Industrial blitzkrieg

Milliken.  Wonderful article in today’s Wall St. J. about how the old line textile manufacturer, Milliken & Co., in Spartenburg SC has used the principles of lean / maneuver warfare to thrive against global competition. OK, they don’t call it “maneuver warfare”, but read the article and see what you think (subscription to the WSJ required).  This is no coincidence: the late Roger Milliken was a keen student of Tom Peters, who was influenced by John Boyd.

The basic idea, which applies to any form of human conflict, is to get everybody in the organization to use their creativity and initiative to achieve the goals of the organization. Boyd’s FESA climate is designed to do just that. But it takes a lot of effort to build the culture where this climate can operate. For example: “A common outlook possessed by “a body of officers” represents a unifying theme that can be used to simultaneously encourage subordinate initiative yet realize superior intent.” (Patterns, 74)

Apparently, Milliken has gone through this process over the years and built an effective climate. As Boyd insisted in Conceptual Spiral, the driving force must be the creation and exploitation of novelty — before competitors can understand what you’re doing and before customers get tired and go somewhere else.

Not all their ideas work, of course. Roger Milliken was an ardent protectionist for many years and spent a lot of money trying to erect and maintain barriers to foreign competition. Fortunately, though, he didn’t bet the company on this version of the Maginot Line.

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