STOP and ask yourself, "Is what I am doing right now valuable to my customer?" Okay, you may not know until you get further into this article, but I hope you will glean at least one actionable, value-generating idea here that can benefit your customers.
So, here's my first shot at making this worth your while: Ask yourself that opening question. Ask it often. Ask it especially when it feels like the answer might be "no!" Ask it, and then take action. Stop doing things that do not add customer value. Challenge the status quo.
Voltaire, a pretty smart guy, once said: "One day everything will be well; that is our hope. Everything's fine today; that is our illusion."
It's just never true that everything is fine today. Someone — somewhere — is plotting to take your customers away from you. If you formulate feed, you have many opportunities to do your part to prevent that from happening because formulating feeds involves "what-if" scenarios: What if I raise that maximum or lower that minimum? What if I offer an alternative ingredient? What if I can think of a better way to serve this customer's needs?
As I write this final column for Feedstuffs — I am retiring after 36 years in the animal nutrition business — I like to think that I've challenged the status quo in a number of meaningful ways, but of course, I could have done more.
Still, it has been quite a ride. When I entered this industry as a research dairy nutritionist, I had a serviceable feed formulation program and a ration formulation program that definitely needed some work. One of my first projects was to "fix" the ration formulation software.
There were no desktop computers back then, so here's how my ration formulation software solution worked: A feed salesperson filled out a paper template with animal and feedstuff information. The form was snail-mailed to headquarters. A nutritionist edited the form and sent it to the data center. Computer cards were keypunched and fed into the mainframe computer. The next morning, the nutritionist received a faint, dot-matrix ration printout.
The first run was almost never a practical ration, so one or more rounds of tweaking followed, each accompanied by another overnight run. When a practical ration was finally achieved, it was snail-mailed to the salesperson, who would take it to the farm on a subsequent sales call. Voila! The dairy producer would have a computer-generated ration in only a couple of weeks or so!
Just think about how many challenges to that status quo have led us to where we are today.
After a lot of fits and starts with early-stage formulation solutions — as well as some annoying prodding by people like me who could be counted on to challenge the status quo — today's advanced formulation solutions bear no resemblance whatsoever to the arcane programs we used when I was getting started in the business. Instead, our diligence has paid off handsomely with the advent of sleek, intuitive, integrated solutions that work seamlessly with other operations programs and customer systems.
Are things perfect? Absolutely not. Do we set ambitious goals? Without a doubt. Mark my words, in the very near future, we can (and must) expect our formulation data to be served up to our portable devices in exactly the format and order we need to view them.
To function effectively in the formulation universe of the (near) future, we must be able to execute our what-if scenarios on our smartphones, in airports across the planet and get it all done in a fraction of the time it took just a few decades ago.
Thanks to lots of tech people and subject matter experts challenging the status quo, I now receive almost no snail-mail. I generate my own documents, get hundreds of emails and text-messages every week and attend virtual meetings from anywhere. I could go on, but you live in the same world I do — a world propelled forward at a sometimes dizzying rate of change.
As we continue to advance to the next formulation frontier, many around you will continually challenge the effectiveness and efficiency of technological programs designed to make their work easier and more effective, and although you may find these people irritating, remember this: It is because of them — because they relentlessly asked "why?" — that we have moved from piles of paper to digital domains.
In his now legendary 1962 speech on why America should explore space, President John F. Kennedy said to students at Rice University: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
A decade earlier, when explorer Sir Edmund Hillary was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, he famously replied, "Because it's there."
These two men tapped into one of the great motivators for human exploration: the desire to go beyond the horizon and discover something simply because we can.
While we may continue to struggle with formulation systems as they are today, it's important to understand that only through this continuous refinement, experimentation and exploration can we achieve formulation systems as we want them to be. Choosing, using and leveraging technology are critical to our industry's success.
Today, we live in an interconnected global food chain in which our formulation skills can have a profound impact on the ability to provide a safe and nutritious food supply to the world.
So, please, don't tolerate a dysfunctional status quo. Empower people to accomplish customer value-adding activities. Let them do their work without repressive rules and procedures.
Here's the trigger: Ask yourself sincerely and often, "Is what I'm doing right now adding any value for my customers?" If the answer is no, it's time to challenge the status quo.
Thank you all for providing me with a lifetime of opportunities to learn and explore in this industry that I love so much. I will enjoy watching your next conquest, and I wish all of you the very best.
*Dr. John Foley is the global portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems, focusing on feed formulation, ration formulation and related software solutions that enhance ingredient evaluation (including nutrient measurement) and the flow of essential nutrition and pricing data in the animal nutrition industries. Foley can be reached at email@example.com.