"E pluribus unum," it said on each coin I paid out for a bottle of aspirin. Latin for "out of many, one," it's an excellent reminder to look at the unified process of your business, rather than at particular actions performed by particular people acting independently. Apply your intellect to your business through a unified perspective, and you can work a miracle cure. The container-based shipping revolution is a good example of such a miracle, as it affected the price of everything, including the aspirin that I bought. In the 1950's, medicines required far more mass in their handling and transportation as they were packed in boxes, stored in warehouses, packed in pallets, manhandled into a ship's hold, unpacked, stored, removed from storage, and packed on a truck. Each transition, from factory to truck to ship and back again, was complex. Marc Levinson, a former editor of The Economist, wrote:
A pharmaceutical company would have paid approximately $2,400 ($18K in today's dollars) to ship a truckload of medicines from the U.S. Midwest to an interior city in Europe in 1960. This might have included payments to a dozen different vendors: a local trucker in Chicago, the railroad that carried the truck trailer on a flatcar to New York or Baltimore, a local trucker in the port city, a port warehouse, a steamship company, a warehouse and a trucking company in Europe, an insurer, a European customs service, and the freight forwarder who put all the pieces of this complicated journey together. Half the total outlay went for port costs...
Why were port costs so high? Mostly due to the logistics of moving product from truck to ship. On the dock, longshore workers packed cargo on wooden pallets. Inside the ship, another group of workers moved the cargo into secure spots using carts, forklifts, or their own muscles. The work was slow. At each step of the shipping process, warehousing was essential. Truck drivers and ships' captains lost time and money waiting around for the process to complete. Attempts at fixing parts of the process, like better forklifts or larger hatches, did little to fix the situation, and transportation remained the largest cost of manufacturing--in fact, it made selling internationally simply not worth it.
Enter the container revolution.
Malcom Purcell McLean tackled the problem, to his own vast profit, in the 1960's. He took a system-wide approach from the start, seeking a method to keep the container intact as it rolled from truck to shipside and back. He succeeded, bringing down transportation costs one hundred fold. Today, medicines go straight into a container that is trucked to a ship, then lifted back to a truck, and delivered to a store's shelf. Think of the resources no longer needed because of the improved process, from the tons of fuel needed to move pills from point to point to the tons of fuels and materials required for building, operating, and maintaining the warehouses.
When you're able to look at a process as a whole, it's easier to discover dMASS opportunities, either in design or logistics. Though our founding fathers' were thinking of political unity when they incorporated "e pluribus unum" into the great seal of the United States of America, its appearance on every penny, nickel, and dime in your pocket can serve as a good, daily motivator to improve the business processes that cost you money: more unity, less mass, more wealth, less headaches.