Pendulum Swings Like a Pendulum Do

June 1, 2003
Elsewhere in this issue youll read stories focused on what we editors have discovered regarding the current state of the material handling industry so

Elsewhere in this issue you’ll read stories focused on what we editors have discovered regarding the current state of the material handling industry — so far. It’s a mid-year report.

While talking with manufactures and users of transport packaging material, a word, or phrase kept recurring with enough frequency that I felt it needed some exploration and explanation. That word was pendulum, as in, “The pendulum of business swings, and we’re just passing through the low point. That’s all.”

Words to that affect. We’ve all used them. Have you thought about that analogy? As a wordsmith, it’s my job to think about analogies and whether they actually apply to a given situation. You don’t have to thank me.

There’s an assumption, when we use this pendulum analogy, that we’re standing still while all this back and forth, up and down stuff is happening around us. If you’re standing around, watching and waiting for the pendulum of the economy to swing back in your favor, my advice is to duck! You’re going to get hit and won’t even see it coming.

If you don’t get hit by this metaphorical Slice-N-Dice machine, the alternative will be that the pendulum has moved on and you’re watching things get better from a distance. As in, you missed the bus.

A free-flowing economy, however, does not stand still. Nor does it swing through the same arc. Just as history does not repeat itself, our economy, the perilous pendulum in this exercise, moves forward and backward as it describes its scimitar-like arc.

There’s a phenomenon in probability theory that I think is more descriptive of the economy than the pendulum — and by association, the transport packaging facet of material handling. It’s called the Drunkard’s Walk. Loosely translated, I’d describe it this way: Because of the physical properties of the human physique, and our propensity to move in the same direction our eyes and feet are pointed, a staggering drunkard has a slightly higher probability of moving forward than backward. So, on average, he’ll make progress. The progress, however, is not steady because on any given step, he might move backward instead of forward.

So, what’s the probability of our drunkard, or economy, remaining in the same place — meaning, he’ll take as many steps backward as forward? Not likely. As I said, the human body, regardless of its intoxicated state, is designed to move forward. So it is with the economy.

After talking with various packaging professionals, I’m convinced, they, too, have their eyes — and feet pointed in the direction of recovery and success. There is a palletload of pent-up emotions, stacked with impatience and frustration, to get this economy moving forward.

I think we’re frustrated because we did not fully understand the rules of behavior while we were living in Gravyland, as song writer John Gorka describes the waning years of the last century.

I’d like to swing back to the pendulum analogy for a moment. It fits well with another analogy that crept into several conversations I had with packaging professionals. The ubiquitous supply chain. This might come as a blinding flash of the obvious: It’s not a chain. It’s a web. It’s a tightly woven web of expectations. And as that pendulum of economic uncertainty slices through your profits and dreams, it severs tenuous web-like filaments, connections you have with trading partners, customers and co-workers.

Now, on the cusp of recovery, is the time to repair, renew and recognize new affiliations — not wait for something to happen. Will Rogers was incorrect when he advised buy land because they weren’t making any more of it. We are making more. Just check the local landfill. What we are not making more of is the thing we waste most — time.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor [email protected]