If you’ve ever been told by anyone to “think outside the box” this blog is for you. In innovation-driven industries like information technology and electronics, the ability to bring unorthodox concepts to market quickly is an essential leadership trait but we may be carrying the “outside the box” campaign too far – to the point of jeopardizing careers and the survival of enterprises.
The concept of “outside the box” creativity is anchored on the idea that it might be necessary at times to toss aside old ideas and practices and develop newer and unorthodox methods to separate an individual or a business from the pack. It sounds good in theory. On the other hand, the execution in many cases have been purely disastrous because in the race to come up with new ideas and methodologies we’ve often dumped proven processes that have worked quite well for previous generations. They shouldn’t be rejected simply because they are “old”. This is where “outside the box” turns into “reinventing the wheel” with all its negative implications.
In the electronics industry, many manufacturers are in jeopardy of messing up good operations in the rush to be different. It’s an even greater danger for business units that require conformity with strict processes to assure quality service and efficiency. Let’s take the example of purchasing and procurement. Some OEMs are caving in to demands from contract manufacturers to act as distributors by buying components directly from suppliers and holding these in stock until needed. This is another concept that seem to make sense; cut out the middleman and costs go down, right?
The most efficient purchasing professionals in the electronics industry have always known that their jobs involve more than merely buying components at a given price and having it delivered at the right moment. It’s also about longer-term engagement with suppliers, risk management and the efficient utilization of resources. Pricing, of course, is and has always been a major factor to consider in procurement contract negotiation. Even more important to “The Ideal Purchasing Professional” identified by veteran procurement expert Ken Bradley in a recent blog is the security of supply.
What happens to these range of activities when “out-of-the-box” thinkers shake things up? That’s a subject my colleague Barbara Jorgensen has explored in a series of articles on the recent decision by Amazon.com to sell electronic components on a B2B site. How this will play out is not clear but does it guarantee security of supply and will the disadvantages outweigh the benefits? (See: Amazon.com Gets High Marks – But Not For Components and Component Distributors Unfazed by Amazon.com.)
While pondering this new development I received a call from Ray Tompkins, another electronics industry veteran who is as unorthodox in his thinking as anyone could ever hope to be yet with both feet planted firmly on the ground. Ray isn’t an engineer. By trade, he is a sales and marketing expert and has held numerous senior publishing positions at media companies before setting up his own independent sales rep organization in the nineties.
With nearly four decades of sales under his belt, Ray should be wedded to old-time ideas. He is and he isn’t. In a media world now dominated by online products – websites and digital magazines – Ray is still a believer in print publications. He subscribes to 52 print (trade) publications covering areas as diverse as aerospace, defense, design engineering, hydraulics, purchasing, microwave, medical, photonics, wireless, etc. In truth, I didn’t know there were that many specialized publications still in print. And yet, Ray sells digital products as effectively as he sells advertising for print publications.
If anyone has had to think “outside the box” in an embattled industry, Ray Tompkins is on that list. He’s had to develop unorthodox ideas but he still likes many of the old ways. For one, Ray believes print publications can still be viable and that some old brands may be revived. He doesn’t believe catalogs publications favored by some distributors and procurement professionals are dead. Ray loves direct mails delivered to his post office box as opposed to the hundreds of e-mails dumped daily in his email inbox.
“It’s only 9.30 in the morning and I’ve already received 60 electronic messages many of them junk but I won’t know which until I’ve gone through the batch,” Ray said. “With print you’ve got limited clutter because you have to subscribe to the mailings. I receive 52 magazines monthly and I go through them because I asked for them and they are important to me.”
So, what about thinking outside the box, I asked Ray. “I support thinking outside the box but it seems many people have forgotten about the box itself,” he said. “They’ve thrown out the box. They forgot the box itself had and still has value. You embrace new things but it doesn’t mean you dump the old ways completely.”
I agree. If you are in purchasing and “out-of-the-box” things fascinate you, please make the most of it. Just don’t forget that the old ways that worked have value in them.
Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at email@example.com.