When I spoke at the recent IndustryWeek Manufacturing Expo and Conference in Cleveland, the experience was not at all what I expected. The pristine Hilton and attached, state-of-the-art convention center set the stage for enthusiastic interactions between business owners, thought leaders, and mavericks, who were all exploring how to be successful members of the manufacturing industry in a way I hadn’t seen before.
The future as a canvas for possibility ..
It was the tenor of the conversation that struck me as different. Usually these events emphasize proven methodologies, tactical tools and ready-to-deploy solutions all dealing with artifacts of the present. However, the atmosphere at this event was all about the future – what it might be like and how to invest to prepare for it. These conversations weren’t fueled by fear of some dystopian future, either. They were filled with possibility.
Technology as an enabler of creativity
Technology was a big topic, of course. However, these discussions were framed not as a better way of doing what people are already doing. They focused on how the technology can provide a foundation to invent and create things not seen before.
For example, representatives from GE and Intel talked about how they are using augmented reality to enable new relationships between teams of people, individuals and their work. They encouraged the audience to imagine when robots and technology replace repeatable, dangerous and arduous work, what could that free peoples’ time and imaginations to create instead?
“The path to a bigger future in the manufacturing space is one of purpose, not just profits.”
The human spirit as a foundation for a future with a purpose
It was clear that many leaders have realized that being able to make a great product is not enough of a story to stand out in a marketplace. Steve Blue shared how he led his company, Miller Ingenuity, on a courageous journey from making “dumb metal” to being one of the leaders in railroad safety. He described how once his company became about something bigger than the products they make, everything began to change for the better.
The talk Brett Green, President of Willington Nameplate, and I gave focused on mastering the millennial workforce. We discussed the concept that all of us want to matter, to work on things that are meaningful, and to see the difference our work makes in the world. We also highlighted then when leaders provide this type of meaning to their teams, they establish the foundation to create a deeply engaged and inspired workforce, regardless of generation.
Context and meaning
Now that access to information is no longer the challenge, the search for context and meaning is the new frontier. This event was an amazing example of the openness and courage required to take on that kind of search. And one overarching theme from the event was clear: the path to a bigger future in the manufacturing space is one driven by purpose, not just profits.
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