42 tricks to achieve Supply Chain greatness

Would you trust an authority who happens to be routinely publishing materials such as:

  • The 5 bones you need to know to perform cranial surgery (surgeon)
  • The 7 maneuvers that will safely land your aircraft (pilot)
  • Top 10 tricks to avoid nuclear core meltdown (engineer)

I certainly would not. Furthermore, I would expect anybody with at least an ounce of common sense to come to the same conclusion. Indeed, such domains are complex, irremediably so. There is not the slightest chance that a mere itemized list of “stuff” can bring anything of value to the table. These are clickbait materials of the purest kind, only intended to generate traffic.

42 tricks to achieve Supply Chain greatness

Supply chain problems are not only complex but wicked too. Thus, the idea that an itemized list can solve supply chain problems - or even summarize them - is just as ludicrous as it would be to pretend that surgery, aircraft design or nuclear engineering can be tackled via such haphazard intellectual constructs.

This reminds me of a TV interview with a Nobel Prize physicist1 two or three decades ago:

“Sir, for our viewers, could you summarize in 20 seconds why you got the Nobel Prize?” asked the TV interviewer. “If I could, I would not have gotten this prize in the first place,” calmly replied the physicist.

Yet, among certain supply chain circles, such publications are prevalent. Worse, these publications end-up massively relayed by hordes of supply chain consultants / practitioners / students, on whichever social networks they see fit. This state of affairs is damaging for the supply chain community as whole.

It solidifies the status quo. Experts can scan those lists and walk away reassured as they already knew all the points being presented. Juniors can absorb all this “knowledge” in a matter of minutes and feel good about their keen intellect. The field can be perceived as almost entirely shallow, which in turn, prevents actual progress from happening. Indeed, as supply chain itself is shallow, as proven by these very publications, efforts must be directed to what is perceived as higher added-value adjacent fields, like “data science”, “AI” or the “blockchain”. After all, it’s a reasonable proposition if there is little or nothing to be expected on the supply chain front.

It sadly discourages brilliant minds from entering the field. As stated previously, Lokad receives about 100x more requests to conduct machine learning PhDs than supply chain PhDs. This imbalance is wrong and reflects the broad perception that supply chain is not a worthy field of study, triggering a vicious self-fulfilling prophetic lack of progress. Brilliant minds tend to have a keen perception of the field of study of interest. Hence, they tend to flock en masse toward fields that they perceive as most worthy of their attention.

Yet, culling those clickbaiting techniques is difficult because they work! While the process is unethical, why would a vendor deprive itself of an influence technique that happens to be successfully leveraged by most of its competitors?

Robert Cialdini, in the conclusion of his excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, published in 1984, outlines what has to be done when one stands witness to an influence trick - clickbaiting being the present trick of interest. Cialdini suggests that the only ethical course of action is an unreasonable retaliation against the offender. Indeed, merely frowning upon the offender is not nearly sufficient, as it does not deter against future bad behavior. A simple and better way to retaliate consists of calling out the technique for what it is. When done publicly, there is no doubt that such retaliation is very effective. All it takes is a bit of courage…

That is why, sadly, you won’t find here the 42 tricks to achieve supply chain greatness that you have been hoping for. Although 42 is supposedly the ultimate answer to the great question of life (see The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams), I don’t believe there is an easy path to supply chain greatness. There are only years of hard work and the persistence to attack complex problems up until the last nitty gritty details has been taken into account.


  1. It was probably Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, although I am not entirely sure. ↩︎