Ceramic Industry

INSIDE CI: Crystal Ball, Please

January 1, 2009
The monthly roundup from Editor-in-Chief Susan Sutton.

My daughter recently taught me how to play Sudoku online. It took a little doing, since numbers truly just don’t make much sense to my language-oriented brain. In any event, she’d warned me before we got started that she wasn’t any good at the game. As she was filling in numbers and explaining everything for me, though, I realized she was whizzing right through it. It took her under five minutes to complete the game.

Amazed, I exclaimed, “I thought you said you weren’t any good at this!” To which she replied, “It’s easier on the computer, because it tells you if you’ve made a mistake.” At that point, I had an epiphany: Imagine how helpful it would be if the universe could tell us right away if whatever we were trying wouldn’t work. Imagine if we could avoid the entire trial-and-error process and zero in on the right answer in a matter of moments. No muss, no fuss (no stress!).

Unfortunately, there are no sureties in business, and that’s never been as true as it is now. The worldwide economy is clearly in a recession, the fate of the previously stalwart U.S. auto industry is very much in question, and the unemployment rate continues its steady upward march. Common questions of a few years ago-What new markets can my company pursue? What productivity improvements can we make? How can we expand and improve profitability?-are now starting to take a backseat. Real concerns regarding the very existence of our facilities (and our jobs) are taking precedence over possibilities for improvement and growth. It’s difficult to plan for the future when so much seems uncertain.

I wish I had a crystal ball. Even better, I wish everyone could use their own crystal ball to see into the future. Each company’s crystal ball could pinpoint exactly what steps they should take to weather this seemingly endless economic storm. Company A, you should definitely buy that new kiln. Company B, go ahead and enter that new market. Company C, you’re right, that product line is not doing you any favors; you should focus on this one instead. The crystal balls could cut through all of the analyses and projections (and worries!), and give everyone the answers they need.

One thing is for sure: stagnation never got anyone anywhere. When my college roommate gave the valedictory speech at her high school graduation, she quoted Franklin Roosevelt, who said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” She was attempting to inspire her fellow classmates, but my friends and I used that quote to tease her mercilessly. She: “What should I wear tonight?” Response: “‘Try something!’”

All kidding aside, let’s not allow fear to set our course for us. If we assert that inaction is not an option, we give ourselves permission to move forward. CI will continue to provide you with practical information to help you succeed in 2009. Of that, at least, I am absolutely certain.