At Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, people talk in terms of the "As Is World" and the "To Be World" when referring to the status quo and the company of the future. For the airplane manufacturer, the phrases refer very specifically to a process improvement initiative started in 1993 called "DCAC/ MRM" for "Define and Control Airplane Configuration/Manufacturing Resource Management." Virtually everyone in the company is involved in this huge undertaking, in creating the "To Be World" from the "As Is World."
While the "DCAC/MRM" acronym evokes no flicker of response among non-Boeing employees, there is transformational magic for any business inherent in the shorthand terminology of "As Is" and "To Be." It serves as a reminder that the future is co-mingled with the present; that tomorrow is perpetually being created from the elements of today and that humans have much to do with the process.
In an industry such as trucking, where technological change is sometimes discussed in the language of tragic inevitability, it is an especially useful construct to keep in mind. Technological change (as opposed to things like the plague, middle age, tornadoes, or tent caterpillars, for instance) is the work of people. It is certainly at the very heart of trucking. What's more, it always has been.
Consider the earliest North American fleet owners, the people who operated wagon trains. Just like contemporary fleets, they were in a state of perpetual change, pushed on by the actions of forward-thinking leaders in the freight transportation business.
W.M.D. Lee, one of the most successful multi-state freighters of the late 1880s, for example, tried spec'ing wagons with wheels six inches higher than usual. The high-tech (literally) wagons were designed to keep cargo dry while fording the Arkansas River, thus saving the toll on the Dodge City Bridge. Was there gloomy talk of the inevitability of technological change around Lee's competitors' campfires? No doubt.
One hundred years later, it is easy to appreciate the part that visionaries and risk-takers like the ambitious Mr. Lee played in transforming the nation's earliest freight transportation business. It is much tougher, of course, to see your own company's role in creating the future, but it is important to try.
In his recent column for MIT's Technology Review (March/April 1998), Langdon Winner considers the consequences of viewing the future in terms of technological inevitabilities rather than choices: "Large segments of the population apparently believe that innovations simply pour from a bubbling volcano, giving shape to new ways of living as the lava cools," he observes. "The danger is that people who ought to be engaged in deciding how to use technology ... will abdicate their civic responsibility. Why, these people might wonder, should they waste their energy fighting the inevitable?"
Winner urges his readers to "reject the rhetoric of fatalism." After all, he notes, "Technological change is a sphere of contingency, negotiation, and conflict in which nothing is historically necessary ... >From the shaping of vast systems in telecommunications to the design of minute features on an emerging microchip, one always finds the shaping hand of engineers, corporate planners, and social interests with a stake in particular outcomes."
This is where Boeing's "As Is World" and "To Be World" terminology can do the trucking industry a great and lasting service. The airplane company's nomenclature offers a vastly more powerful and energizing vocabulary for addressing technological change than the passive, easy-to-reach lexicon of inevitability. Boeing's words simply don't let people off the hook or out of the action. Instead, they exhort you to roll up your sleeves and get busy, more aware of the significance of the work your own "shaping hands" have to do.