Some people are very anxious to tell me what they think or how they feel about the things I say and write. This makes sense because I frequently use this space to tell them what to think. I got into in a bit of trouble some weeks back when I took up the subject of bankruptcy and currency exchange. When I argued that some recent Chapter 11 filings had a lot to do with Chinese monetary policies, some readers quickly called and wrote to tell me I was being too easy on the executives of those bankrupt companies. Sometimes, they reminded me, bad performance is just bad performance.
Which is true, and it's a good notion to keep in mind, even if it carries with it an note of cynicism I try to suppress. I've preached optimism on this page before. Some readers appreciate the sentiment but don't share it. Others offer thanks for what they perceive is a helpful new perspective. Still others object to the facile ideas of someone who does not share their real-world experience.
What can I say? In my position, I appreciate reactions, whatever the tone, and I always defer to someone who has experience, expertise, and the willingness to share their views. It's made me recognize that I'm not the only one who carries his professional concerns with me away from the office. We're accessible to colleagues, customers, and clients in ways that aren't always welcome, nor convenient. Surely, technology connects us to our work in unexpected ways, but I know that hardworking people have always made a personal investment in their professional effort. Electronic, digital, wireless, whatever communication just flatters us that somehow we're more effective.
Now, if we're letting our work influence us so thoroughly, it makes me believe we should be just as thorough at imprinting our selves on our work. This has very little to do with experience, very much to do with the feeling we bring to the effort. And so, when I make a case for optimism it's because I know that our best qualities as people can support and improve the work we do.
Now, I can back up my theory with numbers. The results of our annual Outlook survey are presented in this issue, and they help solidify the case for optimism. At the very least, they demonstrate that optimism is gaining ground among metalcasting professionals.
Sixty-seven percent of our respondents tell us that their 2004 finished-product shipments will increase over the 2003 level, with even higher levels of increases noted at the steel and ductile iron operations. Forty-four percent of the respondents expect 2005 to demonstrate shipment levels at least as high as 2004, while 50% indicate they foresee an even stronger year ahead.
This is not wishful thinking. There's a dose of realism in these results: Many respondents understand that their own success is partly a result of some of their competitors being no longer active or viable. That doesn't change their own prospects.
I might have let the Outlook report stand on its own, and left my own past writing as a matter of record, except that it's the end of the year and we all need a good thought on which to pause, and move ahead. And, except for the report from our friends at the North American Die Casters Assn. that came to my attention even before our own results were final.
NADCA's survey of its aluminum diecasting members show that their 2004 shipments will improve on 2003 by 6.6%, with a further 1% rise expected in 2005. There's more important detail in that study, but I am most struck by NADCA president Daniel Twarog's observation:
"There are always some that will say that numbers are inflated because the growing number of imported diecastings is included, and we can't make any money on the record number of castings that will be produced. It's my impression that some of these people like to be depressed. Manufacturing's greatest challenge has always been to produce something at the lowest cost and charge the highest amount that someone will pay. How has that challenge changed ... ?"
I wish I'd said that. I've felt it all along.