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Make Costs Breakthroughs by Visiting Other Countries to See How People There Do What You Do

Feb 1, 2008
Someone once said that civilization is merely mass hypnosis to convince us to do all kinds of silly, cooperative things that make us feel connected to one another. From that perspective, much of what seems "necessary" really isn't. If you can find a country where the cultural assumptions are different, your eyes may be opened to vast opportunities to eliminate the unnecessary.

Visit Japan, for example, and you will be struck by the way that fashion plays a large role in decisions. Red cars are in when you arrive . . . until you begin to notice new white cars everywhere. Seemingly overnight, the vehicle hues change to match the demand for a new look.

Knowing this, Japanese manufacturers realize that their vehicles in Japan will be driven off the road by fashion before mechanical obsolescence can take place. From that observation, Japanese companies became adept at estimating how long drivers will choose to let their vehicles stay on the road and setting their technical requirements for durability to match that fashion-reduced life.

Designs don't have to be as robust for such shorter-term durability. As a result, lighter, cheaper materials and assemblies can be employed that will work just fine for the fashion-limited road life.

By comparison, an American engineer in Detroit planning a new SUV for the U.S. market will start out by assuming that some of the vehicles will be driven for hundreds of thousands of miles over 20 years. The design and equipment will reflect that potentially longer operating life . . . and be much more expensive even though few purchasers will benefit from that longer potential product life.

Those who set specifications for such vehicles in the United States who want to compete with Japanese companies should visit Japan and think about what they see in terms of road life.

An equally revealing trip could be made to a country where gasoline prices are very high. Some countries impose very high taxes on petroleum and gasoline to discourage imports. When you see the vehicles in those countries, you find that they are lighter and smaller, and have engines that are marvels of fuel-burning efficiency. In a sense, such a trip gives you a time machine look into a future when gasoline prices are much higher everywhere. The resulting vehicle designs from such a country can usefully expand the perspective of the U.S. vehicle designer.

If you decide to visit another organization's operations, it's a good idea to do your homework first. From our experience with such site visits, we've learned that someone has to validate that the organization has an advanced practice that's worth examining.

But without proper preparation, what you see may not make sense. Arrange for someone with experience in the subject area to coordinate with the host to design a meaningful visit and to brief you before the visit on what to watch out for. Let that person lead the group and ask probing questions during the visit. In that way, you'll also gain insights from what your leader learns.

Finally, ask your host to sit down while you provide feedback on what you feel you've learned. This feedback will encourage organizations to host your visits. In addition, they'll have an opportunity to straighten out any misunderstandings that you've developed.

In many cases you can gain insights from just visiting accounts served by competitors, going to different regions of your own country, and talking to people who don't use any of the industry's offerings about why they choose to do without. The lesson is that keeping your eyes and ears open isn't enough if you don't see and hear something different along the way.

Where can you go to find out about cost breakthroughs?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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