Friday, 1 February 2008

Hind Sights

Despite its waning influence on the diamond market the DTC remains the largest, if not the only player on the field able to affect change. It is their victory of sorts, albeit a dubious one, that much of the industry is in a state of limbo and disarray since the 'reorganisation' (to use one of the sanitised euphemisms for the first phase of their pruning operation) threw almost thirty sightholders out into the cold.

The anger, resentment and despair are understandable in some of the rejected. Those who helpfully tell them 'I told you so' are not only lacking in tact but are also missing the point. Despite the grumbling and groaning of many, the truth is that the industry could not forever remain stuck in the colonialist era, with a small club of the elite obtaining goods through special privilege and distributing it at a profit to the hungry masses. The ball that the DTC started rolling a few years ago when they first introduced the SOC program, is now gaining momentum and inevitably the face of the market is changing.

Their strategy for dragging the diamond industry into the twenty-first century was either devilishly clever, naïve and simplistic or a blind knee-jerk reaction. We, of course, can only guess. But some results are beginning to show and its effects can be seen beyond the select group of sightholders. For, not holding a sight, no longer condemns a player to second tier status, any more than having the privilege guarantees success.

Indeed, by dropping their overt drive towards branding and downstream influence as the only acceptable way forward, the DTC have plugged the one really glaring fault in their program. By promising to reward success, attained by whatever method or strategy (and I have reason to believe that is ultimately their new position) they are finally allowing the full arsenal in the market's forces to be unleashed. With a torrent of energy welled up behind some of those now at a crossroads, they have created a climate where imaginations will have to be taxed for the fittest to survive and prosper.

In line with other industries, success in the diamond manufacturing of the future will belong to those who are best able to bring goods to the market consistently, efficiently and cost effectively. And regardless of what the DTC will have their sightholders believe, supply will somehow always be available to those who have their demand lined up.

I once spent a few days under observation in a hospital sleep clinic to see if the insomnia that allows me to get by on 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night is damaging my health. It was a nightmare. The long hours between when the last visitor is forced to leave at midnight and the blessed rude entry of the first nurse at 5am with a determinedly cheerful 'Good morning!’ felt like solitary confinement. I took to roving the corridors in the small hours searching for other signs of life.

There are surprisingly few! Most hospital staff on wake aren't actually awake most of the time, I noticed. They bumble around like glassy-eyed zombies whenever some piece of technology forcibly drags them from the chair they are semi-dosing in and they return to it with alacrity, only staying awake for long enough to stare at me resentfully before their eyelids start hooding and their heads start a graceful bobbing ritual as their brain, from wherever their consciousness is sliding to, convinces them they are really awake.

A doctor in casualty with whom I shared forbidden smokes outside, explained that the long shifts are designed for a purpose. Apparently, medical staff must sometimes work 18 or 20 hours in a row, twice a week, with limited sleep time in between and under horrendously stressful conditions just to see if they are able to operate under duress. Rather than fail the weaker elements in exams, the Darwinian selection procedure is designed to make them crack and leave of their own volition. Soldiers, he assured me, undergo similar procedures in training.

The diamond industry has no head doctors who can force executives to show they are capable. The DTC and its brokers are far too busy placating their golden-egg-laying geese to encourage them to explore pastures new or deviate from their prescribed line, even when toeing it becomes obviously unrealistic. The diamond bourses and other players on an institutional level have little power to affect change on their own and the implementation of mid to long term strategic planning requires much more coercion and resources than they will bring. We marketing advisers meanwhile, tend to be far too busy protecting our own behinds to be able to afford to kick sense into our clients'.

It is comforting to think that the drive to separate the mice from the men, intentionally or otherwise, might provoke some into proving themselves, by succeeding in defiance of the hitherto accepted guidance, for the good of us all.

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