Skip navigation

Finding the Flaws

Given the danger and difficulty of what they do, the military has a way of commanding respect and attention from average citizens such as myself. This morning at the FMI/GMA Supply Chain Conference, Patrick "Lips" Houlahan, a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and an instructor pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet military aircraft, held forth on the lessons that flying military aircraft in war zones can offer supply chain executives in the food distribution business. He represents a consulting company called Afterburners, Atlanta; the CEO of Afterburners, James "Murph" Murphy, also spoke. Both were clad in green military jumpsuits.

Houlahan (whose nickname recalls Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan played by Loretta Swit in M*A*S*H) spoke on the theme of "flawless execution" --which is the kind of execution you need to survive flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The interesting thing about flawless execution, of course, is that it's never flawless. But the key to improving your execution, whether in the military or in business, is to make sure you "debrief" -- review what worked and what didn't -- after every mission. "That's the essential game-changer," he said.

A salient point made by Murphy is the danger of "task saturation," which he called "the silent killer." What happens here is that you become fixated on what turns out to be the wrong thing. A rather poignant example was the crash of a commercial airliner in 1972 caused by the pilots being too focused on a burned-out light bulb instead of the plane's elevation.

Certainly some good lessons for the food industry.