Is anything a surprise?

This week I had a conversation with my teenage daughter about how much she’d saved from her monthly allowance for Christmas. Well, it turned out that December had come around too quickly for her and now – shock, horror! – she had no money to buy Christmas presents at all. Was I surprised? No, not really, which made me wonder how many things in business are actually that surprising either.
In February 2010 we had some problems with stock arriving from our Asian factories, which we blamed on the Lunar New Year. A year later we had similar problems, this time due to bad weather closing the ports where our containers arrive. When we took a step back we realised that both events should not have been a surprise to us at all. Bad weather in winter and an annual holiday, widely celebrated across Asia, are in fact events that we can expect and plan for. We now increase our stock around this time and allow extra days for containers to arrive.

Something else that shouldn’t have been surprising was when I was recently asked how we had managed to grow our business in the last few years. I explained that we had made a point of looking after and speaking to our current customers to find out what they really wanted from us, as well as visiting and speaking with more new potential customers than ever before. My acquaintance was quite taken aback at my simple reply. It turned out that their business had not spoken to many new companies and the number of new customers they had was very small – so to me it was not surprising they hadn’t opened many new accounts.

On the production side, our new manufacturing manager has started with improving efficiency. He reminded the team of Forumla 1 racing where everyone in the pit is expecting the car to arrive and has all the parts and equipment ready to go. We know when a machine will finish a production run and should have all the materials ready for the next one. Not being surprised when a machine stops saves as much as 10 minutes per working day. That’s 36 more production hours per year!

In light of these examples, I’ve now made it my mission to reconsider everything that usually surprises me and ask, ‘Is it really that surprising?’ Or ‘Could I have planned better?’

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