If you ever have a chance to sit in on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you’ll see that the basic format is for the recovering drunks to tell their stories to the group, and by hearing how absurd their thinking was when they were drinking, it helps them to stay sober. For the most part, AA meetings are pretty light hearted, as the members spend a lot of time laughing at themselves and each other’s stories. The loudest guffaws tend to be for stories of ‘geographic cures’.
A geographic cure is the solution a drunk arrives at for his problems when he is in trouble with everyone in town, from law enforcement, bill collectors, and employers to all of the people with whom he has personal relationships. In his drunken haze, he comes to the conclusion that the problem is the place, and all of the people in it. If he can just move to a different town, everything will be all right.
It occurred to me that just maybe, there is a lot more alcohol being consumed in manufacturing boardrooms than we have suspected. The drunk’s logic – that the problem could not possibly be himself, and that the solution is to take the same old behavior on the road in search of more reasonable people – seems to carry the day pretty often when the manufacturing honchos plot strategy.
The strongest argument that this is the case comes from outside the U.S. A fellow by the name of Li Shaoxing just couldn’t hack out a profit making plastic bags in the oppressive regulatory / high labor cost environs of China – so he moved his plant to Viet Nam where people were not so selfish as to expect a whole dollar a day for their efforts. It would seem to me that a man would pretty much have to drown in rice hooch to think like that, but the story is true.
Closer to home, an outfit called Orban thinks the solution to its manufacturing problems lie in Arizona. It just can’t make a decent buck in California. I’ve been to both places and, for the life of me, I can’t see much difference – except that Arizona is a whole lot closer to the big tequila processing operations in Mexico, so I’m wondering….
These guys all ought to get together – maybe there is a centrally located tavern somewhere, convenient for all of them to meet in and do their deep thinking. Weiser Lock has all but bailed out of Arizona. They could give their old plant to Orban, and since Weiser sees China as the solution to their manufacturing incompetence, they could take Li’s old plant. Of course, it will not be long before old Li figures out that Viet Nam is no more forgiving of slipshod manufacturing than China was, so he will be packing up and looking for a new home. About that time, Weiser will start thinking that Viet Nam looks pretty good, Orban will be ready to take the Chinese plunge, and the caravan can continue.
Another stark parallel between manufacturing boardrooms and the AA environment is that, for all of the humor with which recovering alcoholics maintain their sobriety, they know that getting to the root of the problem is actually a matter of life and death. A drunk must come to the realization that the problem is within him, and there is no location for a practicing drunk to survive. He will either face that brutal truth, or die. An incompetent manufacturer lives in the same reality. It can buy a little time by heading down the cheap labor trail, but sooner or later, it will run out of rope. Every manufacturer either gets good at manufacturing, or it dies. Where they are has little to do with it. And even the death is similar. The drunk has alienated everyone he met along the way, and dies alone and unnoticed. The same is true of the manufacturer which has abandoned every stakeholder it ever had.