Are you a panda or a cockroach?
Robustness. A measure of a system’s ability to deal with changing inputs while still functioning at a high level. A robust system continues to function even though inputs change. A less robust system’s performance is negatively impacted by input changes.
These systems could be anything… software code… a mission to Mars… a company or organization… your family car… even a living organism.
The old Windows operating system was a great example of a piece of software with a low robustness factor. If a person hit the “wrong” key, you’d confuse the software, get a blue screen and have to re-start the computer. A robust piece of software would continue to function even though the user made many wrong entries.
If one were designing a flight to Mars, one would want it to be very robust. Stuff happens and you’d need the systems to continue to function within a wide range of inputs. No pulling off to the side of the road if you have any problems on this trip.
You family car has become more and more robust through the use of technology. Ideally it continues to function even in extreme situations (changing the inputs) like full braking or ice-covered roads or evasive, accident-avoidance.
And this type of analysis also works for living systems, i.e. animals. For this example I take two extremes… our friends the panda and the cockroach.
We’ve all probably heard stories about that tough SOB, the cockroach. Survive a nuclear war. Survive dang near anything, anywhere. THAT is one robust system. Inputs might change. Individuals might be wiped out. But there will be enough survivors to keep the cockroach roaming the planet. A single female American cockroach will produce around 150 young in her 1,000 day life time… Do the math. That can add up to A LOT of cockroaches in a very short period of time. They are omnivorous scavengers who will eat almost anything. They can go for as long as 6 weeks without food… they are fast, sprinting as fast as 80 centimeters per second (that’s over 31 inches per second) and can turn on a dime at full speed… and yes, the can live without their heads for weeks. Talk about robust!
On the other end of the spectrum there is our warm and cuddly friend, the panda. The panda is a very specialized animal. It basically eats only one thing… 99% of its diet is bamboo. Which is unfortunate from a robustness-viewpoint. An omnivorous scavenger who will eat almost anything is WAY more robust than an animal which eats only one thing.
Even worse, bamboo has almost no nutritional value. Therefore the panda must spend 10 – 16 hours PER DAY foraging for food and eating 20 – 40 pounds PER DAY to keep alive. And even then the panda has a very low energy level. It becomes exhausted after only minor exertion. The female ovulates once per year and can become pregnant for only a period of 2 – 3 days. Many don’t even have the energy or desire to breed. From an evolutionary viewpoint this is a useful adaptation since you couldn’t have a lot of pandas wandering around… they’d eat all the bamboo and they all would die. But from a long-term survivability viewpoint, this all adds up to a very low robustness and thus, an endangered species. Human activity hasn’t helped them but they are in reality a very specialized animal which is most likely, long-term a temporary visitor on this planet.
Which brings us back to you and your organizations and the title question… are you a panda or a cockroach? How robust is your organization? I don’t know about you, but I’d sure rather build a cockroach organization than a panda organization.
From a supplier/risk viewpoint, the MillerCoors distributor is more robust than their ABI counterpart. Since the typical MillerCoors distributor has their volume spread over more suppliers, they are less vulnerable to “changes in inputs”, i.e. specific brand declines, than their ABI brothers and sisters.
Many ABI distributors are attempting to become more robust through the addition of new suppliers. Most likely a wise path to walk but in the short- to medium-term, ABI distributors will be VERY reliant on one very significant input. That’s just the way it is.But what about other changes in inputs. How does your company stack up on the robustness scale? Look at your personnel. If ol’ Joe gets clipped on the highway some morning does your company continue operating at 100%? If your ordering person wins the PowerBall and walks out with no notice, do you not skip a beat?
If anything happens to ANY of your folks does the system keep operating at a high level or does it have problems? Are you a panda or a cockroach?
In your next management meeting spend a little time looking at every aspect of your business… people, technology, energy, equipment, brand/supplier strategy, disaster planning, vision and mission, etc. and ask how we can become more cockroach and less panda.
If tough times come the cockroach will still be around ready to take advantage of all the opportunities change presents. The panda can barely get by in good times, in tough times it is probably toast.
So ask yourself, are you a panda or a cockroach?