I don't know if this is a flash of inspiration or not—probably not—but it occurred to me recently while on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston that the challenges facing distribution professionals are closely related to the fundamental laws of physics.
Much of the science of physics, at least in an elementary way, revolves around the relationship of space, time, motion, matter and energy. So, too, does the practical science of distribution. In particular, distribution pros must understand the relationships of space and time, and the pragmatic implications of managing those two fundamental components of the universe.
Back around the turn of the 20th century, Albert Einstein formulated his Special Theory of Relativity, in which he described the relationships between space and time. Later, other scientists building on Einstein's theories explained the existence of black holes—something that logistics pros understand too well in another context (but we'll leave that to another column).
Now, the theories that Einstein developed on "spacetime" have greater relevance to understanding fundamental properties of the universe than to the practical considerations of moving goods around the world. The older ideas developed by Newton, easier to observe and thus easier for non-physicists to comprehend, may be more relevant.
With either one, I'm intrigued by the metaphorical relationship between theoretical physics and practical logistics. There's inertia, for instance—every distribution manager knows how hard it is to get things in motion sometimes, and, once in motion, how difficult it can be to change direction. Rerouting goods bound for Atlanta that are suddenly and urgently needed in Dallas can be a major headache. Velocity is another—simply distance over time in high school physics, but for distribution professionals, generating greater velocity across the supply chain has become an endemic challenge.
And that relates to space and time. The demands of modern supply chains require doing more over less time, but the growth of international sourcing and sales has extended the space over which that chain stretches. Einstein postulated that time slows as matter accelerates through space. I'd surmise that's one theory that any shipper with impatient customers must often wish had practical applications.