Dr. Thomas Goldsby, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Tennessee — Knoxville's Haslam College of Business, assigns his undergraduate student a "routine exercise" that frequently proves revelatory. Its purpose is to illustrate the complexity of the various trade routes that bring products from all over the world to consumers. The assignment is to figure out how far the students can trace the supply chain — if possible going back to the exact point when the raw materials were extracted.
"When my students have had an opportunity to present their results to the companies and the products that they produce, the company executives learn something every time," Goldsby told Salon. "I just think it's remarkable that my undergraduate students can present news about the business or the products and the senior executives are like, 'Wow, we had no idea that a golf club manufacturer is wondering why they have a hard time getting titanium.' It's because there's not a lot of titanium that goes into a golf club, but there's a whole heck of a lot of it that goes into an aircraft to build the fuselage."
Goldsby uses this exercise to explain the complexity of the supply chains and how unanticipated hiccups — such as another industry wanting a resource you need, and you not knowing it — can have drastic, unexpected consequences.