Sprinters and category management

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World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka - ...

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I was reading a really cool article about the fastest potential time a sprinter could run. Check out Chuck Klosterman’s excellent writing here. He brings in all sides, but does well to remind us that we could not possibly predict the fastest potential 100-meter time. My own thoughts while reading this were:

  1. Some of the medical/scientific experts take into account performance enhancing drugs, but with the implication that they won’t necessarily get better, or work in (currently) unimagined ways. They will. When the 100 meter record goes below the lowest current prediction for the minimum possible time, the predictors will say something like “yes, I made that statement, but who could have predicted that “x” would happen.” X always happens.
  2. They mention 500 years from now, with the implication being that that is a long time. What will humans be like in 500,000 years, and how could we possibly predict how fast they’ll run?
  3. There are things I’m missing. Whenever someone says “x can’t be done, because of y limitation,” it is because at some point, that person has defined a system with a finite set of variables. There are always variables that fall outside that system.

What does this have to do with business, procurement, or category management? One of the occupational hazards of my profession is occasionally running into people who have “figured out” things like process design, category management, negotiation, or nuclear basket-weaving. As if the system was closed. But it’s not.

The lack of humility is as harmful as it is rampant in business. Category management, or its variants, is a good way to organize our purchasing functions now.  We are likely to discover alternative models that are worth a try in the future. Viewing our professional – and personal – lives as a journey of constant learning with the next problem to be solved right around the corner would be a good start. I won’t be holding my breath.

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