The person chairing at a recent meeting kicked it off with an unexpected question.

“How are you feeling and what have you done today?” 

It was enough to take me right out of my comfort zone and this unusual opening had a hugely positive impact on the meeting.

The answers – which the chair ensured were full and authentic – gave everybody an appreciation of where each individual was coming from and a context for their behaviour and contribution to the meeting.  It also had a subtle, cathartic effect of enabling people to offload their frustrations and focus on the matters in hand.  As a result all of us participants operated much more as a team and were able to focus on the meeting objectives.

Having sat through so many meetings in my business career where the opening was formulaic, this change in approach got me thinking about how many other things we do blindly out of sheer habit.

Sometimes we get into such a routine of normality that we do things without thinking.  “How’s business?” is routinely answered with “Excellent” or “We’re getting into a really exciting period right now”.

We unconsciously fall into the same habit with looking at business problems.   But some challenges require us to think differently.  How about ‘how can we improve our business and make a positive impact on the environment at the same time?’.  Too tough?

The prospect of thinking differently can be difficult, uncomfortable and even exhausting – but every now and then the spark hits and it’s invigorating.

The following well-known quote has been variously attributed to Albert Einstein and Narcotics Anonymous:

“The definition of an idiot is someone who does the same thing twice and expects a different outcome.”

However accurate the attribution, these sources seem particularly apt and maybe we are addicted to viewing business challenges and problems from the same old angles.

Ask yourself the age-old musician’s question: “I had 21-years to write the first album and 9-months to write the second, so how do I write the second album?”

The results of thinking differently can be astonishing, as innovators have proved for generations.  But it doesn’t always need to be big ideas.   A small change coming from a different approach that can still yield big results.

A shift in perspective or applying a different constraint can throw different aspects of a challenge into sharp relief and stimulate ideas.

What’s this got to do with procurement?  It’s not a function or activity often associated with innovation and creativity, but why not?  The surest way to save money is not to spend it, so Procurement is ideally placed to create new opportunities by:

  • Questioning why we’re buying goods and services in the first place
  • Questioning why we’re using the same supplier we’ve always used
  • Freeing the organisation to focus on its core strengths
  • Sourcing ideas from the supply base who know how other customers do things differently
  • Creating frameworks and partnerships for co-creation

New perspectives in any one of these areas can create new opportunities and commercial advantage.

As James Dyson points out “Companies are not ingenious, it’s the people in them that are”.

Failing to connect the creativity of the people on either side of a client / supplier relationship constrains innovation.  An enlightened approach to procurement is recognising where the human connection can create value and ensuring the frameworks support that relationship.