I can tell you that windsurfing is very easy – except for the wind. The wind makes it tricky, of course. It’s not particularly difficult to find and rent great equipment, and the techniques are fairly straightforward. What messes the whole plan up is that the wind is unpredictable. It’ll change exactly when you don’t want it to. The same thing is true about customer service (it would be a lot easier if it weren’t for the customers). In fact, every single function of an organization has a wind problem.
– Seth Godin, The Dip
The central theme of the book is that you must be able to discern which projects are worth continued investment of time and energy and which ones you need to find the courage to quit. The Buyers Meeting Point management team was advised to read the book by one of our mentors as a reminder that we have carved out a pretty sweet little niche for ourselves through the right combination of unique experience, a passion for what we do, and – oh yes – quirkiness. There is no one else in the world that can do what we do exactly the way we do it.
That niche doesn’t mean that we won’t from time to time hit a lull – the ‘dip’ referred to in the book. When you start to feel like you are spinning your wheels, or your enjoyment of the tasks isn’t what it was, or even if you find yourself being typecast in the role you currently fill. Any of those situations should be a signal that it is time to selectively quit what you are working on so that you can make a change by taking on something new.
In these times, the exercise Godin recommends is looking at the project, relationship, task, etc and assessing whether you are on the path to becoming the best in the world. Fortunately, the scope of your world domination can be very specific. You don’t have to be aiming to take down Google in order to put his advice into use. If you can define your quest, then you are on the right track and you can keep moving towards your goal.
The key distinction in the book is between a dip and a cul-de-sac. At times, they will feel the same. The primary difference is in understanding the future potential of your current efforts. A dip is a temporary setback that you can push through with continued effort and creativity. A cul-de-sac is a lull that feels temporary but there is no way out – regardless of how much energy you throw at it. Anything that has become a cul-de-sac should be quit immediately in favor of something that has the potential of rewarding your efforts.
If we take this philosophy and apply it to procurement, here are some examples of dips that come to mind:
- You’ve been trying to break into the marketing category for over 18 months without success.
- The business unit based in Memphis has notoriously poor compliance record.
- A long time incumbent supplier is refusing your request for more immediate insight into their financial records.
And, a few cul-de-sacs as well:
- The current CFO will not budge on his position that ‘cost avoidance’ is malarkey (and possibly hogwash as well).
- The internal stakeholder team responsible for final award decisions refuses to consider switching to a new supplier.
- An incumbent supplier continues to miss quality/delivery targets no matter how many performance management meetings you force them to attend.
With any of the above cul-de-sacs, the point is less that it is not worth your continued investment of time, but that something else is a better use of that effort. The best approach may be considering what activities or responsibilities your procurement group is positioned to be the best in the world at, and then looking at your plate to see what you can eliminate to make room.
Godin concludes his book with a list of people and things he thinks are the best in the world. Here is mine:
Lindt chocolate, Cape Cod MA, Debussy, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Wegmans, Charles Dickens, Amazon, Vespoli, M&Ms, Harper Lee, Eric Clapton, Dunkin’ Donuts, The Bellagio, Tag Heuer, Lance Armstrong, Target, Big Ben, Weber, Sean Connery, Blue Nile, Elon Musk, Dairy Queen, Fender, Richard Petty, Stride Rite, and John Deere.