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Jul 24, 201812:47 PMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Addressing the challenges facing Wisconsin manufacturers

(page 1 of 2)

My work takes me to interesting places. A couple weeks ago it was UW–Milwaukee and the chancellor’s office, where Mark Mone convened an Industry 4.0 group focused on an ongoing effort to engage Wisconsin manufacturers around the forces transforming industry. It was a spirited conversation about a complex issue with important implications for Wisconsin’s future. We didn’t come up with many clear answers, just the start of a small path forward.

The experience got me to thinking about the dozens of important issues facing us. Almost all of them are complex and interrelated. Wisconsin has broad exposure — my list included a couple dozen critical topics. As I looked at that list, I realized very few could be solved by one person, or even one organization. Exponential change drives complexity and speed, creating a new paradox where expertise becomes vital, but experts are less important. It’s very difficult to identify all the issues and then understand the key perspectives around each one. Of course, creating solutions is another tough task.

Yet, engagement around the issues is vital to keep Wisconsin vibrant across several fronts:

  • Economic — making all of our companies competitive;
  • Educational — fully employing our universities and technical colleges while developing future students to push our success to new frontiers;
  • Societal — creating true opportunities for all;
  • Rural Development — establishing the strategies and infrastructure necessary for our smaller communities to flourish; and
  • Environmental — preserving our natural resources and their abiding beauty.

I’m sure there are other categories. Still, these alone represent a sizable challenge.

Think about how many critical issues touch multiple categories on the list above. That interconnection makes them more complex and there just aren’t enough resources to address them individually. In addition, these issues evolve and morph as we learn more and expand our horizons. They affect everyone (including us), so it makes sense for all of us to lend a hand. Shouting at each other rarely works and avoidance never does. Personal engagement is not optional.

Again, no single person or organization can address even one of these issues by themselves. There are not enough resources. Too many are interconnected and require diverse solutions. Finally, there are no quick solutions. Persistence and focus become key ingredients of any approach.

Add to the mix the paradox created by exponential change between experts and expertise. Expertise becomes vitally important because you need the best thinking, fueled by facts, to address complex issues. The paradox develops as guides become much more important than experts. Guides can find experts with the right expertise for most situations and then fit that expertise into the bigger picture. In this new scenario, solutions become adventures and the focus of collaborative efforts, rather than destinations and singular answers. Journeys require guides. Snake bites along the way require experts.


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About This Blog

Buckley Brinkman is executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity and writes about the manufacturing sector in Greater Madison and throughout Wisconsin. He has a breadth of experience in helping companies drive growth, world-class competitiveness, and performance excellence, and has led efforts to save dozens of operations in the U.S. by finding new ways for them to compete. A Wisconsin native, Brinkman holds a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.



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