The Creative Inventor: You, Recession-Proof

What can I do in a recession?

Typically, a recession starts in the minds of the public. For whatever reason, people feel insecure about the current state of an economy and start limiting their spending. I'm not saying that being conservative is an evil thing - it is what it is - and I practice being conservative every day of every year.

The problem is that everyone becomes nervous about the state of the economy and starts sharply limiting their spending. If enough people do this, deeply enough, then we have a recession. I understand that the financial institutions have played a major part in this current crisis and there's little that we can do until the economy is righted.

Let's take this to a personal level. When we see a recession coming or in effect, we stop trying to not only live life as usual, but we also pull back in areas of business. I personally have done this in the past, taking one of two paths each time. The first path is to continue business as usual. I've found that this is a great way to lose lots of money. The second path is to take prudent steps to limit a business's costs, either through layoffs, plant closings, or to simply cut way back on spending.

Either path leads to what I call "recession depression." The mind simply cannot foresee the future, so we stop dead in our tracks. We stop trying to make things better, waiting for others to lead us out of our situation. This is one reason why recovery from recessions takes so long. It's a long way back to what we consider normal.

Unfortunately, in the last couple of recessions, we have lost ground, because when the economy improves, we go back to our same ways of doing things. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things while expecting a different result. By that definition, most of us just might be candidates for commitment!

Just before the last recession, engineering was just warming up to progressive three-dimensional design. Many were poised to take the plunge into 3D, with not only training, but also trying to reinvent their own companies' ways of doing business. When the recession became apparent, they made decisions to continue to do business as usual, instead of seeing the "off time" as an opportunity to regroup and change the operating paradigm.

When the economy improved, there was no time or staff available to take that plunge into 3D - trained and ready to embrace a new way of doing things. Their staff had been decimated to a survival level and they had continued to do design in the same way they had in the 1980s and 1990s. There was no longer any time to get trained, work out new design workflows and filing systems, no time to establish modern standards in their design processes. After 2002 dragged into 2003, the economy started improving rapidly, leaving no time to actually accomplish their design modernization.

We are about to do exactly the same thing again. Because there is no business or very little business coming in right now, companies are ignoring one area where they can upgrade their technology and develop much better and more profitable workflows. Software purchases have been put on hold, training budgets eliminated, staff disenchanted, because companies (mine included) in the past were too shortsighted to realize that recessions never last.

What can I do as a manager?

If you are a manager, it's time to look at things much differently. As a manager, you have a responsibility to look out for your company's best interest. We all complain about costs. One effort in the past 10 years has been an attempt to reduce costs by outsourcing. Has it really reduced your costs? Or have you seen that the problems have just been "hidden" by closing your eyes and believing that because you can't see the problems, they no longer exist? Time for a change.

If you're a responsible manager, you need to take this time to investigate new ways to make your design department far more efficient than it has ever been before. Here are a few ideas that will help point you in the right direction.

  • Moving from 2D to 3D may have helped you reduce design and prototyping costs significantly. However, you may not be communicating to other areas of your company as efficiently as possible.
  • If your company has not completely made the move to modern software and techniques (3D), then it is time to make a change for the better.
  • Have you automated your purchasing by linking to bill materials within Autodesk Inventor?
  • Have you reduced remake of components and engineering change orders by establishing firm standards for design, while communicating those standards to the machine shop?
  • Have you fully embraced the concept of digital prototyping?
  • Have you developed a logical and workable file naming and data management process?
  • Have you embraced new drafting standards or are you still using the old "company standards?"
  • Many companies are using their own standards that they've developed over the last 40 or so years, completely unwilling to investigate international standards and the cost-reducing benefits of standardization.
  • It is difficult to outsource machining when needed if you spend countless hours working with your vendor to ensure the manufacture of quality components. It not only improves quality in communication with outside vendors, but will have the same effect with your own internal production.
  • Finally, is your design team on board with manufacturing, looking at ways to reduce costs of producing components? How a part is designed has great bearing on the cost to manufacture.

I'm just a user. What can I do?

There's an old saying: "Either lead, follow, or get out of the way." This blunt statement may very well indicate your particular state of employment. In a recession, leaders know their jobs well, are efficient in performing their tasks, and contribute to the gross profit of the company. They are also enthusiastic and ready to learn new things.

A follower can be just as valuable to a company. The follower happily accepts change, learns new things, and is ready and able to tackle tasks. Followers are able to multitask, often accepting additional job responsibilities due to the recession. They've taken the initiative to get trained when their company has been unable to budget for any education. Training is a valuable asset that will benefit you in your current job or in any other company where you wish to work.

In my own web-based training classes, I've seen a distinct increase in the number of people seeking training since the first of this year. I've attempted to assist people in their desire to be trained by offering low-cost training classes payable in installments. Doing this helps me fill classes and helps users by providing a financing method acceptable in these times.

Users are eager to learn more about Inventor, even more so than in past times. I've seen a nearly 400 percent increase in subscriptions to my free Creative Inventor newsletter at website since the first of the year. That should tell you something.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is this: Make yourself valuable to your company so that you will not be pushed "...out of the way." Be as productive as you possibly can, be optimistic and energetic - on the job and off. This recession will end, as all do. The big question is "Will we return to the old ways of doing things, or will we change for the better?"

Please post your comments and ideas on this subject by picking the Discuss This! button at the bottom of this article. I'm very interested in any comments or ideas from the readers. Let's turn this article into a creative session where we can express ideas on just how to get back on track again!

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