Don't wait in line for coffee: How to know where the business opportunity is | The American Ceramic Society

Don’t wait in line for coffee: How to know where the business opportunity is

There are two ways to guess what the future holds: Gaze into the crystal ball or find a guide who knows the terrain. Credit: ACerS.

At my office we have a large, glass crystal ball. It is a stunning and beautiful piece. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could invite ACerS members to gaze into it and see what the future holds? Unfortunately, gazing into this ball, one sees nothing—no crystallites, no seeds, no future—just a testament to the beauty of vitrified silica.

The great Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzkey, when asked the secret to his success, replied famously, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.”

How do you know where the puck of your world is going to be? Sometimes it’s not so easy to see the opportunity. Getting caught in crowded marketplace might make it hard to see the open opportunity. For example, I was at a conference last week and attended the networking breakfast. Those of you who read my stories know that I love a good cup of coffee (and was a big part of why I went to the breakfast event).

Wait in line for coffee? I don't think so!

Wait in line for coffee? I don't think so!

Here is the first coffee station I saw. Can you see the line? (Just moments earlier, it was much longer.) I’m not one to wait in line, so I turned around to see whether I was going to have to get in that line… or, I hoped, perhaps there was a better coffee opportunity elsewhere. And, sure enough, there was. No line, three open coffee urns, and it turns out, an attendant who helped me assemble the cup, cardboard sleeve and lid.

Why were people willing to delay achieving their goal—coffee—when there was an opportunity for instant results?

I think, in part, it was because the event was crowded so line-of-sight was impaired. I have the advantage of being tall and can see farther into a crowd. Also, I was moving around and could see where the crowd was thin.

Much better.

Much better.

In the business world, there are lots opportunities, but the field can look crowded, depending on your vantage. How do you see beyond where you are to find the open opportunity? Is there a “tall person” who can scope out the terrain for you? Is there a way to “move around” the space you operate in and see where the open opportunities are?

Plenary speakers at a large meeting like MS&T’12 serve as our “tall friends” in the crowd. And, they have learned how to get to where the puck is going to be.

The three plenary speakers lined up for MS&T’12 in October are certainly tall, coming from Ford Motor Company, 3M and GE. These companies are hugely successful. But they’ve had their tough times and don’t take success for granted. They are constantly looking for the next opportunity—the next place the puck is going to be, the location of the open coffee stand.

The speakers—Matthew J. Zaluzec from Ford, Luana Iorio from GE and Terry Smith from 3M—will describe how their companies are developing advanced engineered materials to strategically gain the competitive edge. They will focus on contemporary issues that affect all of us, whether you are an industry giant, academic or start-up, such as advanced manufacturing, product design, sustainability and green products. They will look at the business climate and address issues that include raw material sourcing and costs, changing regulation requirements and business intelligence.

They will also talk about some of the tools they are using—the “skates and stick,” if you will—to see through the clutter and get to the puck. These are tools like computational approaches to developing materials and modeling manufacturing processes, approaches to innovation and even communication strategies.

Be sure, too, to visit the MS&T’11 Exposition on Tuesday and Wednesday. The exhibitors—businessfolk themselves—will be there to help you find solutions to navigate your way to success in your business.

MS&T is October 7–11, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pa. The plenary session will be Monday, Oct. 8, starting at 8:00 a.m. There will be a moderated Q&A panel discussion afterward, so think about what the obstacles are that you need to muscle past and help you see the clear pathway to the puck. Or maybe the coffee.

Full details about the plenary sessions and the technical program are on the website.

Here are the titles for the plenary talks. You can find the abstracts online.

Matthew J. Zaluzec
Senior Technical Leader and Manager of Global Materials & Manufacturing Research
Ford Motor Company’s Research & Innovation Center

“Computational Materials and Manufacturing: Delivering smarter, green, safe and quality material systems for automotive applications”

Luana Iorio
Technology Leader—Manufacturing Technologies
GE Global Research

“Innovation through Integration of Product Design, Materials and Manufacturing Development”

Terry P. Smith
Technical Director
3M Corporate Research Materials Laboratory

“Strategies for Materials Science Innovation at 3M”