What makes a company successful? Some believe the secret to success is strict adherence to old-fashioned virtues such as hard work and persistence. Others swear by characteristics such as flexibility or a company's ability to anticipate change. Some say it is being able to live in the times or to meet the demands of customers. Still others claim it is rewarding shareholders or working effectively with regulators. All of these attributes contribute to a company's success, but most agree that the one essential ingredient for success is a clear vision, a vision unimpaired by corporate blind spots.
A blind spot is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "an area where vision is hindered or obscured... a prejudice, or area of ignorance, that one has but is often unaware of." A blind spot in a corporate strategy can be ruinous. We see companies losing markets, wasting resources, and spending outrageously and needlessly, not because they are inefficient, but because they are myopic.
Incredibly, we know of companies that are, at this very moment, giving away crucial decision-making powers to competitors! Why? What's missing from their plan? Too often, what's missing is a strategy for using standards to compete. Companies that are losing the race don't know that standards are influencing trade, or how standards work in the marketplace-because they don't know that their problems are standards problems, and their solutions are standards solutions. They have a blind spot.
What keeps this vital piece of business information out of the collective consciousness of some companies? The answer may be simple. Standards, unfortunately, are the victims of image. In our bold, dynamic, and competitive culture, it is difficult to introduce a concept such as technical competitiveness into a boardroom where the focus is on shareholder value and next quarter's earnings. And yet, that is just what has to happen. The image of standards development as something boring, something only understood by engineers, something to be delegated, or something not relative to the bottom line, is outdated and has got to change, and quickly.
It has got to change because there are competitors around the globe who have gotten the message. They are using standards to block access to international markets, to make good products illegal, to force more advanced companies to use outdated technology, and to keep better and safer products away from "their" consumers!
We know many successful companies in many fields, and we know them very well. We know them because they have a presence in ASTM. We know that their senior management teams are collaborating actively with their technical experts. This smart, new collaboration is creating smart, new standards strategies. These companies are watching the world shift gears, watching the global competition, and they know exactly where they are in the scheme of things. They know times have changed and the battle for survival has moved to a new arena-the standards arena. They are there, they are prepared, and they are invested. They're not bothered by image. And they've got a great advantage: no blind spots.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International