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Enabling future air cargo leaders to shake things up

In fifteen years from now, air cargo will be led by people who were born in the same decade as Cargo Matters. How will we enable them to create the future of air cargo?

The other day, I read an article. The article was about how a robot had just passed the written test in China’s national medical licensing examination, with flying colours and within a fraction of the time allowed. Nowadays, we’re used to supercomputers beating humans at board games nobody cares about. Like chess. But becoming a doctor? That’s awfully close to what we’re doing in logistics. Except we don’t tinker with intestines, but with boxes. The robot pulled it off by devouring tons of medical textbooks, and millions of medical records and scientific articles. Just about the single most dreary thing imaginable. Trust me. I am a doctor.

Did my studies prepare me for being outsmarted by a robot? No.

Something similar struck me, when I ordered a pair of bright red swimming shorts for this summer. I needed a pair and I was eager to try out this new online platform which had just secured another cool $397 million from investors. The platform connects local boutiques to a global customer base, taking care of payments, customs, taxation and shipment. I ordered out of professional curiosity as well, awaiting the day when all online retailers on this planet notice that importing stuff into Switzerland is neither rocket science, nor expensive. Because it simply isn’t.

And the platform delivered. It took just four days. Shipped from a small boutique in Hungary which happened to have my size. Not from a conveniently placed warehouse or central logistics hub. Had I paid extra, it would have been quicker.

Next night delivery is doable for well organized EU retailers for shipments to Switzerland. With- in Switzerland, same-day delivery is becoming as common as everywhere else. So, essentially, we’re just about 8 hours away from anything, anywhere, anytime (for make-to-stock items in urban areas).

Did my studies prepare me for such lightning-quick delivery times? No.

And my studies did not prepare me for closed loop supply chains becoming a reality either. Nor decarbonisation. Like Apple is pushing for with its suppliers so that they can cleverly turn green and sell us the same materials time and again, just as different products. Yes, I learned about reverse logistics, recycling, and emissions trading. But mainly about flaws, not business opportunities.

So, what should we prepare the future leaders in air cargo for? Nothing. Why?

Because we can’t. You can prepare a dinner or a weekend trip. The future you must build. Which means actually doing things and not sit- ting around in classrooms getting all prepared.

Instead, let’s enable the new generation to create their own future. Keep the basics to a well-executed minimum, jump right in, unleash creativity  and  feed  competition.  With  minds set to solving problems which matter. Because when problems matter, there is money to be made. It’s that simple. Rather than focusing on the 1,000 tools which were best practice back in the day, future leaders in air cargo need to be geared to act fast and precisely. Understanding a problem, finding the right tool to solve it, teaching themselves how to use it, and putting it into action. The world is moving too fast for anything else. And it’s much more of a realistic expectation level than 100% shelf-ready graduates with all the bells and whistles.

We need more education like we see in programming and IT today – letting students solve problems with the programming language they have just learnt. Not in month-long projects, but in a few hours. Under competitive pressure. Not force-fed abstract stuff miles away from where it happens. Let’s have more action orientation like we know from training nurses and doctors in hospitals touch a patient who has had an electric shock without shutting off power and you’re out. It’s these real-life experiences which make the important things stick.

Finally, let’s combine the doing with what we know we will be facing us in the short-term. Like mastering the changes which supercomputers will bring about in air cargo (singularity), working towards anything, anywhere, anytime logistics (ubiquity), and closing energy and material loops (circularity). Because that is exactly where the new leaders can shake things up and create new business.