By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

At some point in my college years, I became a huge fan of both science fiction and fantasy fiction. Needless to say, it resulted in my spending time reading in those genres rather than economics, animal science or one of the other required courses. It must have been my craving to escape from the mind-numbing, sometimes overwhelming, demands of courses in statistics, calculus, chemistry and other sciences of which I often struggled to see as relevant to my future. Instead, I escaped into dreams of the future or perhaps “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

The imagination is a tremendous tool that fuels the advancement of the human race. Although fiction, the aforementioned reading served to keep my imagination alive at a time when the forces of dogma and conventional thinking sought to tamp it down into the ditches of conventionality. I resisted. I fought back. I paid a price in less-than-satisfactory grades in courses that should have come easily for me. Somewhere, deep within me, was the desire to “boldly go where no one had gone before.” It was my destiny to contribute to human advancement. It was my dream.

Age has tempered that ambition with hefty doses of reality, yet somewhere inside, there is a desire to go beyond the boundaries of the known and explore the unknown. It leads me to question things that have long been accepted practice. It sometimes brings me into conflict with others who find my constant challenging of the status quo to be a nuisance. Upon reflection, I can probably be downright annoying – especially to someone with more experience or deeper education in the areas I choose to challenge.

If we recognize that science fiction is, first, science and, second, fiction, it becomes apparent that it begins with what we know; however, it is not constrained by conventional thinking – or what some would deem reality. It is the construction of possibilities based on applying current technology in such a way that the future is changed through innovation. Jules Verne knew about submersible vessels before he ever imagined the Nautilus. Carl Sagan was well versed in radio astronomy before his mind constructed the scenario in Contact.

The incongruities of “the impossible,” which often reside in fiction, stimulate a call to action in those who are unconstrained by a desire to fit into the mold of their contemporaries. Quantum physics is an example of “the impossible” being converted to reality within supercomputers. Who would have ever imagined that something could exist in two separate states simultaneously? Perhaps Schrödinger’s Cat. Has anyone yet discovered whether it was alive or dead? I haven’t opened that box.

My goal here is simple; I wish to stimulate questions. Are we asking questions about how we currently operate? Do we wonder if we are even asking the right questions? Until we openly question what we know, we will never move beyond where we are.

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with a number of very intelligent people. I crave that interaction. In fact, I prefer to be the least knowledgeable person in the room. It is easier to learn from those whose background and experience are different from your own than from those with whom we are most alike. The saying “If we all think alike only one of us is needed” is most assuredly true, unless we simply need reinforcement or validation of our own position. There needs to be a cross-pollination of disciplines in every industry. How can we advance unless exposed to something we didn’t already know?

Maybe we can solve supply-chain difficulties by looking at other industries. Perhaps we can find ways to overcome a position of little market leverage by tapping into areas beyond our present expertise – maybe through alliances. Are our current strategies for risk mitigation the correct ones? Are we even addressing all of the potential areas of risk?

I think sometimes that we have forgotten how to brainstorm. For those who use the technique, there is often a strong personality in the room who inadvertently tends to quash ideas. To truly be effective, an outside moderator is helpful. They can guide the conversation, interject questions designed to stimulate thought and help draw out those who often feel intimidated within such settings. Many great ideas are never spoken because of the fear of embarrassment.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series speaks of an endless repetitive cycle of time that varies in detail yet, ultimately, is a never-ending playing out of the same general events. It sounds a lot like the cattle industry. We have cattle cycles and seasonal cycles. We deal with the same issues – such as packer concentration and industry fragmentation – over and over again. Unlike the book series, we can’t expect a messiah figure to rise up and save us from ourselves. We must each take that responsibility with, hopefully, some exceptional leaders sprinkled into the mix.

Just imagine a world in which beef is the preferred protein from a nutritional aspect, from an environmental aspect and is accepted by all segments of society. Hmmm … we may have two out of the three going for us already. Now, let’s add to the story an equitably shared profitability across all segments of the industry, and we will have a winner.

Today, it may be fantasy fiction, but with the proper application of science, technology and a will to make it happen, it could become the reality of tomorrow.

I can dream, can’t I?

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