Better Late Than Never, or Better Never Than Late?
Labor Day weekend 2013 is upon us as is also the statistical peak of the hurricane season. Somehow the coincidence befits the times as it may well be a different type of statistical peak for labor. The Labor Department defined the day as “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” It provokes an interesting question as to who is the chicken and who is the egg? Are “strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” a consequence of the labor movement or the cause? What does the experience of our current situation say?
Much of the political rhetoric (pick any party) defines our most important objective is to “get Americans back to work.” It sounds like it is possible to return to where we’ve been. But time’s arrow is much like a one way street and the future does not appear to look much like the past. My growing concern is that many actually believe we can go “back to work” when “back” is not there anymore.
Much has to do with the nature of value creation and what happens as conditions change and value gets redefined. At the expense of sounding simplistic, three dimensions for value have always been “faster, better, and cheaper” and in a multipolar world, value creation is mercurial and hard to hold on to. It means that if we’re not faster, better, and cheaper now, and someone else is and continuing to improve, catch up becomes improbable.
“The faster I go, the behinder I get … You have to run as fast as you can just to stay where you are. If you want to get anywhere, you’ll have to run much faster … Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass” Lewis Carroll.
The question is do we know how fast we’re going and how fast the ones ahead are running? Who’s measuring? How fast is faster changing? How fast is better getting better? How fast is cheaper getting cheaper? Many can demonstrate that they are in fact improving, year after year, and yet the business is in dire straits.
Today we can only reap what we sowed yesterday, and the cycle repeats every day. As Labor Day approaches, what should our strategy for value creation become? How in tune are the ways we get faster, better, and cheaper with the real races being run, perhaps across the globe or across the street? How long has the race been running and are we gaining or sliding? What do the laws of physics say?
Fitness precedes performance. Jump starting a poorly maintained car or one with outdated capabilities doesn’t win races. Restarting economies mean restarting individual enterprises with specific markets and challenges. Each has their own race to run and each must take responsibility for fitness. If our enterprise is obese, then we must become lean. The rules and requirements for performance tomorrow will change in the middle of the race, so we may need sufficient agility to change on-the-run. We may discover that what worked well yesterday is currently our greatest constraint.
“I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll