Crossroads moment

Manufacturing First will guide attendees through crisis at hand

Posted on Sep 14, 2020 :: Feature
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

As individuals and businesses continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, it’s tempting to focus on returning to the normalcy of the past, but disruptive innovation expert Daniel Burrus will tell you looking back is futile.

A New York Times best-selling author, renowned futurist and keynote speaker at this year’s Manufacturing First Expo & Conference, Burrus likens the situation to his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. “It doesn’t have a reverse. It can’t go back; it can only go forward,” he says. “One of the things I want to share is, we can never go back, but more importantly, we can make the road ahead much better when we learn how to navigate the new terrain.”

Burrus will deliver the event’s first keynote, “The Anticipatory Leader: A Proven Model to Predict Change and Create Extraordinary Results.” In his Oct. 20 talk, he’ll share strategies leaders can implement to identify and capitalize on the many new opportunities that are now available as well as recognize future disruptions that could arise.

While Burrus acknowledges the loss of life, upheaval and angst COVID-19 has caused, he says manufacturers must act now to take advantage of the opportunities today’s situation presents as well as to prepare for the future. “Post-pandemic success will be determined by what you do now, not post-pandemic,” he says.

The nation has never faced a moment quite like the one we’re experiencing, Burrus says. Any one of the issues we’re facing — a global pandemic with no clear end in sight, record-breaking debt with high economic uncertainty, a volatile stock market, social unrest surrounding racial inequality, and a heated presidential election — would be monumental on its own, and they’re all happening simultaneously.

In uncertain times like these, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious. It can help to realize that a personal or business strategy based on uncertainty carries high risk, but strategy based on certainty carries low risk and high rewards, Burrus says.

To help guide businesses and leaders through decision-making, Burrus teaches them about harnessing the science of certainty to give them confidence to make bold moves. The Pentagon as well as many companies of all sizes have adopted the strategy.

The process begins with categorizing trends as either hard trends — based on future facts that will happen — or soft trends — factors based on an assumption that might happen and therefore can be changed. Learning how to identify hard trends and their related opportunities will help manufacturers turn uncertainty into certainty and transform disruption and change into opportunity and advantage, Burrus says. “I want manufacturers to realize that hard trends turn disruption into a choice.”

Burrus often invites business leaders to identify some big problems and to ask themselves whether they came out of nowhere or could have been predicted. Take the pandemic, for example. It’s become a hard trend, but at the same time, we could have seen it coming and acted more decisively to curtail some of its worst outcomes, he says.

As for soft trends, Burrus cites rising health care costs as one. They’ve been increasing for years, but the situation is not immutable. The health care industry could look to blockchain to bring higher security, more trust, greater transparency and thus lower costs, for example. When it comes to the spread of coronavirus, that’s also a soft trend, something we can influence. Masking and other precautions can help reduce transmission.

“What do I love about a soft trend? If you don’t like it, you can change it,” Burrus says.

Supply chain is one area where manufacturers have a chance to seize an opportunity amidst the challenge they’re experiencing. With so much manufacturing taking place in China and other countries, the United States has a chance to increase its manufacturing capabilities, and Wisconsin can elevate its reputation as the “Silicon Valley of manufacturing,” Burrus says.

While the world has turned upside down for manufacturers, so too has Manufacturing First itself, undergoing a transformation to an all-virtual event. The new format may lead to some doubts, but Burrus, who’s participated in dozens of virtual events since March, says it offers its own benefits.

For example, virtual events eliminate the need for travel and require less of a time commitment while still delivering all the same vital content and insights. They also carry fewer distractions, whether a room that’s too hot or cold or other people’s chatter, meaning attendees can
devote their full attention to the presentations.

Ann Franz, executive director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, says while this year’s event will look different, it remains the same at its core. To maintain the connections Manufacturing First attendees so value, each day will include networking and exhibitor time. The event will use a virtual platform called Brella that facilitates virtual networking and connects people and businesses to those with similar interests or objectives.

“It’s hard to believe that this is the 10th year of Manufacturing First,” Franz says. “What I value most is the opportunity to learn and network with so many amazing professionals.

Utilizing the Brella platform will help us network like never before by using AI technology.”

On Manufacturing First’s second day, Gretchen and Tim Gilbertson, founders of Green Bay-based Séura, will deliver the keynote. After starting the company out of their garage, the Gilbertsons have built it into an internationally recognized leading technology provider of indoor and outdoor TV and mirror solutions. They’ll share what they wish had known in the beginning and strategies other manufacturers can put to work in their businesses.

Day three will feature a roundtable discussion moderated by Franz and featuring four Northeast Wisconsin manufacturing leaders speaking on the topic of building a great culture in times of crisis. At press time, confirmed participants included Kim Bassett, president and CEO of Bassett Mechanical, Lanny Viegut, president and CEO of Carnivore Meat Co., and Kurt Voss, CEO of AmeriLux.

Webinars with live question-and-answer sessions are scheduled for each afternoon of the event, taking place at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Attendees can enjoy additional networking time at 4 p.m. all three days, along with Power Hour and prize giveaways taking place Oct. 22.
Burrus encourages attendees to cast aside doubts about the new format and says taking in the event’s message is more important than ever.

“We are indeed at a unique point in history. This is the 10th anniversary, but it’s more than the 10th anniversary. This is a defining moment for us all. We need people to come together. We need to think this through together, as leaders, as manufacturers, as business owners, as managers,” he says.

If you go

Manufacturing First will take place virtually from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20-22. Visit to learn more and register. The website also includes a tutorial for Brella, the event platform that uses AI to help facilitate virtual connections. Register by Sept. 30 for the early-bird rate of $49.