Experience should not be underestimated

27 July 2012
I have been involved in the purchasing and supply chain profession since 1972. As a former college history major, I have learned that history does repeat itself and experience does matter. I have seen fads and buzzwords that came and went, disappeared and returned, over the course of my career - each time treated as an innovation or novelty. For example, consignment/stockless purchasing became vendor-managed inventory, then supplier-owned/managed inventory, and some now call it integrated supply management for MRO items. And who else remembers procurement credit cards, reverse auctions and so on? As a consultant who conducts professional development training on a global basis, I meet young professionals who are simply concerned with what is the latest buzzword, fad, hype, trend, webinar or new practice. They are more concerned with the hyperbole rather than the basis or depth of the concept.  Without knowing how and why these tools work, these young professionals are reduced to wooden puppetry, unable to respond with the intelligence and self-directed agility needed to cope with today’s challenging global business environment. As the US composer Louis Gottschalk once said: “History is life; he who has not lived, or has lived only enough to write a doctoral dissertation, is too inexperienced with life to write good history”. That quote demonstrates to me the value of experience, so as to be aware of why ideas and methods work or don’t work, and to protect organisations against the latest passing enthusiasm. While never losing sight of our personal professional development, sound, experienced purchasing and supply chain professionals keep a skeptical eye on the latest tools before implementing it and adapting it to their organisation. Our recollections of what we’ve done before help to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information, and to still distinguish the essential current of events - the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex discussions, and sense which arguments have the most weight. Experienced professionals possess a vast repertoire of events, through situational involvement, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t. And that makes your life a more relaxed place in a volatile, uncertain and changing atmosphere. The things that lie ahead of us are like things we’ve already done, and that makes them less menacing, and less likely to take us by surprise. So experience does matter after all. As the Jimi Hendrix song’s lyrics cry out: “Are You Experienced? - Ah! Have you ever been experienced? - Well, I have”. ☛ Thomas Tanel is president and CEO of CATTAN Services Group
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