Change Your Definition, Change Your Business. Learn From Other Industries How to Manage Change

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent, Sonnhalter

A recent Industry Week article by Becky Morgan showcases how a changing industry can adapt and thrive or fixate and die, and has some great advice for being on the right side of that divide.

Her first point is to draw parallels between the state of manufacturing today and that of agriculture at the turn of the last century. Rocked by disruptive innovations, a changing marketplace and demographic shifts. And yet agriculture is still around. It’s fundamentally changed, but in a way that’s of benefit to consumers: more productive, larger scale, but with a core of, to use an overused term, “artisanal” craftspeople ready to cater to niche markets.

She sees manufacturing developing in much the same way. There will be larger, capital intensive companies that succeed by analyzing and adapting the best technologies to serve a large market, while others will thrive by being small, adaptable and ready to serve small niches quickly.

The capital intensive companies will seek to share risks with joint ventures, shared equipment and other practices. My favorite line of the article is, “Optimized for little, capable for much.” I think that pretty well describes every mass-market product, from beer to cars. So these businesses become “Thing” heavy.

The smaller companies will thrive on quick turn-around, rapid development and a nimble approach. They’ll be the companies that pioneer additive manufacturing and 3D Printing, in order to push the envelope on delivery times and innovation. They will be “Thought” heavy, with a focus on technology and skills.

The real transformation and key to success for both however will be to stop thinking as a product-based company, and transform into a solutions company. As the article puts it:

Just as GM and Ford are beginning to realize they are in the transportation business and not the car business, manufacturers will broaden their view of their industries away from products and into ‘created conditions.’

So choose which you think you should be; the hulking but stable tortoise or the quick nimble hare. The article seems to think both will cross the finish line, but you’ll surely lose if you don’t get in the race.

And your marketing department can be an integral driver in that process. By promoting solutions rather than products, you can see where current and potential customers have issues, and align your company to meet them. This way the market will determine your transformation, and ensure your survival.

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