When I was a kid, my mom used to ask me, "So what did you learn in school today that you didn't know yesterday?" Of course, being a kid, my immediate response was usually, "I dunno," but Mom wouldn't settle for that, and if I wanted an after-school snack I needed a more profound answer. So I learned to come up with at least one new nugget per day, even if it wasn't life-altering information. In grade school, it might be something as mundane as, "I learned that Billy down the street has chicken pox," but as I got older and more curious about how the world works, I might offer, "I learned that President Ford plans to Whip Inflation Now." It's probably no accident that I ended up a journalist, whchild in classroomere my job is to report on stuff people might not know about or fully understand.
Looking back over the past year, there are certainly many things I learned in 2014 that I didn't know much about before. In the interests of clearing out my notebook as we get ready to ring in the new year, here are some of the more noteworthy "Gee, that's something I didn't know before" items from the past year:
- China is now the world's largest economy, at least according to one benchmark calculated by the International Monetary Fund. The country has more e-shoppers (400 million) than the United States has people (320 million), according to Michael Zakkour, principal of Tompkins International and co-author of China's Super Consumers: What 1 Billion Customers Want and How to Sell it to Them (Wiley, 2014). And as Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins International, alerted us to months before the mainstream media caught on, online retailer Alibaba is growing so quickly that it could well surpass every other retailer—including Walmart—by 2015.
- Before you get too depressed about China, though, consider the words of Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Analytics: "The U.S. banking system is in as good a shape as it's been in since the 1930s. And the United States is still the biggest contributor to global GDP growth."
- While Amazon got a lot of publicity when it announced its plans for a fleet of delivery drones, companies overseas in places like Germany are already doing this in limited ways, such as delivering critical medical supplies.
- Did you know that two-thirds of the world's population still does not have access to the Internet? (Of course, that could be the least of their problems since one out of every nine people on the planet don't have access to clean drinking water, either.) GoogleX's Project Loon is exploring the idea of using networked weather balloon-like devices that can provide Internet service to the remotest areas of the world. The idea has already been tested in New Zealand, and GoogleX's short-term goal is to focus on the southern hemisphere.
- The shortage of truck drivers in this country has become so acute that we've reached the point where "more truck drivers are leaving the business than are coming into it," says Penske Logistics' Joe Carlier.
- Just as alarming, in a different kind of way, is the current state of ocean shipping. According to Rosalyn Wilson, author of the annual State of Logistics Report, the one thing that supply chains depend on is reliability, but "we've lost the ability to rely on ocean carriers for on-time delivery."
- While the Millennial generation currently accounts for 36% of the U.S. workforce, by 2025 that percentage will rise to 75% of the global workforce, points out Colgate-Palmolive's Linda Topping. When you also factor in that the number of supply chain jobs to be filled will rise by 25% over the next decade, you've got a pretty good idea of where to look to find a lot of those people. If you don't already have a talent management initiative underway at your company, the best advice is: Start one… now.
I've really only touched on a small sampling of some of the most interesting things I learned in 2014, and in 2015 we here at MH&L will continue to not only offer up news and information of relevance to the industry, but most importantly, real-world solutions that will help you build and manage world-class supply chains.
Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.