Applying Newton’s Three Laws of Motion to Supply Chain Transformations


Sir Isaac Newton – The Genius

Sir Isaac Newton is recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time. His three laws of motion are the foundations of Mechanics. If you can recall them, they are so simple relationships, yet no one was able to put them together before him. Millions and millions of humans must have witnessed an Apple falling from a tree, an extremely simple event yet only he was able to relate it to a physical phenomenon (gravity postulate).

Revisiting Physics

I recently had to brush up some Physics fundamentals in order to identify relationships in sensor-generated data (specifically, the relationship between velocity, radius of a cylinder and the angular velocity being applied to the cylinder). When skimming through a textbook that I have owned since my 10th grade (Concepts of Physics by H.C Verma), I realized that Newton’s laws of motion can be generalized to certain rules in other areas as well and one of them obviously was Supply Chain.

Yes, there are rules to Supply Chain Transformations also.

In my perspective, like Physical phenomenon, there are certain underlying basic rules that apply to Supply Chain transformation initiatives. In this article, which to the best of my knowledge is the first such attempt, we will visit three of them that are really important, and you can see how they can be derived (qualitatively) from Newton’s three laws of motion.

Three Basic Rules of Supply Chain Transformation

I. Newton’s First Law: A body in motion remains in motion and a body at rest remains at rest until and unless compelled by an external force to change its state of rest or motion.

First basic rule: Apply the external force NOW…!!!

The principle of “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is as redundant as Intel 4004 processor in 2019. As the Business & Technology landscape rapidly evolves – some processes in your supply chain, some technology in your supply chain systems portfolio or some skill sets of your supply chain talent pool are becoming redundant every day.

Every day you wait and let the “body” (read- your supply chain) stay at rest or in its usual state of archaic motion, your organization is inching towards becoming obsolete.

Evaluate your end to end Supply Chain to identify transformation opportunities as soon as possible.

II. Newton’s Second Law: If one object has more inertia than other, more force is required to give that object the same acceleration as first.

Second Basic rule: Find objects with highest “inertia” (opportunity).

You can’t obviously “transform” your entire supply chain end to end in one go. The analysis suggested in rule I will help you identify “low hanging fruits” and attractive “use cases”. Start there, these high “inertia” opportunities will get your initiative on track, help you get the buy-in and funds for subsequent stages and will deliver higher impact than other “objects”.

Start the Transformation exercise by identifying High “inertia” (value) opportunities within your Supply Chain and Apply more “Force” to get it in a state of “Acceleration”.

III. Newton’s third law: To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

Third Basic Rule: Always keep end to end Supply Chain view.

Because if you lose that view, an “action” you apply in one part of your supply chain may have an “opposite” reaction in some other aspect of your supply chain. It may not be equal, as stated in Newton’s law, but processes in supply chains are so tightly interlinked that any change in one will impact few other processes for sure. Keep the end to end supply chain focus when sizing opportunities in rule II to make sure you take into account cost increase elsewhere in your supply chain.

Keep end to end Supply Chain focus throughout the transformation process.