TED@UPS: Turning Skeptics into Believers

How did we finally succeed in creating the world’s largest operations research project?


The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Truth passes through three stages: ridicule, violent opposition and, finally, acceptance as if self-evident.”

After devoting almost a decade of my life to a project that goes by the acronym ORION, I believe many innovative ideas must clear the same gauntlet before skeptics become believers.

ORION began as a mission by a small group of engineers to use operational technology to identify the most efficient routes for UPS drivers.

You could say that saving miles and fuel is the Holy Grail for a logistics company like ours that makes an average of 18 million deliveries a day.

Cracking the Code with Operations Research

But some people in our company thought my team and I were crazy.

They thought that in the better part of a century, we had wrung every minute’s worth of slack out of our system and that further savings were virtually non-existent.

While working on the project for long periods without tangible evidence of progress, my team’s defense was that innovators must be willing to look foolish to the crowd. And I’m sure we did.

Yet we stayed the course. Then found that elusive key.

Based on a 1,000-page algorithm and an equally impressive amount of fortitude, ORION is now plotting the course of more than 20,000 UPS drivers every day.

By the end of 2016, when the system is fully deployed in the U.S., ORION will be shaving 100 million miles and saving 10 million gallons of fuel a year – the equivalent of 100,000 metric tons in carbon emissions.

ORION is used by more than 35,000 drivers daily.

How did we find the strength to keep going in the face of significant doubt?

How did we finally succeed in creating the world’s largest operations research project?

How did we break through the three stages of innovation?

That’s the story I tell in my TED@UPS talk. goldbrown2

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Jack Levis is Senior Director of Process Management at UPS.

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