Having a clear view of the future would be a good thing, right? You would know when to make major investments in new equipment to support new customer demands. You could decide when to make small, short-term repairs to existing equipment. You would know what product lines will continue to grow the next three to five years, and which ones will decline. If you were to log your activities for one week, where would the majority of your time be spent? Fighting the fires of current production or strategizing for the future?

Depending on your job responsibilities and position within the company, the pie chart of time spent during the week will vary, but I am willing to bet that it is heavily weighted on daily activities vs. long-term direction.

I just finished reading an interesting book on how to look out ahead of the crowd, "Paradigms - The Business of Discovering the Future," by Joel Arthur Barker. It presented a model of how to not become complacent in your existing operation but to look at the future for your company. No manufacturing operation is perfect. What are the difficulties that you continue to struggle with; and what does the future look like without those struggles? The time to improve on an existing process is not when it has completed its useful life, but when it is operational and successful. Case in point: Sixty years ago, the country predominately responsible for the manufacture of fine watches was Switzerland. The Swiss had developed and perfected the manufacturing operations required to make thousands of little gears, springs and components that make a watch run. In the 1960s, Bulova rocked the boat when it developed an alternative method called a "tuning fork" watch. Instead of all the gears and springs to keep the watch operational, it ran on a tuning fork principle. The tuning fork vibrated at a frequency of 360 cycles per second, and through that vibration, Bulova was able to increase the accuracy of the watch by 10 times over the traditional spring and gears design. Instead of the traditional tick-tock, you heard a hum from your watch. But this technological advancement was not sufficient to alter the Swiss watch-making industry. An improvement on an existing concept, yes; a paradigm shift in technology? No.

Take a survey of people wearing a watch in your office. Count the number of watches that have Swiss precision-crafted gears and springs vs. digital electronics. Digital watches are based on a frequency of 30,000 cycles per second. What nation took this paradigm shift and perfected it into a marketable product? Japan. The Swiss are no longer the leader in the watch industry. Although this is only one of hundreds of examples, what does your future look like? How can you affect the future of your company to ensure that a similar scenario does not happen to you?

When data falls outside our paradigm, we find it hard to see and accept. This is called the paradigm effect. When the paradigm effect is so strong that we are prevented from actually seeing what is under our noses, we are said to be suffering from paradigm paralysis. Are you suffering from this? In "Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Thomas Kuhn writes that our experiences and knowledge act as a physiological filter, that we see the world through our own paradigms. Data and information exist that does not fit into our paradigm, so we filter the information to fit. That which is visible and obvious to one person with one paradigm will be invisible to another person with a different paradigm. As the old saying goes: There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are the people who wonder what happened.

How do you make sure you are in the first group? Acknowledge that paradigms exist. Realize that others may have the answer to the problem with which you are currently struggling. Work to change your paradigms by encouraging and accepting new ideas. Understand that just because someone does not understand all the technical details of your job, it does not mean they could not contribute significant ideas and concepts for you to find your next solution or change your paradigms.