Think Different

An accountant and a former pig farmer would take the elevator and head to the 9th floor of an office building located at 2180 Yonge Street in Toronto, Canada. It's fall, 1994. They'd make their way to a corner of the floor and be joined by a few other new teammates. A recent economics graduate, an operations research PhD candidate, an engineer from overseas, a former grocery IT analyst, and a person from a large multi-national CPG company with an educational background in history and geography.

There they'd meet their team leader – a dude that had worked in industry and in consulting and was self-described as “a bit of a maverick, who had little regard for hierarchy and was equal part genius, equal part buffoon”.

Their mandate?

Completely the way product was planned and flowed in a , from factory to store shelf, for this $5billion Canadian retailer with more than 450 stores from coast to coast.

To say this team was unconventional was an understatement. As an example, every team was given the latitude to select their own furniture for meeting rooms and workspaces. After reviewing various options and costs, the team would decide that instead of a costly large meeting table they'd instead buy a ping-pong table and use it for working sessions. It was considerably cheaper, and at lunch and during breaks, they could play ping pong.

The introduction of a ping pong table as a work area became the stuff of legends. Lunch times were dominated with ferocious matches and the Senior Vice President of Supply Chain (the ultimate boss of this team) would famously have his ass handed to him one day during a match with one of the team members. No one worried about taking it easy on him. Both his forehand and backhand were weak and, as a result, he got what he deserved – crushed!

Work wise, the team would stutter and stumble. They'd take too long and get bogged down numerous times. They'd spend considerable time in stores, listening to store owners lament about poor product flows and shit service levels. Several ideas were documented, debated, and eventually scrapped.

One idea, though, would survive and the team continued to refine and improve it. Eventually, the idea of what we now call would be documented, and the team was certain the idea was simple, intuitive, and potentially game changing.

Unfortunately, the Senior Executive team didn't concur. Several executives considered the idea a pipe dream and told the team, “Change the design since this will never work”.

Luckily the team leader was also a bit of a c*nt and was not too keen at being “told” to change the design, especially by speculators – no one knows if something will work before you do it, so how can anyone say, with certainty, that “this will never work”. Never is long time.

As it turned out, one of the technology team members would connect the business folks with Andre Martin and Darryl Landvater and they would reassure the team with the fact that they had already conceived and ran some pilots of this design idea a few years before. A turning point for the design and the Flowcasting concept in general.

They would help convince the Senior Executive team that arrival-based, integrated, time-phased (the foundation that Flowcasting is built on) would be a critical capability retailers would need to enable their supply chains to flow product and deliver. The design direction would be approved, and subsequently implemented from DC to supplier and the rest is history.

What was the secret sauce of that pioneering team from Canadian Tire?

Diversity.

There's lots of talk today, and rightly so, about diversity. I think, however, many companies and especially teams are missing the real key to diversity – that is, cognitive diversity.

Are you looking for ways to inject fresh perspectives and innovative thinking into work?

Step forward, cognitive diversity.

Numerous studies have shown that people like working with others who think like them and have similar values.

The problem, however, is that it leads to groupthink, stifles creativity, and can limit the solutions that are proposed. Instead, you should embrace cognitive diversity, which means forming teams of people who are quite likely to disagree and bring widely varying perspectives and experiences to the table.

Look for people with different beliefs and/or personalities. Seek out colleagues with different educational backgrounds, widely different work experiences, from different parts of the world, or with different levels of risk acceptance.

The best teams, who deliver real and meaningful change, are ones with diverse perspectives and skills that complement each other. The best teams are cognitively diverse.

Think about many supply chain transformation initiatives. More often, the teams are composed of people with a similar background – type A personalities with a technical, mathematical, or engineering background. And what does that almost for certain guarantee? Groupthink and that the designs will be factual and logical.

Everyone who's implemented something knows that logic plays a small role. Implementations are about people and people have feelings, emotions, wants and needs. They can, at times, seem quite illogical. A cognitively diverse team will have better understanding, wider perspectives, better questioning & listening skills, and more empathy – all ingredients needed for successful change.

So, the next time you need to recruit a new team member and you have a candidate that's got pig farming (or other seemingly oddball experiences that don't fit the standard mold) in their experience, my advice is to hire them.

You'll be glad you did.

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