Category Archives: History

One Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago Today

A copy of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra was dated (before, at some point being lost to history until their rediscovery in in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang on June 25, 1900.)

So why do we care about an old book?

First of all, it’s the oldest known dated book in existence, at least 585 years before Gutenberg printed his first bible. Because, even though the invention of the printing press was attributed to Gutenberg, he was just the first person to create a press out of metal. Woodblock printing was developed in China approximately 1200 years before Gutenberg developed his press, with examples of woodblock-based cloth printing dated back to pre 220 AD and the earliest examples of woodblock-based text-printing dating back to the Tang dynasty in the 600s. However, books were not dated at that time, making the Diamond Sutra, from 868 AD the first dated book.

However, it’s not just relevant to us that this was the first dated book, which is quite relevant to copyright and legal systems — that now use dates to determine inventorship, ownership, and so on — and to those of us that want to understand the origination of a work.

What’s really relevant to us is that accompanying the date was a dedication that said “for universal free distribution”, making it the first known creative work with an explicit public domain dedication. It seems that formally dedicating work to the public domain to ensure it’s continued free usage may not be as recent an occurrence as we may think.

And its another example of just how rich and innovative the cultures of the east have been over time, and why we should learn all we can instead of putting up trade barriers.

One Hundred and Fourteen Years Ago

The United States took over, and began, construction of the Panama Canal. Then, a little over ten years later, it was completed and for the first time ships could travel between the mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific from at least 10 days, and typically two to three weeks (depending on how fast the ship was and the weather) to less than a day, as it saves ships a 7,872 mile voyage.

It revolutionized ocean freight and although we now take it for granted, it was a historic achievement.

Don’t Go Down In Flames …

just like Jesse James.

For those of you into Americana, One Hundred and Thirty Five (135) days ago today, Robert Ford, who was in Jesse’s gang, killed Jesse James for a reward. Jesse James was one of America’s most famous outlaws who, after the civil war, gained significant notoriety, and even public sympathy, as a result of his many successful robberies that included banks, stagecoaches, and even trains and the portrayal of him as America’s Robin Hood (who stole from the rich and gave to the poor), even though there is no evidence that he or his gang actually shared their spoils in that way. (And when he was killed, he became one of the legendary figures of the Wild West.)

And while it might be nice to be legendary, a corporate death is not the type of legendary you want to be. But it’s one that’s easy to realize if:

  • You upset too many senior stakeholders with aggressive savings-focused sourcing events that ignore stakeholder desires and even requirements (even though this may make the CFO do the dance of joy)
  • You achieve too much success (too fast) while satisfying all of the sourcing requirements and make your peers look bad in comparison (because you achieve double digit savings while adhering to every business constraint and satisfying every named stakeholder requirements) … giving them incentive to back-stab you (and set you up for failure not of your doing)
  • You step on the toes of too many powerful incumbent suppliers (with CEOs that join your CEO on the golf course) and/or take too much business away from them too fast (even though they may need to be replaced, replacement of major incumbents often has to be done slowly and with care)

So, when you are reviewing your contracts and (re) sourcing your significant categories, be sure to do so with care and finesse — your incumbents may need replacement, but such replacement will have to be done with care, and support. It’s a sad truth that sometimes your efforts will be undermined by personal relationships between chief executives and board members, but a truth you need to be aware of and approach with caution. Once these individuals understand what their relationships are costing them, or you get the CFO or CEO to help you explain that to the stakeholders, you will be able to (slowly) replace the suppliers and make the right sourcing decisions (and save), but the last thing you want to be is alone, because, instead of being seen as a hero, you will be seen as an outlaw, and someone who will be given up for a bigger reward. Sad, but true.

A Great Day in American Automotive History …

Sixty years ago Today the Ford Motor Company produced it’s 50 millionth automobile the Thunderbird, and fifty years ago today General Motors produced it’s 100 millionth automobile, the Tornado, putting the automobile revolution in full swing and launching the Automotive industry to its height (before their downfall began in the 1970s and 1980s with a series of engineering, manufacturing, and marketing mishaps and disasters, a downfall which continued in the 1990s where the recession resulted in weak auto sales and operating losses). Up until the 1980s, the US was the largest automobile producer in the world until Japan overtook it.

Producing a million units of anything in the 50’s was a feat, especially for something as large and complex as an automobile, and the fact that American companies could do it … and do it well … means that they used to have great supply chain management. Remember, even local and vertically integrated supply chains are still supply chains and this goes to show the value of near-, and home-, sourcing and (deep) control over key aspects of your supply chain.

Significant (non optimization backed) cost savings always comes at a price, and that price is usually an increase in risk. Be careful. Or your company could meet the same fate of the US automotive manufacturers, many of whom had to enter into bankruptcy and receive big bailouts from the government just to stay alive.