Pottery Barn

Dec 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

It all began with the Peruvian stirrup-spouted pot. When I first spotted this 2,000-year-old beauty at the Dallas Museum of Art, I was stunned by its sophistication. Now, months later, it has taken on a significance that I could never have imagined. That pot, I realize now, was the antithesis of the fussy, the ridiculous, the over-analytical. It did one thing — hold water — and it did it, not just well, but with style. It was a single big idea, fully realized.

Complexity is mistakenly considered a sign of finesse. When terrorists struck us in September, they unleashed a storm of debate. We were dragged into quagmires of discussions on religion, spirituality, and politics, when the simple truth of the matter was that violence is violence and cannot be spun as anything else. Complexity, and its twin, clutter, clogs our business thinking as well. When I tried to buy a garden shovel at Home Depot, I was treated to all manner of shovels, with all manner of attachments and doohickeys. Yes, they could play CDs, make coffee, and tell time, but all I wanted was a shovel that could dig. When a friend was casually browsing at the Macy’s cosmetics counter, she was subjected to a liberal application of what must have been pre-CRM, involving mysterious rituals of filling out forms and becoming eligible for something or other and receiving a “free” gift at an unspecified later date.

So, when you ask me what the operations scene will look like next year, I will not take refuge in befuddlement. You can expect at least the following:

Increased inventory

Experts anticipate a 5% rise in inventory, the result of holding safety stock following the terrorist attacks. The cost of carrying this inventory will total about $18 billion.

Tighter security

Expect to spend more for extra labor, risk insurance, cargo X-rays, and other safety protocols. Many companies will institute the position of chief security officer, reporting directly to the CEO.

Preventive tactics

Systems will be refined to detect changes in business and logistics patterns and trigger early warnings; employee screening tests, both online and off, will surge in popularity.

Stringent contingency plans

Companies have always had these, of course, but they will become much more formal and intricate. Scenarios will include sudden warehousing changes, smaller and more frequent shipments, quick carrier shifts, and different sourcing options.

Focus on human values

We shouldn’t have had to undergo what we did to learn this, but businesses will place renewed emphasis on integrity, candor, morals, and ethics — the stuff you need to pull through hard times.