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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

Nov. 5, 2021

Couch Report: Gartner Supply Chain Supply Chain Symposium 2021 Part 2

Tuesday and Wednesday Keynotes Oddly Both External Innovation Gurus

Last week, I wrote a "Couch Report" on the recent Gartner Supply Chain Supply Chain Symposium 2021.

Since it was again an all-virtual event, I titled my summary as with other summaries of on-line events a Couch Report, rather than the usual Trip Report, since I attended from the comfort of my nice padded chain or sofa.


Last week, I focused on the opening keynote presentation by Gartner analysts Dana Stiffler and Simon Bailey. Last week, I called it "rather extraodinary," as it posited (greatly over simplifying) supply chain is both "cause and cure" for a wide swath of the world's "fractures."


Gilmore Says....

Likner says he learned over many years that most of us overestimate the risk of trying something new.

What do you say?

Click here to send us your comments

To learn more, go to my last week's column here.


This week, I am back with review and comment on the conferences other two keynote presentation.


Somewhat oddly, from my view, both the day 2 and day 3 keynotes were innovation speakers. Normally, you might have a supply chain executive or two featured as keynoters to complement the Gartner-led presentation on Monday and an outside, usually motivational type speaker on one of the other two days.

I will also say that in the last seven years or so innovation speakers have been quite prominent on the supply chain conference circuit. Most are decent enough, but there is a certain sameness to them all, so to me two on an innovation theme was just too much. Perhaps with some remaining COVID overhang Garter was scrambling to find a strong keynoter, especially of the supply chain executive type.

On Tuesday we heard from Lisa Bodel, who is CEO of a firm called FutureThink. She's a good presenter and made a number of interesting points throughout her session.

We need to challenge both what work we do and how to do it, Bodel said, and made what I think is a point worth pondering: many companies strive for greater agility to be able to react to change, but the real business opportunity is usually in driving change, not responding to it.

So what is holding companies back from change and innovation? Bodel said there is too much company focus on trying to do more instead of focusing on what work is really valuable.

She also made some interesting points relative to "thinking," from which might derive innovative ideas: many companies and bosses don't really consider thinking work. If you go into an employee's office and he or she is staring out the window thinking about new ideas for the business, isn't the natural reaction still, even if unsaid, "get back to work."?

Second, where do people generally say they do their best thinking? Well, almost no one says it's in the office, but that (pre-COVID work from home at least) is where we expect workers to come up with innovative thinking.

Bodel also says we spend a lot of time individually or in groups brainstorming on solving problems, and not nearly enough on creating opportunities.

She also says we need to get better at asking questions. With all the software we have in the supply chain, and coming artificial intelligence, getting answers to questions will be easy. Knowing the right questions to ask will be the key. As an example of sorts, she cited the story of a plant manager of a utility company who wanted to engage employees in innovation.

He asked his 8oo employees to submit ideas on how to get more efficient and cut costs. He received 12 responses. So he changed the question to: how could you be more engaged, stop spending time on low value work, and/or improve the customer experience? A little bit different result this time: 837 ideas came in.

And I liked this too: Supply chain execs need to take the lead in reducing "friction" in their organizations. Tell the team you're taking on a new title, for example "chief simplifier" - and follow through on that promise.

Next up on Wednesday we got Josh Linkner, speaker, entrepreneur, and author of "Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results."

The basic idea here: your company will likely prosper and innovate more by hitting lots of singles in rapid succession than by swinging for the fences with high effort/high risks programs.

Within the past few years I saw a similar message from another innovation guru - the "1% Solution" or something like that (though I can't seem to track it down), with the same basic idea that if you just improve 1% every short interval, with compounding you generate soon some very large gains.

Linkner's platform has five main planks:

1. Start before you are ready: The most innovative people and companies leap into action in the face of uncertainty, embracing "rapid experimentation" to iterate to a successful path.

One interesting idea from Linkner on this: don't just keep a "to do" list, but also a "to test" list.

2. Break it to fix it: The saying "If it ain't broke don't fix it" doesn't cut it any more, Likner says. Many things or processes that appear to be working well hide many improvement opportunities under the surface, he notes, encouraging us to "deconstruct them, and build them back better."

3. Hunt and kill assumptions: Likner says he learned over many years that most of us overestimate the risk of trying something new - and underestimate the risk in standing pat.
I think that is a very true statement.

And often, companies don't pursue new ideas due to assumptions and unwritten rules that blind us to opportunities. Challenge them regularly.

4. Role-storming: In typical brainstorming sessions, people are generally afraid to share ther most out-of-box ideas, worried about rejection and embarrassment.

Likner said that can be addressed using a technique called "role-storming," in which participants select or choose known characters and present ideas that would potentially come from that character - say maybe Steve Jobs. How might he think about this current challeng?
I can see how this might be fun for a time or two, but question whether it would have much staying power. Has anyone tried this?

5. Fall seven times, stand eight: Failures are part of the process, Likner says - in a refrain almost universal among innovation pundits.

The result of following this Japanese proverb should be a "fusion of creativity and resilience." There wasn't a whole lot more behind this concept.

Likner is also a very good speaker, and there were a few ideas I think are worth considering here.

That said, two innovation speakers were one too many - Garner could have done better than this.

Back for a final time on this with some Gartner Abreakout session reviews next week.

What's your take on these Gartner two innovation keynote presentations? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button or section below.

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