July 21, 2016
Column | outbound

Ch-ch-changes

It's no longer simply about how well you manage change; it's also about the velocity with which you do it.

By Mitch Mac Donald

Long-time readers of this page are likely tired of hearing the story of how the word "velocity" came to be part of this magazine's title. Don't fret. This column isn't about that. Well, not entirely.

Part of the job of being a business journalist is covering conferences and trade shows. A lot of them—something on the order of two-dozen per year. At these events, we're often asked questions that go something like this: "So, what are you seeing in the market? What do you think will be the next big thing?"

In fact, the latter question was recently posed to us by a marketing professional in the logistics tech space who was working on a new strategy. He had already drawn up a list of the "usual suspects." They were mostly what we've come to call "disruptive technologies": autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3-D printing.

"All very appropriate," I said, "and certainly all have the potential to change the logistics game. But there is nothing new there—those have all been hailed as the next big thing at some point. I think you are looking for something new and fresh." Unfortunately, I didn't have a suggestion at that moment. We shook hands, traded business cards, and moved on to our next conference session.

Later, the realization came to me that the next big thing may not actually be a "thing," at least in the usual sense. The next big thing may be a bit more abstract than concrete, although it will be permanent. It will be change itself—and the attendant need for adaptability and velocity.

That's not to say that change, and the growing emphasis on velocity, is anything new. It is not. In fact, when we launched DC Velocity back in 2003, we put the word "velocity" in the title because of what we saw on the horizon. We made a big bet that in the future, logistics success would be not so much about price and quality as it would be about customer service, and specifically, speed.

We are thankful we made that bet. In today's marketplace, it is indeed all about velocity. Companies that once competed on the basis of quality or price now look to gain a competitive edge by being faster than their competitors. Think about it for a moment. You need something. You've shopped for it at one brick-and-mortar store and two online stores. They all carry the same product and offer it at exactly the same price. But the brick-and-mortar store is out of stock. The first e-tailer can get you the item, but it will take five days. The second has it in stock and can get it to you the next day. You can guess which one gets the sale. Same product. Same price. The difference is the velocity.

That's not going to change. In fact, the trend will only accelerate thanks to the miracle of technology. And it will happen at a faster pace than we can even imagine. In his essay "The Law of Accelerating Returns," Ray Kurzweil noted that "Technological change is exponential ... So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate)." That means a single day in Internet time is actually 200 days, and an Internet year is the equivalent of 200 years. If you think it's tough to keep up with the pace of change today, you'd best start thinking about your strategy for the future. Keeping up will be a challenge in and of itself.

This all has the potential to upend the way businesses have operated for decades. We were once taught that the path to business success was: "Plan your work, and work your plan." That no longer holds. Today, it's more like: "Plan your work, and then get ready to adapt it to a changing environment at every step along the way."

That adaptability to change may not only be the difference between success and failure; it may also be the next big thing.

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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