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Is our society about to collapse?

With wars and supply chain chaos dominating the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that. And indeed, media and scholars have been speculating that today’s advanced, complex, globally interconnected societies could collapse any day now – or maybe shatter tomorrow or in a few decades. (NPR reported on this in 2014, the BBC in 2017 and The New York Times Magazine in 2020.)

It’s true that global supply chains have undergone massive and continuing Disruptions, creating Tipping Points that have moved us into a new paradigm – from Assumed Certainty to Known Uncertainty.

However, unlike, say, the Bronze Age disintegration of civilizations in 1177, when “global” supply chains that spanned from Greece and Egypt to Afghanistan collapsed, our age has 2 key factors for survival.

  1. Digital Supply Networks
  2. Optionality

Digital Supply Networks (see Chapter 9 of my latest book, Insightful Leadership: Surfing the Waves to Organizational Excellence), combine artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud computing to bring visibility and actionability to your end-to-end supply chains.

Optionality can be used from a design perspective (searching for a solution that will operate over a greater range of alternative operations requirements) or a strategy perspective (examining paths forward for multiple strategies.)

If we can’t get electronics from China, the ASEAN nations are options. Apparel and clothing? Tompkins Ventures research has found that South America, especially Brazil, has capacity to produce shoes and clothing. Cotton and clean, low-sulfur coal can come from Africa. No grain from Ukraine? Well, South America, especially Brazil, produces a lot of grain.

We have options. Yes, in some places the ports, railroads, and highways are not as advanced, but they weren’t that advanced in the Far East 30 years ago. Transforming supply chains worldwide will be a yearslong process.

However, with such transformations, supply chain practitioners, often the whipping boys of the last few years, could save the world, despite media and academic prognostications.