Truth is I doubt my opinions and beliefs on what the future holds for additive manufacturing (AM). The doubt doesn’t arise from a lack of confidence nor from a lack of conviction. Instead, it arises because there are many possible realities when it comes the future. The alternate realities are each based on a set of facts, nuances, caveats and details that must themselves become real. Not knowing exactly how these pieces of the puzzle will come together, it makes little sense to be overly confident and to not re-evaluate my beliefs frequently.
The most common situation that causes me to reassess what I hold to be true is when I join the audience to hear what a keynote speaker has on her mind. Coming from a pragmatic position, the though-provoking commentary often disagrees with my thoughts. This causes me to pause and to contemplate what she knows that I do not. Surprisingly, follow-up conversations often reveal that while our predictions are drastically different, our facts are not. Instead, it is our interpretation of the facts coupled with the underlying assumptions that leads to disparate conclusions.
A few weeks ago, this situation played out once again. An informed keynote speaker from a large corporation, one firmly rooted in technology, clearly and enthusiastically laid out the future of manufacturing. AM was a key to this future and one that she stated would profoundly impact all companies. She advised preparation for the big changes that were coming, changes that would fundamentally alter manufacturing strategies, plans, actions and control. I stepped up on the stage after her presentation and delivered my message: sweeping change is possible but not probable without significant developments.
Lingering in my head as I presented was the voice questioning if I was wrong. The keynote speaker had no hidden agenda and nothing to sell to those that believed her words. Her motivation was pure, which furthered my doubts. So I made it my mission to chat with her, to compare notes, and to discover where my blind spots existed.
Pleasant, approachable and open minded, she engaged with me in a 90-minute conversation. Our dialogue was exhilarating, challenging and, most importantly, productive. When we ended our discourse, neither of us had changed our opinions of AM’s future, but each of us understood the underlying tenets that lead to our conclusions. I found that our thoughts were not that different. Instead, our assumptions about how the pieces of the puzzle would come together were the cause of the divergence.
Through the conversation, and others like it, I discovered how we could devise alternate realities while sharing many beliefs. Simply stated, the devil is in the details, and that is the crux of my message to you. To understand how AM can help or harm you in the years to come, you must understand the planks that support the opinion or forecast. Don’t accept others’ positions without first appreciating the details and caveats on which the premise is made.
Start by being receptive to ideas that appear to be contradictory, treating each as a possible reality. Then dig in to discover the details that are fundamental to the possibility becoming a reality. Next, determine which of these details are pertinent to your business and then distill this list to the five or so critical elements. Armed with this insight, investigate the current state of each element and the probability of change. Now, you can come to your own personal conclusion, not those of a few pundits, as to what role AM will play and what you need to do to get the most out of it.
What the future holds, and how to plan for it, that is up to you to decide. Rick Riordan, a bestselling American author said, “It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.” Don’t get caught up in another’s reality; determine your own. And remember, according to John Lennon, “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”