In May of 1977, just days before the release of Star Wars, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg sat on Mauna Kea beach in Hawaii discussing opportunities to work together. With the Pacific Ocean to their front and a massive dormant volcano to their back, Lucas describes an idea than would lead to the 1981 blockbuster, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The opening scene grabs moviegoer’s attention as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) maneuvers his way through a booby-trapped temple toward a closely guarded golden idol. In one of films’ best moves, Indiana Jones switches the idol with a bag full of sand. Indiana’s quest to unearth treasure that belongs “in a museum” eventually leads him to the Ark of the Covenant, three Sankara stones, the Holy Grail and a crystal skull.
There is something in human nature that loves the search for treasure. Even small children just a few years old, love the sense of adventure that comes from an Easter Egg Hunt. As we get older, we rename treasure hunts “scavenger hunts” but the premise of discovering something of value remains.
Natural Treasure Hunts
Nature is full of treasure hunts if you really think about it. Biogeochemical Cycles describe how nature uncovers pockets of treasure and transport or transform them somewhere else. The Carbon Cycle describes how plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. The Nitrogen Cycle describes how microbes convert decaying plants into nitrogen for the soil. The natural world automatically captures treasure through fully integrated systems, whereas the corporate world has much to learn about treasure hunting.
Most design is utilitarian at best. Natural transportation on a horse requires the input of food and water. The resulting output is waste that fertilizes the ground. While we may mimic and even surpass natural transportation with a car, we can only do so by inputting lots of materials and chemicals. The resulting output is toxic to the environment. At end-of-life, the horse dies and nature captures the residual treasure that is present in the corpse. Most likely the car will head to a junkyard stuck in its dilapidated state.
Values-based companies look at design as a treasure hunt. Not only should we design our product or service to be functional and beautiful, but we should also consider how to reclaim the remaining treasure at end-of-life.
Manufacturing Treasure Hunts
Manufacturing is a sector that is notorious for designing products without considering what happens to those products at end-of-life. Thankfully, more progressive companies engage in Closed-Loop Manufacturing, a process of recapturing the treasure of their product when it is no longer usable. A company has five options for a product at end-of-life:
- Reuse the Product – If the product is still in working order, then it’s best to reuse it. If it is not in working order, then repairing the product is preferable. Some manufacturers will refurbish defective products and offer them at a cheaper price while others will remanufacture the product to “as new” condition.
- Cannibalization – If it is not possible to reuse a product, then Closed-Loop Manufacturers will first reuse subassemblies and then reuse specific components.
- Material Recycling – If cannibalization is not possible, then material recycling is the next option. Recycling materials to their original application is best while downcycling the material to lower grade applications is also possible. Recycling materials back to feedstock (reverting to chemical inputs) is the last alternative.
- Incineration – If recycling is not possible, then incineration with energy recovery is the best option. Incineration without energy recovery captures no value.
- Disposal – The last alternative for any product at end-of-life should be disposal as this captures no value in the remaining product.
Corporate Treasure Hunts
Treasuring hunting is also possible in non-manufacturing sectors as well. Value stream mapping, a process of mapping the successive steps of value creation (or destruction), can also be applied to the corporate working environment. Values-based companies will recognize the value that relevant stakeholders (Employees, Customers, Suppliers, Shareholders, Community, Environment and Industry) contribute and also take into consideration the resulting value creation or destruction from the stakeholder’s perspective. Unlike natural systems where value flows throughout the system, many corporations disproportionately channel value from some stakeholders toward others. As you head into work today, think about your business like a treasure hunt. Where is that elusive treasure hiding?
Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass