I’m not a big sports fan.
There, I said it.
But my wife is; most of my friends are; so are my parents. I’m the odd guy out, I suppose (or just plain odd). But because I’m pretty much surrounded by people who love sports, I appreciate how the games affect us. They’re so compelling. Like a novel, a game is an unfolding story that doesn’t really matter. Once it’s over, our lives really don’t change that much. But what a story--and unlike a novel or movie, the narrative unfolds before our eyes--the ending, unknown. (My wife grew up in St. Louis, so you can guess what we’ve been watching the past few days. That story isn’t over yet.)
An essayist for the New York Times Magazine said it best in this article. All the drama surrounding people who are paid to hit balls with sticks got me thinking just how much we humans love a good story. Indirectly, this may be why we lavish so much attention on the companies that tell a good story, like Apple. Its products are so compelling, its designs so sleek. Steve Jobs was a master designer and communicator. He knew how people could emotionally connect with inanimate objects. People love their iPhones, and because they do, Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world.
But will Apple always be as profitable as it is? Some don’t think so. Like sports franchises (also good storytellers), Apple will always be there, but Forbes’ William Baldwin predicts that better investment buys may be the so-called “boring companies.” Boring companies often make the polar opposite of Apple’s products: ever present, but hidden. We don’t love these objects; often, we hardly notice them.
Tom Verboncouer, sales and marketing manager for Wisconsin-based Robinson Metal--which this year again made our Fab 40 list of top fabricators--mentioned one such object: the plastic cups that hold ketchup at fast food restaurants. Diners can peel the top off to dip fries, or tear and squeeze it to spread ketchup on a sandwich. The design is elegant and simple, but most don’t give it a second thought. That ketchup package, though, is made by complex machinery that in turn consists of sheet metal components cut, bent, and welded by fabricators.
These mundane innovations often come from the sectors that keep life going: power generation, oil and gas, and (of course) food. That simple ketchup packet is filling a market need and, several levels up the supply chain, sending work to numerous manufacturers. The supply chain for the seemingly simple food packet employs thousands.
So here’s to the boring, ho-hum products, the ketchup packets of the world. They don’t make good copy for mass media coverage, and they usually don’t have compelling, emotionally wrenching stories to tell. But they keep life going, people employed, and food on the table.
Including, of course, the ketchup.