Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


Disraeli Was Right. But So Was Hugo.

Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician and twice prime minister, once observed of a political opponent, “For he had only one idea, and that was wrong.”

His piercing comment accurately describes how many news organizations currently view the revival of manufacturing in the United States and indeed in other putatively high-cost countries.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times last year observed that manufacturing was one of the few bright spots in an uneven economic recovery. He did not explain or explore the reasons for this.

Even now, almost nobody in the media has bothered to try to understand why manufacturing is still one of the few bright spots in the recovery. When the jobs report came out today, it was as expected rather lackluster. But the manufacturing sector still added 11,000 jobs last month.

Why is it that the media fail to examine the reasons behind the renaissance of manufacturing in the US? Part of the reason is that we are in an era of agenda journalism. Many news organizations and individual journalists craft stories that adhere to their view of the world.

For example, if one major media is to be believed, the return of manufacturing is largely based on the literal return home of manufacturing companies that moved operations abroad and in particular to China but have found these markets too expensive in which to continue production.

Certainly this is true. But it is not accurate.

If manufacturing companies left here for other nations where it was cheaper to manufacture but are returning here because it is too expensive to manufacture in those countries, then that can only mean such companies have determined that they can once again be competitive in manufacturing from here.

Yet almost no one in the media is even curious as to how manufacturing is once again competitive in higher-cost countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Obviously, many in the media have only one idea, and it is the wrong idea.

But there are some who are curious enough to have examined closely the reasons behind the budding revival in manufacturing, the reasons that manufacturing in higher-cost nations is again competitive.

One of these is Peter Marsh, industries reporter for the Financial Times. He has written extensively on how changes – from mass production for example to mass specialization – are enabling manufacturers in high-cost countries to compete effectively and successfully from their home markets.

In fact, Marsh just published a book, “The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production,” that examines the tectonic shifts that are remaking the manufacturing sector.

Is he right? A lot of people think so.

There was a reception in London that was held recently to launch this book and which was attended by 200 people including scores of chief executive officers, Members of Parliament and other luminaries.

The CEO of a British manufacturer told me that night that if he had his way, he would not permit this book to be sold outside the UK. He said the premise of the book is that important to competitiveness in manufacturing. He was only half joking about the first part, not at all about the second part.

So, what does all this mean for you?

First, it means that there are still journalists who are real visionaries.  That is, there are journalists who not merely limn reports or statistics as if these are all there is to a story. There are journalists who seek to understand and explain what really is happening and what it means to you.

Second, it means that whether you are a business executive or communications professional, you need to identify, follow and meet such visionary journalists. Reach out to such visionaries. Start conversations with them. Imagine what you can learn from them that can support your own understanding of what is happening and what it means to you. The best ones want such conversations with you.

Third, it means you need to understand too that journalism is like every other pursuit. That is, those who succeed eventually get copied. It is only a matter of time for example before other journalists begin to see what Marsh does – literally as the real story and figuratively as a good story. Get ready, if you are a manufacturer, because sooner or later other journalists are going to ask you if this is all true.

Benjamin Disraeli was right about bad ideas. But Victor Hugo was right about good ideas.

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world,” wrote Hugo, the author of Les Miserables and other classics, “and that is an idea whose time has come.”

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