Thursday, June 27, 2013

Manufacturing Matters

Rail service between Lowell and Boston
Rail service between Lowell and Boston began in 1835.
My wife and I have just returned from a road trip in the Eastern United States. The trip gave us a great opportunity to visit some of historical and industrial landmarks from the 19th century. My reading over the last few months has also focused on that time period.

These experiences have brought home how important manufacturing has been to our country.  In the Civil War, the Union had a greater population and greater manufacturing capacity than the Confederacy. While the link between manufacturing capacity and the ability to make more and better weapons is obvious, the population superiority is also linked to industrialization.

The mill towns like Lowell and Fall River, Massachusetts and the railroad centers of New York and Chicago provided employment and opportunity for a much greater group of people than the agrarian economy of the South. Once the Union was able to mobilize its resources and focus on the war effort, the outcome was inevitable.

Cotton looms in a water driven mill
Cotton looms in a water driven mill in Lowell, Massachusetts

In both of the World Wars, the United States was able to play a pivotal role in preserving democracy. Roosevelt's "Arsenal of Democracy" was possible because of the investments made in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century in rail infrastructure, steel mills and vehicle manufacturing.


In times of peace, manufacturing has been the engine that powered the growth of the middle class. Making things provides employment and opportunity for people with wide sets of skills.  Those people fuel the consumer spending that creates more opportunities to make things.

I feel that our country has outsourced too much manufacturing and I am pleased to see the trend reversing. Apple's announcements that the new models of their desktop computers will be built in Texas is both real and symbolic good news.

Trends away from mass production and toward personalized and personally configurable production also bode well for a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. The future of manufacturing will feature small work cells, equipped with 3D printers, close to the final consumers.
Terri Williams at the first Crane Paper site.
Terri at the first Crane Paper site.

What role do you feel manufacturing should have in the 21st Century United States?


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The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Leap of Faith

Eads Bridge in St. Louis
Eads Bridge in St. Louis. Image by Darkshark0159
Prior to 1874, the railroads west ended in St. Louis. To go further, you needed to cross the Mississippi on a ferry boat. Bridging the river was an extreme technical challenge because of the width of the river and the requirement to allow steamboat traffic to travel under the bridge.

Andrew Carnegie, whose Keystone Bridge Company had been subcontracted to build the bridge, decide to do something daring. The Eads bridge would be built of steel. When it opened in 1874, it was the longest arch bridge in the world and the first large bridge made from steel.

The bridge opened up the west to rail tavel. It also proved the value of structural steel which was soon used in the construction of bridges and buildings across the United States. The Carnegie Steel Company dominated the industry.

Carnegie took the leap of faith to build the bridge from steel.  The confidence to take on enormous challenges is a common characteristic of great leaders.

Are you ready to jump?


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The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Find Your Focus

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio
Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio
Most people know that John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil which grew to be the largest company in the world at the beginning of the 20th century.  Fewer remember that Rockefeller did not start out by drilling for oil or owning gas stations. Standard Oil started as a refinery of kereosene for lighting.


By keeping the primary focus on refining, the company was able to continually improve its processes and acquire other refining companies until the company eventually refined over 90% of the oil in the United States.

Standard Oil did acquire oil wells later and operated gas stations. But it was the intense focus on refining that made the other businesses possible.  At the time it was broken up in 1911 by the Supreme Court for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, it controlled 70% of the refined oil market, but only 14% of the crude oil supply.

While diversification has some advantages, concentration is usually more successful.

How intense is your focus?

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The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

All In

Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
In the early 19th century, a ferry boat operator in New York transported passengers from Manhattan to Staten Island and slowly expanded his business until he dominated the shipping industry in the United States. By mid century, Cornelius Vanderbilt owned ferry lines, river boats and steamship lines and was generally referred to as Commodore Vanderbilt.

In 1864, Vanderbilt sold the last of those ships and invested everything in the fledgling railroad industry. In the decade that followed, railroads transformed America and Vanderbilt became the wealthiest man in America.

When Vanderbilt saw the change happening in transportation, he didn't waste effort holding onto the past. He let it go and focused on the future.

What do you need to let go? Where do you need to be putting your full energy and resources?

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The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.