What’s at the root of the supply chain breakdown? That’s a critical question but the answer is almost irrelevant. The supply chain is a complex dynamic system of immense scale. It is of a complexity comparable to the climate as a system.
This means that exact cause and effect cannot be computed because the processing power needed exceeds the combined processing power of every computer in the world.
Most people have some notion of how supply chains work, but few understand how extensive, complex and vulnerable they are. If you go to the store to buy a loaf of bread, you know that the bread did not mystically appear on the shelf.
It was delivered by a local bakery, put on the shelf by a clerk, you carried it home and served it with dinner. That’s a succinct description of a supply chain – from baker to store to home.
Yet that description barely scratches the surface. What about the truck driver who delivered the bread from the bakery to the store? Where did the bakery get the flour, yeast and water needed to make the bread? What about the ovens used to bake the bread? When the bread was baked, it was put in clear or paper wrappers of some sort. Where did those come from?
Even that expanded description of a supply chain is just getting started in terms of a complete chain. The flour used for baking came from wheat. That wheat was grown on a farm and harvested with heavy equipment. The farmer hires labor, uses water and fertilizer and sends his wheat out for processing and packaging before it gets to the bakery.
The manufacturer who built the oven has his own supply chain of steel, tempered glass, semiconductors, electrical circuits and other inputs needed to build the ovens.