In August 1949 a group of fifteen smokejumpers – elite wild land firefighters – descended from the Montana sky to contain an aggressive fire near the Missouri River. After hiking for a few minutes the foreman, Wagner Dodge, saw that the fire was raging – flames stretching over 30 feet in the air and blazing forward fast enough to cover two football fields every minute.
The plan was to dig a trench around the fire to contain it and divert it towards an area with little to burn.
Soon it became clear that the fire was out of control and the plan was out the window. The fire was unstoppable so, instead, they’d try to outrun it, to safer ground.
For the next ten minutes, burdened by their heavy gear and tiring legs, the team raced up an incline, reaching an area that was only a few hundred yards from safety. But the fire was unflinching, gaining ground like a wolf chasing down a wounded animal.
Suddenly, Dodge stopped. He threw off his gear and, incredibly, took out some matches, lit them, and tossed them onto the grass. His crew screamed at him but to no avail – when Dodge didn’t listen, they had no choice and turned and ran as fast as they could, leaving their foreman to what they believed to be certain peril.
But Dodge had quickly devised a different survival strategy: an escape fire. By torching an area in front of him, he choked off the fuel for the fire to feed on. Then, he poured water on a rag, put it over his mouth and lay down, face first, on the freshly burnt grass while the fire raged and sped past and over him. In total, he’d spend close to 15 minutes living off the oxygen close the ground he’d just torched.
Sadly, of the rest of his crew that tried to outrun the blaze, only two would survive.
Wagner Dodge was able to survive not because of his physical fitness, but his mental fitness – the ability to rethink and unlearn. The prevailing paradigm was that, at some stage for an out-of-control blaze, your only option is to try to out run it. But Dodge was able to quickly rethink things – believing that, perhaps, by choking off it’s fuel line and providing his own small wasteland area, the fire might avoid him. The ability to rethink had saved his life.
As it turns out, the ability to rethink and unlearn is also crucial for retails survival and revival.
It’s no secret, many retailers are struggling. The same is true of many retail supply chains.
Do you ever really wonder why?
Lots of people blame retail’s generally slow adoption of new technologies and business models as the main factor, but I think it’s a deeper, more fundamental and chronic problem.
Technology is not eating retail. Fossilized thinking is.
What’s fossilized thinking? It’s people – at all levels in an organization – who are unwilling or unable to challenge their long-held beliefs. Not only challenge them, but be able to rethink, unlearn and change them often.
As a case in point, many people who work in the retail supply chain don’t include the consumer as part of the supply chain. Yet, if you think about it, the retail supply chain begins and ends with the consumer. There are even a number of folks who don’t consider the store part of the supply chain. Once the product has shipped from the DC to the store, then, incredibly, job done according to them.
Don’t believe me?
I won’t embarrass them, but just recently I read a “thought leadership” article from one of the world’s pre-eminent consulting firms regarding the top trends in retail supply chain management. At #3, and I kid you not, was the growing view that the store was a key part of the supply chain.
Flowcasting tribe members know better and think differently. The consumer and store have, and always will be, part of the supply chain. That’s why we understand that, in retail, there is no such thing as a push supply chain – since you can’t push the product to the consumer.
In my opinion (and I’m not alone), fossilized thinking, not technology adoption, is the real disruptor in retail.
If you want to improve, innovate or disrupt then you must…
Constantly rethink, unlearn and challenge your own thinking!