David and Goliath: Lessons for supply chains

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David and Goliath | supply chain perspective

I just finished a great book called ‘David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell. The book references the story about two men, Goliath from the Philistines and David from the Israelites in the days of the Old Testament in ancient Palestine. As most of you know, in the battle of David and Goliath, David, a small man, the underdog, was confronted by a giant, a man so formidable it would have seemed impossible for David to even survive such a fight. But he did. He won using skill and techniques that were not typical for this fight. Goliath was weighed down by his armor. David was flexible, responsive and targeted. He knew that he couldn’t rely on his size if he wanted to win. Having been in supply chain for so many years, I immediately made a connection. The correlation I saw is with organizations. I have worked with numerous organizations in multiple industries and it is disappointing to see that quite often the bigger they get the more difficult it is for them to make effective decisions. It is very easy for a large organization to, over time,  apply more and more armor. They develop more guidelines, decision hierarchies, rigid processes which end up making it more difficult for employees to achieve their goals than before. The end result is latent decision making, lack of flexibility, costly errors, and politically charged decisions.  The company may be doing well from a shareholder view but when you peel back the onion you see the issues. What impresses me is the caliber of the employees. They are many intelligent, forward thinking individual contributors tangled up in the armor. On a positive note, I did recently have the pleasure of working with a very large company who acted like David. At one time I expect that they were the underdog. Their advantage stems from their culture. It is a company with a culture of rewarding innovation, empowering employees, providing a clear line of communication to senior executives, succinct communication in meetings and emails, and the use of process to ensure execution to plan. As you can see, I am a big believer in the David’s. I work for a David and we are winning many battles. The story of the underdog winning the battle is always appealing to everyone. Just remember that it is with just cause and there is no reason why any company, large or small can’t maintain the skills of a David.  

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