This column goes to press on Election Day. By the time you read it, the voters will have spoken and scores will have been settled. Regardless of your leanings, you, like me, will probably be delighted the mid-term madness is finally over—and that maybe, just maybe, sanity and civility will return to the legislative process, and Washington will get down to the business of healing our economy. For now, I'll keep chirping about innovation.
In a column entitled "An X-Ray of Dysfunction"* (The New York Times, October 9, 2010), the great Thomas L. Friedman quoted the Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib, who once noted that "America and its political leaders, after two decades of failing to come together to solve big problems, seem to have lost faith in their ability to do so. A political system that expects failure doesn't try very hard to produce anything else." Well said, Mr. Seib.
As Friedman went on to assert, fortunately the expectation and production of "failure" hasn't taken root everywhere in the U.S. While America may often seem to be paralyzed from the top down, he's seen, for himself, that it's alive from the bottom up: "The more I travel around our country," he wrote, "the more I meet people who didn't get the word that we're supposed to be depressed and on our backs..." I'm with Tom. Although he specifically referenced "innovating with technology" as an example of what he's been seeing, plenty of other types of innovation are paying off around the country.
One place that immediately comes to mind is Arkansas-based Baldor Electric Co., where nobody appears to have been snoozing through the downturn—or gotten the word they're supposed to be depressed and on their backs. I recently had the opportunity to tour the company's big, beautiful, busybusybusy Fort Smith motor production facility, where three shifts a day, five days a week, are currently building 30,000 motors in the 1 - 15 hp range—per week. (And this is just one of several Baldor motor plants.) The number of offerings this company is producing and the way it's delivering them to the marketplace represents an awesome undertaking. It's clear that some real innovative thinking has been going on in Fort Smith. Based on its history, though, that's not unusual for Baldor.
(BTW: This site visit also reinforced the idea—at least for me—that reliability begets reliability. In Baldor's case, its ability to supply reliable motors for your reliable operations depends, to some extent, on reliable processes that depend on reliable equipment, including—what else—reliable motors.It's like looking at a reflection in a mirror...of a reflection in a mirror...of a reflection in a mirror...Where does it start and where does it end? Intriguing!)
But back to the topic of innovation: It's what has been keeping more than a few operations viable over the past couple of years, and will be just as crucial (if not more) in the future. That includes innovating in the areas of maintenance and reliability—something you'll be reading a lot more about in this magazine. You really can't afford to snooze. That's all I'm going to say for now, though. Check in with me next month about what we have coming up for all you innovators out there! MT