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Machine Shop Tips You Can’t Handle the Truth About Global Competition

Chances are, unless you were born under a rock, you remember a very famous Tom Cruise movie where he plays a lawyer who cross-examines a General, played by Jack Nicholson. In the climax of the movie, Tom’s character asks Jack’s for the truth. Jack Nicholson’s General loudly responds with, “You can’t handle the truth!”

This phrase often floats around my mind and sometimes it really bothers me. Can I handle the truth? Am I ignoring the truth? Am I afraid? “Yes” and “no” dance around inside my head. The question that I often ask myself to cause this barrage of uncertainty is, “Can we be globally competitive?” But do I really want to know the answer?

Every day, business writers around the world search for topics about manufacturing that they can write about. They are like university professors with their innate need to publish. When I was a student, circa the Jurassic Period, it was not uncommon for us to constantly hear the statement “Publish or Perish!” It would seem that many a desperate professor did that in order to maintain their university status. It always made me wonder if what they were publishing was actually useful or not. On occasion I would try to read some of their work, but quickly lost interest because they were either very boring (this may have been on purpose) or the knowledge that they gave to the world seemed totally useless.

In the manufacturing world this seems to be the case as well. Write or don’t eat! Every day articles are published in the media. Many of these articles are written with a very negative tone and bias. If you had any hope of being globally competitive at the start of reading these articles, it was quickly flushed down the drain upon finishing them.

These negative articles are very easy to write and seem to make up 90% of the publications out there. Then, those articles are quickly followed up by the next 9% which come across like advertisements for miracle manufacturing cures. These 9% give you the feeling that reading them will solve any manufacturing problem you have in the blink of an eye. They give you insights that are so specific, it can come across like a quick cure for all manufacturing haemorrhoids. But the remedy will only work if you have that specific manufacturing problem, and not any others (just like haemorrhoid cream only works on actual haemorrhoids).

Buried in the pile of haemorrhoid articles are the less than 1% that address what Jack Nicholson would describe as “the truth.” This truth is the key to what will make us globally competitive, but the problem is we don’t want to hear it. I have been this person, burying my head in the sand. I refused to embrace the truth because I could not handle it, even though I knew it to be true.

The truth is that our greatest impediment to being globally competitive lies between our ears.

I have experienced this limitation myself in the past, and sometimes still do.

We know what we need to do to be competitive, but fear prevents us from acting. Proper investments in technologies and processes can make us globally competitive; we know this, but we ignore it. We come up with excuses about why we cannot commit to such measures, or even better we pretend the answer to our competitiveness question does not exist. It is far easier to complain and poke holes in the truth than to embrace it. 

The worst part occurs when we seek out articles and opinions to justify our reasoning for not doing anything. This is known as a confirmation bias: looking for items to support preconceived notions and then feeling justified when we find this proof, even if it’s buried on page 99 of Google.

Our minds, avoidant of the truth, also employ the negativity bias. This is the scientifically proven tendency to give more weight to negative experiences and information than to positive ones. We use this negativity to firmly fasten our seatbelts on the bandwagon of why we can’t be globally competitive and then feel justified about shaking our heads, muttering, “There’s nothing to be done, nothing at all, we’re doomed,” as our bandwagon rolls lazily across the desert toward failure. Wow, I can’t believe I got that into one sentence.

The real fact of the matter is that there’s a truth we really need to accept: “We can do it!”

We can, but it’s going to take some hard work and commitment. It’s going to be uncomfortable and can be kind of scary if you aren’t used to it. The truth is you can be globally competitive if you believe you can, and work at it! 

On the flip side is the other truth, that you will not be globally competitive if you do not believe you will be, and do not work at it.

The key to being globally competitive in manufacturing lies between your ears. You either need to choose to embrace this truth, believe and work at it, or simply give in and watch your shop slowly fail. Your choice!