Strive For Reinvention, Not Resolution

December 22, 2006
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Somewhere among us, someone this week will make a resolution to “lose 20 pounds.” Or perhaps the abstract equivalent, to simply “get in shape.” It’s certain that an equal number will resolve to quit smoking, spend a little less money or start going to bed a bit earlier.

Similar resolutions will emerge from executive chambers at businesses large and small, with calls to “get lean,” “cut costs” and “improve service.” For both West Michigan residents and companies, achieving these goals is only possible with dedication and a significant investment. Look at the latest news from West Michigan icon Steelcase Inc., now a robust and profitable company — the past quarter was its most profitable since the dot-com bust. The strength of the company today came at a great cost to its work force, profitability and community goodwill. It continues to pay for that restructuring, as well, including $5.2 million in the latest quarter.

Herman Miller Inc. envisions a bolder reinvention for itself and has been remarkably successful in doing so, posting its highest earnings per share ever in its latest quarter. The company said last year it hoped to double its business by 2010, and would have to outpace the industry to do so. Another local firm, Wolverine World Wide, announced a similar goal, with intentions of “transforming from a leading multi-branded global footwear business into a leading multi-branded global footwear, apparel and accessories business.”

The most notable aspects of the changes at companies such as Steelcase, Wolverine and Herman Miller, or, for that matter, Alticor, Delphi Corp. and the Big Three automakers, is that each approached, or is approaching, its goals as part of a larger transformation: to be something wholly different when it reaches the other side.

On an individual level, this would be wise to emulate. Do not make a resolution to be less fat or less in debt with the hope of being just a bit happier. Instead, we should figure out who it is we want to be — what will make us healthy and happy people — and set out to do that.

Resolutions so often result in disappointment because the resolve does not influence a change. Usually, the intention is to reverse a change that has long been underway. This is a fine analogy for the state of Michigan today. Nearly every economist in the state has proclaimed that manufacturing as we know it today is at an end. Local economist George Erickcek needn’t even have changed his slides at his recent West Michigan economic outlook presentation.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell knew this. He entered this year on a campaign to help transform West Michigan for the “new economy,” with taskforces and hopes for knowledge-industry tax breaks. But, as so many resolutions meet their ends, he became distracted by other matters, forgoing his earlier efforts to concentrate on the social concerns of special interest groups.

The theme of this week’s Year In Review is one of mystery, and while this largely alludes to the intrigue on the Medical Mile and the now clichéd “mystery development,” the larger mystery is what will be the identity of the region and state when the new economy is no longer new. With any luck, this community’s reinvention will be every bit as successful as its reinvigorated companies. 

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