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Jay Leno and an Oncoming Train

Jay-Leno-300x168Sometimes I wish life worked like the Metro. In the Metro, you know where you’re going and you either know how to get there or you can seek help from someone who does.  If there’s no one around, you don’t have to look to the heavens for a sign. They’re posted and well-marked. Oh, and flashing red lights simultaneously announce and warn you about the arrival of an oncoming train.

On the other hand, running a business can be likened to piloting a ship in heavy fog.  Where you’ve been does not allow you to predict the hazards to come. There are no flashing red lights to announce the arrival of momentous change. Instead, change often arrives softly, clad in socks and seen in silhouette.

Take Jay Leno, for example. Leno’s penchant for collecting vintage cars and motorcycles is well known. Last I read, he had over 200 stored in specialty garages in and around Los Angeles.  His collection runs the gamut from a rare 1910 Stanley Steamer to the celebrated muscle cars of the 60’s.  What struck me about his hobby, however, was not the number or value of collectables, but rather how he maintains them.

Leno employs high res scanners and a 3D printer for parts.  I would imagine there are some difficulties inherent in finding spare parts for a car from 1910.  Leno doesn’t have to.  He manufactures them.  When a part breaks, he scans it and has his 3D printer print out what becomes a mold for a new, identical (although repaired) part.  He is no longer at the mercy of specialty parts dealers.

If you are a manufacturer or reseller, Jay Leno should keep you up nights – not because of The Tonight Show, but rather because of what he’s doing when he’s not on stage.  Using readily available equipment, cheap in comparison with traditional channels of commerce, he has bypassed you.  More importantly, his example serves as a whisper in your customers’ ears.

  • Desktop publishing whispered to commercial printers.

  • WordPress and Twitter have added to those whispering to the news industry.

  • Turbotax whispers to accountants, and LegalZoom whispers to lawyers.

  • The Square is whispering to business bankers and service providers alike

Every day, I see business owners suffering through the long recession and waiting for business to get back to normal.  Maybe it will.  Maybe the clock will turn back to 2008.  But what if it won’t?  What if, in the midst of the flashing red lights heralding the oncoming recession, was lost the whisper of industry change?

To my clients and readers, I would ask this: When is the last time you assembled your best and most creative, regardless of title, to consider something other than quarterly performance?  When is the last time you strained to hear the whispers?