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Some of the developments foreseen by Aldous Huxley in his classic 1932 novel have come to pass, but others haven't. Rocky Newman, professor of supply chain management at Miami University's Farmer School of Business, says that some of the things that Huxley got wrong have a direct bearing on the structure of global supply chains today.
How is the classic Huxley novel relevant to supply-chain management? Mostly in its depiction of how not to build a supply chain, Newman suggests. Huxley imagines, not without tongue in cheek, a future religion built around the pioneering automotive tycoon Henry Ford. But Ford's wildly popular Model T was distinguished by its lack of choices for the consumer. There was but one design and one color: black. The rigidity of that marketing strategy guaranteed that assembly of the cars would be a relatively simple matter. Ford could own the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished product.
But what happens when the consumer wants more? Successful supply chains today need to accommodate a huge number of variations on a given product. The dominant makers of cars, computers and furniture, to name but a few industries, have managed to customize their products to satisfy the individual consumer. A whole new universe of suppliers, existing on multiple tiers, must be brought to bear on the problem. That's today's "brave new world" of supply chain.
A modern-day supply chain can't be built on the notion of "one size fits all," says Newman. "It comes down to how we view the term complexity." The success or failure of just about any product relies on relationships between players in the chain - their ability to communicate, collaborate, and move product toward its ultimate destination in as seamless a fashion as possible. Most of all, says Newman, companies need to address the delays and buffer inventory that tend to occur in those many hand-offs.
Huxley was prescient about some developments, including genetic engineering, cloning, in vitro fertilization, intercontinental jet travel and the dominance of radio and television. The biggest thing he failed to foresee, Newman believes, was the explosion of innovation caused by computer and telecommunications technology, and its impact on global business. "He didn't get everything right," he says.
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