“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”
George Santayana, 1905
This coming Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic and a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece from Roger Cohen articulates how the ship’s captain Edward Smith and his elite passengers peacefully cruised the Atlantic in total luxury—completely oblivious to their coming fate. It turned out that the upper class passengers of the Titantic were not only unaware of their immediate destiny but also completely in the dark about the dawning of a new era – a period of profound darkness that spanned the Bolshevik revolution, WWI, the Great Depression and WWII.
In Cohen’s piece, he compares that era to today and asks if history is repeating itself once again. Were we happily floating through the post-Cold War “Peace Dividend”, a never-ending housing boom and the enormous growth in luxury goods before 9/11 suddenly struck? And then the Iraq and Afghan wars. And then the Financial Crisis. And what next? Maybe global climate change? Perhaps peace and prosperity?
So what does this have to do with sales and operations planning (S&OP)? Just replace the word “ship” with “supply chain” in the following quote:
“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause this ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” Captain Edward Smith, RMS Titantic, 1912
Many companies found themselves in this very situation earlier this decade and when their ship started sinking, they found that they have no choice but to change. To paraphrase a Steelwedge customer and senior executive at one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial equipment:
“The world is becoming a very unpredictable place. We needed to be able to react very quickly and respond to unexpected events. We must be prepared for demand changes like the Financial crisis, or the supply constraints that occurred when suppliers in Japan were devastated by the Tsunami and earthquake and when a plant in Southeast Asia was disrupted by flooding.”
While history teaches us a seemingly obvious lesson – that the future is not predictable, it also teaches us that those who are agile will adapt and thrive. Are you prepared for the unexpected?