“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” – Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken Robinson is a world leading speaker on the topics of developing creativity, innovation and human resources in both education and business. His talks at the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times all over the world. I was watching some of Sir Ken’s videos in preparation for his talk at my company’s upcoming Kinexions conference, and his take on creativity and finding your passion was truly inspiring. Robinson likes to examine the inner workings of creative thinking. He compares mathematicians’ approach to solving problems in formulas to the way musicians hear a symphony when they see notes on a page. Scientists and chemists make many mistakes in their creative process before they find a solution or cure. In these situations, being wrong doesn’t mean failure, it means understanding what doesn’t work. Of course my thoughts then turned to the supply chain. We’re certainly a different group, facing unique challenges. There is no room for error; we’re either right or wrong, and there is no time to “try things” in the middle of executing on your plans to get your products to your customers. Traditionally, supply chain has been reactive in nature. You plan, execute, and when something changes, you react to course correct as best you can. That doesn’t mean supply chain practitioners haven’t thought about being proactive. Lean experts are certainly the role models for creativity when it comes to eliminating waste and driving value to the customer.. It’s just that in general, we don’t have the time or the tools that allow for split second decision support when disruptions hit us. Unlike scientists in a lab who have time to experiment, buyers, planners, and operations must do what they think is best in a time of crisis. If you need an answer now but the tools you use for analysis and comparison of possible resolutions takes hours, days or in some cases weeks, then you find yourself waiting for the wrong answer and doing what feels right. In thinking about the role of creativity in the supply chain and responding to change, you could say we’re more like the doctor operating on a patient in critical condition that has to respond to a surprise on the operating table. They need to respond in a way that’s timely and still leaves the patient with an opportunity to heal 100%. With today’s technologies, doctors have all the tools they need to respond like scopes, x-rays, and hi-tech testing and diagnostic equipment. Similarly, supply chain professionals must respond in time to make a difference, efficiently and profitably. There are dozens of situations that would benefit from some creative thought: How do you best allocate limited supply? What customers do you satisfy first? What demands would drive the most revenue for the quarter? Is it better to expedite, use a substitute or transfer inventory? What’s the impact of altering an engineering change on excess and shortages?
We may be creative supply chain professionals, but like doctors, we could benefit from some updated tools that enable creativity and better decision making. In supply chain environments, a simulation tool that allows you to test and experiment within seconds can be an invaluable addition to the toolbox. When responding in your execution or ERP system, you usually get one chance. If you’re wrong, that failure takes on the form of expedites, shortages, excess, or missed goals on revenue, margin, inventory and delivery targets. If you’re wrong in your simulation tool, this means you know what doesn’t work. Simulation equals knowledge. Simulation also gives you the opportunity to get creative with your problem solving efforts. Perhaps testing a solution that may not be obvious but drives the most profitable response can be validated through simulating and comparing it to the alternatives. Most people don’t often think of creativity when talking supply chain. Still, we are continually thinking about how to best manage change. Any situation that requires problem solving will only benefit from people who have the freedom to ask questions and understand what answers are the best for their company. A number of analysts agree that simulation, scenario management and consequence evaluation, and alerting will take supply chain processes to the next level of breakthrough performance. What do you think? We would look forward to hearing any of your creative solutions to traditional Supply Chain challenges. And if you’re looking for inspiration, check out some of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks.