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The Best-Drawn Supply Chain You'll Ever See: A Look at How an Industry Evolves

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When drawing supply chains, most people don't bother with more than a fast doodle with boxes representing the different parts of the industry and a little stick figure representing the end customer. There's no reason that they should spend any more time than that (and besides, most MBA types lack the talent to draw anything more complex.)

When Scott McCloud draws a supply chain, he takes it to a different level than anything you're used to seeing. To begin with, McCloud is a deservedly respected comic book writer and artist, so his supply chain is extremely well rendered. Putting aside the aesthetic superiority of his drawings, what makes his supply chain worth studying is his unique ability to convey information in an informative and surprisingly insightful way.

Take a look at this panel from Reinventing Comics to see how McCloud maps the comic-book industry:

2011-03-28-UnexpectedExpertsDotCom_McCloudSupplyChain_500.jpg

Forget how well it's illustrated for a moment and take a look at how much information McCloud conveys as the product travels from the artist (in the upper right hand corner) down to the consumer (in the lower left hand corner.) Note how he isn't just mapping the flow of the product downstream, he's also charting the flow of the revenue upstream.

What you can't tell from the single panel shown above is that this isn't the whole supply chain. What makes it truly great is that McCloud isn't simply taking a snapshot of how the industry looks in current form. Instead, he dedicates several pages of his book to carefully showing how the supply chain evolves. At the beginning of his discussion, he shows the industry in the simplest possible form a business can take -- one person selling one product to one consumer:

2011-03-28-UnexpectedExpertsDotCom_McCloudSimpleSupplyChain_500.jpg

True, the industry in question was never that simple, but it's still educational to look at it as if it did evolve that way. By starting with the most basic of transactions, McCloud is able to show you what happens when the industry grows one step at a time. You see what value each new link in the chain creates (and what is sometimes lost in the process as those links are introduced.) Along the way, McCloud never loses sight of the purpose of the supply chain: connecting the creator and the consumer.

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