Take the Current When It Serves
I recently participated in a summit of supply chain and business leaders who shared the many ways they are successfully navigating the turbulent waters of global trade. Despite the headwinds, they were determined to find new supply lines and expanded market opportunities.
Determined and, yes, even optimistic about their economic future. It reminds me of a quote an old friend gave me years ago that hangs on my office door:
There is a tide in the affairs of global trade.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their enterprise is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Yes, I updated that a bit, with apologies to William Shakespeare. But the sentiments are the same. Although not necessarily a call to arms as in the original Julius Caesar passage, this quote recognizes how supply chain managers face known and unknown challenges—with a certainty that they can and will succeed no matter the impediments.
Trade friction? Tariffs? Protectionism? Global strife? Energy turmoil? Sustainability concerns? Government gridlock? Digital disruption of traditional distribution channels? Destruction of transportation density regimes? Increasing cultural changes? Supply chain impatience by everyone? Rapidly morphing customer preferences, demands, buying patterns, and visibility requirements? Now add the impact of artificial intelligence on evolving workflows and enterprise strategies. What kind of unknown business landscape are we sailing off to?
That same old friend recently gave me his last parting gift, a 1930 biography of Ferdinand Magellan by E.F. Benson. It did not take many pages before I recalled Magellan’s indefatigable spirit, optimism, and accomplishment. Certain that the earth was round, Magellan led an expedition to prove he could reach the east by sailing west. That mission was the first circumnavigation of the earth.
It’s hard to imagine the immensity of that trade-driven accomplishment not knowing where the tides would take him. His guide? The stars, crude charts, a dedicated team, and the certainty that he would succeed. "It is difficult for us, to whom the globe is a map for all to read, to put ourselves back to the times when far the greater part was undiscovered, but we must do that in order to understand the raging fever that heated men’s blood to so noble a delirium," Benson wrote.
You are exploring too, charting a course to a future unknown. But instead of the stars you have an iPhone in your pocket, and the certainty that you will succeed.