Since the start of 2021, semiconductor chips, which are used in cars, trucks, computers, and smart-phones, have been in short supply. Supply has been so short that automotive companies have shut down assembly lines and consumer electronics corporations have delayed roll-outs of new products.
Bloomberg reported in its September 22, 2021 Supply Lines newsletter that the gap between “ordering a semiconductor chip and delivery is still growing.”
But four years before in 2017 (see chart above), it was already taking at least 10 weeks to deliver a semiconductor chip from time of order. So, while businesses in 2021 anxiously wait up to 20 weeks for their chips to arrive, why were industries tolerating long order-to-delivery times of up to 10 weeks in the first place?
The dictionary defines a problem as an “unsatisfactory situation.” It is a “state of difficulty that needs to be resolved.”
Many of us equate problems with crises and disruptions, that is, we see a problem only when it hurts us such that it becomes urgent to address it.
Hence, we tend to avoid them or try to resolve them as quickly as possible. The fewer problems we have, the better, we usually say.
The dictionary, however, also says it is a “a question proposed for solution or discussion.”
Problems can be doorways to opportunities, in which if we think of them that way, we should seek them out and solve them for the ideas that would benefit us.
Enterprises and even governments are scrambling hard in 2021 to fix the semiconductor chip shortage that has crippled factories and caused supply shortfalls of many products, from cell-phones to computers. Most saw the problem when order-to-delivery lead times extended from 10 to 20 weeks.
If enterprises in 2017, however, proposed the “question” of shortening the supply lead time of 10 weeks, and found a solution, would industries be undergoing a crisis in 2021? Wasn’t there a way to bring the number of weeks of lead time down to 4 weeks or even less?
It was obvious that since 2017, company executives had accepted the 10-week order-to-delivery cycle and adjusted their inventories and production schedules to cover for the waiting time. Executives managed the 10-week lead time into their financial forecasts. The 10-week lead time was not considered a problem.
If one enterprise in 2017 had seen the 10-week lead time as a problem rather than as an acceptable fate, and in the process of “discussion” found a “solution,” one wonders how much of a competitive advantage that enterprise would have in 2021.
It’s never really worthwhile to ask “what-if” questions especially after the fact of a crisis. But in the process of problem solving, as a question becomes clearer, it would have been likely that a solution would have addressed future adverse situations.
As companies see their businesses compromised by the semiconductor shortage of 2021, it becomes more sensible to seek out the problems and pose the questions for “discussion” and “solution.”
For the pain many had been experiencing in 2021, it would have been worth it if they had only sought and solve problems then.
It’s never really good to dwell in the past unless we learn something from it.