Book Review: The Titanium Economy

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Asutosh Padhi, Gaurav Batra, and Nick Santhanam say they wrote The Titanium Economy: How Industrial Technology Can Create a Better, Faster, Stronger America because “We want to solve the limited understanding of the societal benefits that can be derived from the Titanium Economy.”

Maybe they succeeded. I could never figure out who the authors were writing for. Was it government officials? How about CEOs of manufacturing companies? Perhaps it was television news anchors, or podcasters, or young people about to embark on their adult lives. This made the book seem slightly out of focus to me.

The book is filled with excellent stories about successful industrial companies that have succeeded because of the strategic way they use technology. According to the authors, there are 688 publicly traded U.S. companies like that, and more than five times that number are privately held.

Good stuff

The book has many excellent stories that are very well told. I had never heard of most of the companies. If you want to see a list, there’s one on the McKinsey-on-Books page devoted to The Titanium Economy. Yes, this is another one of those books where McKinsey consultants show off their big brains and extensive client lists.

Not So Good Stuff

The book is riddled with consultant speak. Fortunately, most of the time you can enjoy the company portrayals and skip over the consultant speak.

The authors don’t do a very good job of analyzing the feasibility of their recommendations. For example, they suggest that “Germany’s dual training apprentice system is a leading model to consider” to increase the number of skilled tradespeople in the United States. That suggestion fails to consider the fact that the German system has developed over more than 500 years and the German culture honors skilled manual work in a way U.S. culture does not.

The authors keep coming back to government programs as the solution for all kinds of issues. There’s no discussion of what those programs might cost, or how long they might take to become operational and then effective.

Reading Recommendations

Here are some thoughts on how you can make this book work better for you.

Skip chapter one. It’s just literary foreplay that tells you what a great book you’re going to find once you get through chapter one.

Chapter 6 on the Great Amplification Cycle is worth reading even if you skip most of the rest of the book. This chapter includes a description of how Simpsonville SC became a tech industrial hub.

Pay attention to the lead times you see here. The technical colleges that support firms in South Carolina were created under Governor Fritz Hollings back in the early 1960s.

Pay attention to the way that the economic ecosystem developed. There was some government intervention, but most of the growth was organic.

In a Nutshell

Buy and read The Titanium Economy if you want to read good stories about successful industrial companies. Buy it if you’re willing to do the work to tease out meanings from the text. Buy it if you want to broaden your understanding of the US economy and manufacturing today. Be willing to put up with obvious biases and self-promotion.

Don’t buy this book if consultant speak and self-promotion make you crazy. Skip it if the call for yet more government programs sends you screaming from the room.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on GoodReads.


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