Seven Swans Swimming

How Sustainability Can Help Procurement Avoid Black Swans

Swans, procurement and sustainability – what’s the link? It’s all to do with procurement taking account for its impact on the wider world.

Seven Swans Swimming

The traditional 12 days of Christmas might not start until the 26th of December. But this festive season, we’ll be bringing you the 12 days of procurement Christmas in the run up to the big day. Catch up with the story so far on the Procurious Blog.

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…seven swans-a-swimming.”

Black swans are always unexpected, and defy explanation. Seeing two black swans together is highly unlikely. However, seeing seven together all at once? Well, you better hope that you don’t.

Of course, I’m not talking about the bird that you might see in your local park. The Black Swan I’m thinking of is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for an event that is both surprising, and has a major impact.

So, if we can’t predict when these events will happen, how can we stop them? This is where sustainability, social value, and procurement come in.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Earlier this year, Nik Gowing spoke extensively about the concept of ‘Thinking the Unthinkable‘ at the Big Ideas Summit. The idea behind this was that current leaders weren’t able to deal with cataclysmic events – either through a lack of skills, or outright denial.

Little did Nik know that when he used President Trump as an example of an unpredictable event, he was actually predicting the future! Nor could he have known that 2016 could provide even greater volatility than 2014, the year Nik and his co-author looked at for these so-called Black Swans.

It’s easy to argue that, without the right skills, these events are impossible to handle. If you then add in the fact that we can’t predict them, even with all the technology available to us, then what can we do?

Swimming with the Swans

Given that Black Swan events can be just about anything, procurement needs to look at its impact on everything to do its bit. And one way to do this, is to be conscious of its impact on the wider society.

Sustainability and sustainable procurement are concepts that are getting increasing focus in the global profession. Organisations have begun to realise that sustainability can build supply chain competitive advantage. Employee engagement is key, but the vast majority of people want to engage if it means a brighter future.

The environment is certainly a major consideration in potential future Black Swan events. And, from management of resources, to responsibility for global supply chains, procurement will play a major role.

Procurement Gets Social

Of course, sustainability is just one aspect of procurement’s future. The profession is taking increasing interest in social value, and working with social enterprises.

And why should procurement be working with these organisations? Well, they give back to the community, and have a positive impact on the community, and the environment. There are also social organisations working hard to ensure that people have proper access to good, healthy food.

And those of us looking to get more meaning in our procurement careers could do worse than looking to work with social enterprises. Career Coach Charlie Wigglesworth, Director of Business and Enterprise, Social Enterprise UK, discussed this at length earlier in the year.

If your conscience has been pricked, then there is plenty you can do to help. If we pull together as a profession, then we can ensure procurement is better equipped to deal with unexpected events.

Or, you never know, we might even be able to stop them happening in the first place. Then the only swans we need to think about would be the ones we see at the local pond. And that would be good for the future, wouldn’t it?

Negotiation – it’s just one of the key skills procurement professionals need to drive value. But do you go for milking your supplier? Or getting something from the wider herd? Get the lowdown on Day 8.