. People work together to get things done. They have specific talents, particular areas of expertise—but they think beyond those boundaries. They see the big picture AND they see the little details. They rely more on communication and creativity, less on command and control. Hierarchy is out and dialogue is in.

Start-to-finish mentality. In a start-up, you don't do your piece and turn your back on the rest. You view the challenge from beginning to end. For those of us involved in the supply chain, this is particularly potent advice. It's all there in front of us—each part of the chain makes the whole work successfully or breaks it down.

To master change, we must keep expanding our knowledge base. We ask questions before we decide the answers. We keep our sensors tuned not only to our customers, but to their customers—and to the marketplace. We don't decide what we want to sell ahead-of-time. We keep our capabilities ready to dispatch in new combinations—and in different directions. We welcome the chance to be transformed—especially with customers and partners who also relish the transformation. Whatever it takes. Beam-us-up, Scotty!

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