2021 through the woods

Applying the Lessons of 2020

Nov. 16, 2020
We’re far from out of the woods, but the ray of hope remains.

At the outset of 2020, I offered the following thoughts:

Some aspects of our lives don’t change. We’re not as nice to each other as we should be, and we allow our differences to overshadow our common humanity. But that also is always how it has been, and while our immediate perspective on that reality is heightened by a faster, louder news cycle, the reality is that we have history books filled with wars, illness, famines and natural tragedies. We are taught history; we seldom learn from it.

Those may be the most prophetic words I’ve ever written. I wish I’d been more wrong.

As we emerge from 2020, if not from all of the problems that have besieged us, it’s useful to ask if we’ve learned anything this year. As we gaze toward 2021, the answer to that question may define us.

There are some glimmers of light against the darkness of the year. We changed the way we did business, and we did it on the fly. We quickly implemented technology when and where it was needed. It didn’t require fighting through levels of corporate wrangling to find and deploy solutions designed to maintain social distancing in our plants, to automate operations to overcome manpower shortages and to provide the protective equipment needed to keep workers as safe as possible.

We asked an enormous amount of our workforce in 2020. Most of those stories were drowned out by the political and social upheaval these measures required, and yet the workers persevered. Our workforce saw the value to themselves and their community. They understood the sacrifices it would take. Manufacturers of all sizes moved forward and helped drive manufacturing back into growth mode by summer.

We also saw the weaknesses in our system. In particular, supply chains were challenged and stretched and recreated, and that work isn’t done as of yet. Regrowing the global economy will take a reimagination of how we move from raw materials and parts to finished goods, and from there to delivery to consumers.

Consumers have changed as well. Boxes are delivered to our front stoop. We still are learning the value and dangers of an on-demand economy, and that too will take some reconciliation once the pandemic is better under control.

We have benefited from our technology improvements and our determination to stay strong despite the pandemic and the struggles it created. Did we learn anything? It’s a fair question; we’re far from out of the woods, and yet there remains, remarkably, a ray of hope.

We’re in the middle of the ocean right now, and as I also noted at the start of this year:

You cannot see from where you launched. But you know it’s there. You cannot see where you’re headed. But you know it’s there. There’s always a new horizon to aim for. The only way to get there is to keep moving forward.

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