The next manufacturing goal is within our reach


It is called football in a myriad of local languages by the rest of the world, while Americans call it soccer. This is typical of Americans; the rest of the world had football before we had our game called football, which is not much like the game the rest of the world calls football. For one thing, our football very rarely uses the foot.

We call it soccer, but by any name, when the 2014 World Cup kicked off in Brazil, we Americans were there by the millions in front of our TV sets, gathered in our local watering holes, in public viewing places, and in airport lounges. There it was on the front page of our newspapers and the lead story on our news websites, and there it was crashing the streaming Website ESPN had set up for mobile viewing. Even though 19 World Cups have preceded it, the U.S. sports fan, and even the casual fan of sports, embraced the 2014 World Cup.

Maybe this time its popularity was because the event was roughly in the same time zone as we are and we didn’t have to wake up at 8 a.m. or stay up until 2 a.m. to watch the games. Maybe it was because the U.S. team was given a reasonable chance to advance in the tournament, and Americans don’t follow sports we don’t have a reasonable chance to perform well in (i.e., the biathlon, cross-country skiing, and most marathons in the last 30 years).

Whatever the reason, we caught World Cup fever, and this time, it may not just be a passing infatuation. Even though the U.S. bowed out in the round of 16 to Belgium on July 1, the fervor over who would win the final continued past that date. More people in the U.S. watched that U.S.-Belgium match than watched any game in the 2014 NBA Finals between Miami and San Antonio or any 2013 World Series game between Boston and St. Louis.

One illusion at the World Cup is that this is what soccer looks like around the world. Not every soccer field is the finely manicured pitch that greeted the players in Brazil. In many places the field has no grass at all; it’s just a barren patch of dirt. Many times it isn’t grass or dirt, but the gravel or pavement of an inner city street. The shoes, if the players have shoes, don’t have swooshes or stripes. And if they don’t have shoes, they play without them. But the goal is the same.

One world; one goal. It’s easy for us to lose sight of this simple idea in a world where few things seem that simple. But in soccer and in manufacturing, it is that simple. We have one world in manufacturing; one shrinking, interconnected, and increasingly complicated world. We have one goal: great manufacturing output, produced with high efficiency and high quality. No matter the size of your operation or its location, the goal is the same.

In the iconic American sports movie “Hoosiers,” the small-town Indiana basketball coach played by Gene Hackman takes his team into Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University in Indianapolis for the state finals. As the players look in awe at an arena that seats more people than live in their town, Hackman’s character pulls out a tape measure and reminds his team that the baskets are still 10 ft off the ground, that the free-throw line is still 15 ft away. He reminds them that no matter where they are, the game is the same.

As the World Cup showed us, the margin between success and failure often is tiny, almost imperceptible. In four World Cup games, the U.S. scored five goals and still were just one goal away from a berth in the quarterfinals. Costa Rica scored five goals in five games, and just two in its final four games, and still almost made the semifinals.

Success is measured in different ways. For the U.S. team, it was that they were competitive on the global World Cup stage, that they had gained respect as a potential global soccer power. It is worth noting that their coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, is a German native whose country has won three World Cup titles. Klinsmann was brought in to help the U.S. national team raise its game to the level of the rest of the world. We can learn from the success of others.

There are many ways to get to the next goal in manufacturing. There is not a single path to manufacturing excellence. But there are best practices, things all good manufacturers measure and manage. It is the fundamentals, practiced and refined and perfected every day, that lead a team, any team, toward the opportunity to be successful.

As it will be for the U.S. national team in soccer, the next goal for manufacturers is to improve on this year’s success. The next goal is within our reach. 

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