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INSIDE CI: Old-Fashioned Ingenuity

May 1, 2004
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Comments from CI Editor Kristi Grahl

When was the last time you went looking for a challenge? Not a minor obstacle that you were fairly confident you could overcome, but a really big challenge that seemed insurmountable?

The truth is that most of us don't like being faced with possible failure. We might enjoy pushing ourselves to try something new now and then, or to achieve bigger and better goals that we set for ourselves. But we don't like being pinned into a corner by circumstances beyond our control. We want life to be easy, and to a certain extent we've come to expect that it should be. I'll be the first to admit that I've become rather spoiled with the "American way of life." I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth by any means, but I've also never experienced true hardship. Maybe that's why I don't like the trends I'm seeing in the industry today-the number of plants that are closing their doors and shifting to other manufacturing regions; the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, regulatory compliance and energy; the unbalanced international playing field. The challenges are significant, and they often seem impossible to overcome. Some days, it looks like it's only a matter of time before the industry-and indeed, the American way of life as we've known it for decades-is going to fail.

Then I hear a story about a company such as Superior Clay Corp. in Uhrichsville, Ohio, and I'm reminded that sometimes it takes major challenges to spark true ingenuity. (See http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2710,123546,00.html.) Superior Clay didn't necessarily want to seek out a new product line and new markets. But when the company was forced into a corner by the rapid advancement of plastic sewer pipe, it reached deep into its most valuable resources-its human assets-and discovered new ideas that could propel it to even greater success than it had achieved previously, when clay sewer pipe was still a booming business.

Sure, you might think it's easy for a company like Superior Clay to succeed. After all, the most recent economic downturn and the pricing pressures from low-cost imports haven't affected the structural clay industry the same as it has other industry segments. But this challenge was no less difficult for Superior Clay than the current economic and trade situation is for many other companies. Superior Clay was faced with possible extinction if it did not change its way of doing business. Sound familiar?

We as human beings are designed to be creative, but often we need a push-or a seemingly insurmountable obstacle-to become truly innovative. For some, the innovation might be in modernizing an outdated plant to make it more competitive, or investing in training for employees. Others might need to investigate entirely new products and markets. Whatever the situation, we can't just sit quietly and hope that someone else is going to fix our problems-we have to start fixing some of them ourselves.

P.S. I love to cover success stories. If your company has found a way to thrive in a difficult market environment and you would like to share your story with Ceramic Industry readers, please contact me at (248) 366-2503 or grahlk@bnpmedia.com . I look forward to hearing from you!

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