Creative or Crackpot. How do you tell the difference?

the doctor has been called both. Thought leaders early in their career, including modern legends in science and business, have been called both. And anyone who pushes the boundaries in unusual ways will be called both. But how do you tell the difference?

It’s a tough problem. There’s such a thin line between genius and insanity, and even if the individual was a genius yesterday, who’s to say the genius hasn’t crossed the line and become a bonafide crackpot today.

But it’s one that should be tackled. the doctor could cross the line himself someday and the best way to prevent that from happening for as long as possible is to be aware of the warning signs and take proactive action. (Just like the best way to avoid dementia is through a combination of good eatin’, regular exercise, stress management, and regular mental activity.)

So the doctor did some research and found a pretty interesting article over on boingboing that provided some advice on the identification of the modern crackpot.

According to the article, written by Maggie Koerth-Baker, the science editor at boingboing and a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University from August 2014 to May 2015 (which only accepts candidates with the potential for journalistic excellence), there are five indicators that, if present, might indicate the individual has crossed the line into the realm of the crackpot (or, even worse, has always lived in crackpotopia).

1. Is the story being uttered by the individual too feel-good?
(Like the Big News from Grand Rock.) Good educators care more about the evidence, technology, or practice than the story.

2. Is the proof being presented by the individual too self-evident?
If it really is obvious common sense, the individual is not as smart as he is making herself out to be. And if it’s not, there’s more smooth in the talk than there is substance, and that should set off a lot of warning bells. Proof generally requires explanation. Sometimes lots of it.

3. If the individual is trying to convince you that acceptance of the new idea will make you smarter than the official experts, be suspicious.
Very suspicious. Experts aren’t always right, but they usually are. Plus, at best, you should be as smart as the experts. Not more so.

4. If the studies the individual is using are (really) old, if there’s only a few studies, or if the individual is trying to use some weird meta-study across mostly unrelated studies (and ignore Pinky and the Brain’s lesson in statistics), dig deep. Really, really deep. What looks like truth when you look at five samples can quickly become completely untrue when you look at five hundred.

5. If you are told that you cannot trust any other source of information (because of some big, corporate, conspiracy or because such-and-such expert is a sell-out), then the individual is either the pre-eminent expert or a complete crackpot. (And we will leave it to you to guess which one is considerably more statistically likely.) An individual must know his or her limitations. There’s a reason SI tends to focus on some things (like optimization and analysis) and ignore others (like market speculation and merger benefits). That’s because the doctor is an expert in the first and not an expert in the latter.

This is not a complete or exhaustive test, especially since the greatest of geniuses who truly see the future years before anyone else will often only have a few studies to draw on, come up with proofs so logical that they seem self evident, require you to mistrust most accepted sources of information, and present a story that is truly exceptional. However, ground-breaking advances like this tend to only happen every few decades at most. So the test present by Ms. Koerth-Baker is a good one.

Procurement is Still in the Technology Dark Ages

A recent post over on Deal Architect discussed how, despite claims to the contrary by recent analyst firms, most organizations are still in the technology dark ages, and this goes double for Sourcing and Procurement.

Not only is it the case that most organizations do not have modern e-Sourcing and e-Procurement platforms, but many are still stuck on outdated MRP and ERP systems that actually hinder, instead of help, Supply Management.

Consider the plethora of problems with ERP systems that often make it worse than not having a system at all:

There is generally little requisition management and no sourcing / tender / RFX support. In an ERP the process starts with a purchase order, flips into a goods receipt, and, maybe, just maybe, correlates with an invoice for payment.

There is generally little support for any type of real analysis. There is usually a built-in report library that has a few standard reports on suppliers, products, bills of materials, invoices, and payments.

There is only one schema, and it generally doesn’t lend itself to any particular form of analysis, reporting, or inquiry beyond the built in reports and any sort of global trade analysis, import/export analysis, tax analysis, or tariff analysis is just a pipe dream.

There’s a reason that Sourcing Innovation recently blogged about how hose that still rely on ERP could end up in the supply chain disaster record books and that is because ERP systems are not a supply chain management platform. But it, and maybe a few free web tools, are the best many organizations still have, and that has to change.

Especially when many organizations still pump millions of dollars into these platforms that don’t adequately support Procurement, don’t adequately support Sales, and don’t adequately support modern logistics and inventory management in the age of 3PLs (third party logistics) and VMI (vendor managed inventory).

Investments need to be made in the right products and platforms that serve the core needs of each department, starting with Sourcing and Procurement.  And there are plenty out there.

Societal Damnation 43: Rapid Urbanization & Mega-Cities

There are a lot of societal damnations converging upon your organization and threatening ruin. To date, we’ve covered the sharing economy, crime & piracy, fraud & corruption, (the lack of) education quality, the utter lack of math competency, (mega) project management, and Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS). Today we’re going to cover rapid urbanization and mega-cities.

You’re probably wondering why this isn’t a good thing. More people in less area means the organization can sell more goods in a smaller area and this means Logistics has less areas to ship to and Procurement fewer areas to buy for. This is true, but it doesn’t mean that Procurement’s or Logistic’s task is any easier. In fact, while rapid urbanization can often make Sales’ and Marketing’s job easier, it can make Logistics’s and Procurement’s job harder. Much harder.

Typically when a city starts to rapidly urbanize, it’s infrastructure is not ready for the rapid urbanization. It’s water plants are stressed (and may not be able to accommodate the introduction of factories that require large amounts of water). It’s energy grids are stressed (and it’s not unreasonable that rolling brown-outs or blackouts could be temporarily required at peak periods). It’s public transportation is stressed (and even getting a taxi can be a 45 minute ordeal). It’s roads are stressed (and there can be regular delays to pick up and drop off goods at cross-docks and warehouses). Plus, it’s core roads may only be 2 or 4 lanes in many places, with large trucks prohibited – meaning that Logistics will have to secure, and use, a number of smaller trucks for pickups and deliveries — which means a need for more drivers in an industry where the driver shortage is in the tens of thousands in some countries. And then there’s waste management. The sewer system could be taxed (with the end result that the rivers are used to handle the excess until they run full of waste like the Mithi river). The capacity to collect garbage might not be there (which leads to stringent limitations on how much trash a home or business can throw out unless they haul it out of town to dump by themselves). And process and recycling stations could be overloaded (leading to a stench, unhealthy buildup of noxious fumes in the air).

Then comes a rapid increase in pollution, which can see a rapid increase in hazardous airborne (smog-inducing) particles to the point where it is almost triple the national air quality average (as is the base in Beijing). This will, of course, eventually result in legislation to limit the amount of pollution an organization can produce, which will, if the organization hasn’t planned for it, result in costly production plant and fleet retrofits that could easily cost millions of dollars. However, this probably won’t equal the increase in taxes that will come if the city, state, or country tries to clean up its problem and decides to spend billions of dollars doing so (as China is about to in preparation for its bid to host the 2022 winter olympics, an effort that will cost about $7.7B using the exchange rate of August 16, 2015).

But the trials and tribulations don’t stop there. Rapid urbanization is also typically associated with a rapid increase in crime (though often temporary from a long-term perspective, this temporary increase can still last decades), pandemics (as nothing spreads airborne and waterborne bacteria and virii faster than density), taxation to pay for the necessary improvements to infrastructure and social programs, a quickly changing political and regulatory environment, and a greater potential for mass hysteria and riots. Rapid urbanization can bring with it dozens of damnations, each of which will directly and indirectly affect Procurement on a daily basis.

Sales and Marketing may do the dance of joy, but they really ought to be shot in the foot for doing so as the good can often be outweighed by the bad in the short term, and the amount of rapid adaption that Procurement might be forced to deal with may not be worth it.

Regulatory Damnation 35: Health and Safety

Health and Safety, generally referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) or Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) in North America, refers to regulations and regulatory management concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of employees, be they full time, part time, contingent, day labourer, or unpaid intern. In an advanced organization, it’s a key component of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as the health and welfare of any person doing any task for the organization is a key concern of any responsible organization.

So why is this a damnation? Is this not only the right thing to do but something you want to do as an injured or unwell employee is not productive? It’s a damnation because in some countries of the world, it’s becoming a regulatory nightmare. And not only is failure to comply with the regulations, some of which may go beyond common sense, a huge fine, but if someone gets injured and your organization failed to comply with the regulations, in some countries (and the United States in particular) that’s a million-plus lawsuit waiting to happen.

It’s a massive risk management activity that often adds very little value to the organization.

First, you need to either have your lawyer spend cycles researching all relevant OSH laws to your business at the municipal, state, and federal levels and make sure you are fully compliant, or shell out thousands upon thousands (upon thousands) of dollars to an expert OSH law firm that will provide you a list of all regulations you need to adhere to, minimum requirements, and example programs.

Then you need to identify all hazards of the

  • physical and mechanical variety
    and make sure all personnel have the appropriate safety gear and safety training and supervision if they are new to the task
  • biological and chemical variety
    and make sure all personnel have the appropriate safety gear, training, and supervision and make sure that the risk of exposure is minimized as much as it can be (and only qualified, certified personnel are allowed in the lab where the deadly virii are kept)
  • psychosocial variety
    and make sure all personnel are kept as far away from them as possible (which may mean keeping the CEO away from general assemblies, as he* is likely a psychopath)

Then you need to document your research, your policies, your training methods, your enforcement methods, and your regular review activities in case the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or its equivalent comes knocking at your door (as the result of complaints, injury, and/or lawsuits).

And if you’re in Procurement, not only do you have to worry about the safety and health of your employees (who might have to travel to dangerous regions for site visits of what could be danger-ridden factories), but of your supplier’s employees as well. If their practices aren’t up to par and a major disaster happens at one of their facilities, it’s your corporate brand that is going to take the hit when the dust settles and multiple worker’s rights group are quick to point out the failings in your supply chain.

It’s yet another time-sucking task that should be easy and obvious but isn’t thanks to mountains of legislation and suppliers who care more about money than people.

* Most CEOs are men. It’s probably because (considerably) more men than women have been diagnosed as psychopaths. (If most CEOs are psychopaths and most psychopaths are men, then we have a logical explanation for why most CEOs are men outside of sexism.)

Environmental & Sustainability Damnation 23: Food Shortages

So far we’ve covered natural disasters, EMPs, water, waste, rare earth minerals, and Greenpeace, but that still leaves four environmental damnations to discuss, and the next on the list is food shortages.

A few years ago, global food reserves hit a fifty year low.
With approximately 800 Million people, which is almost 11% of the global population, food insecure, and the increased rate of natural disasters, this is scary both from a social viewpoint and a corporate viewpoint. Every time there is a food shortage, the commodity prices spike, and contracts be damned.

If a significant portion of a supplier’s crops are wiped out and it doesn’t have enough to satisfy its contracts, it can claim force majeure, and unless your organization is paying the most, it’s claiming force majeure on you and your supply is out the window. If a considerable portion of its crops are wiped out, and it theoretically could meet demand, but a considerable portion of the global supply was wiped out and prices have skyrocketed, the supplier might choose to still claim force majeure and sell to the highest bidder, contracts be damned, and while you might be able to go to court and make a case that it should have fulfilled your contracts, that could take years, and you’re certainly not getting the crop this year unless you pay market price. If a major product line depends on that crop, your organization could be out of business before it won the lawsuit and recouped any damages.

Since most crops are still grown in fields, and not greenhouses (which are not as environmentally friendly as one might think if one is trying to grow crops in the summer), the right climate is needed for a good yield. Sun and warmth, but not enough to dry the plants (and bake them to a crisp), enough rain (and irrigation), a sufficiently long growing seasons, and an absence of pest swarms. A drought can quickly wipe out a crop. A fire can quickly wipe out a crop. An earthquake that can destroy irrigation systems and storage containers can wipe out a crop. And so on. Moreover, as the rate of natural disasters increases as a result of global warming (which is a bad term because it’s not just global warming, it’s global climate change on a broad scale), the rate of natural disasters that destroy crops and lead to food commodity shortages is going to increase. Diversified supply is no longer an option, but a must. Excess production and storage in diverse locations for eventual disasters is a must. Planning ahead years at a time is a must.

It’s another damnation that does nothing but increase the complexity of your job.