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Book Review: The Moment of Clarity
The Moment of Clarity was a joint effort by ReD Associates founding partners Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen. Their careers have focused on studying human behavior, problem solving, and innovation. In this book, they apply what they have learned and observed to the challenges faced by businesses today. It is apparent to the reader that they are avid readers in their own right, and their bookshelves clearly hold titles representing a wide array of fiction and non-fiction topics.
The ‘Moment of Clarity’ referred to in the book’s title refers to the realization by business leaders that if understanding human behavior is critical to a corporation’s success, an over-reliance traditional thinking and data will cause them to fall short. They differentiate between two types of thinking: default thinking and sensemaking. Sensemaking is the authors’ methodology for reaching Moments of Clarity.
I will admit that I struggled with the concept at first – especially since I am absolutely more comfortable with default thinking and data analysis. “Default thinking helps us create efficiencies, optimize resources, balance product portfolios, increase productivity, invest in markets with the shortest and biggest payback, cut operational complexity, and generally get more bang for the buck” (p. 13) That description might as well be a procurement job description. But, the authors ask, what if your challenges go beyond the above? What if methods from the past fail to generate the desired results? If that is the case, you may find yourself ‘Navigating in a Fog’ and in desperate need of a Moment of Clarity.
It was not until I read the chapter on ‘Healthy Harry Potter’ where the authors recount a failed attempt to bring together a diverse group of leading innovative thinkers to solve complex problems, including health care. Much to my relief, although straight data is not the key to earning a Moment of Clarity, neither are mandatory hugs, sticky notes, and beanbag chairs. Moments of Clarity occupy the space between straight data and singing Kumbaya in a circle.
Sensemaking recognizes the difference between being bound or confined by structure and data and using it as a solid foundation for informed change balanced with an understanding of human nature. “Almost all data analysis is about crunching numbers from the past and extrapolating these numbers into the future. For obvious reasons, the past does not include data on things that haven’t happened or ideas that have not yet been imagined. As a result, data analysis of the future tends to underestimate or even ignore past events or conditions that can’t be measured while overestimating those that can (p. 43, authors’ emphasis). This particular quote provides food for thought and a prudent warning for procurement teams that are overly reliant on historical spend data in their efforts to create value and support the core mission of the organization.
In addition to making sure we incorporate both structured and unstructured data in professional decision-making, The Moment of Clarity also recognizes the importance of gut instincts. While good instincts are imprecise and abstract, they are also very difficult to teach and are impossible to learn from a book. Since Chief Procurement Officers continue to struggle with the talent and knowledge limitations of their teams, the importance of identifying and fostering good instincts provides a new approach to a high priority challenge for procurement organizations.
Understanding people and their motivations should be a core competency for all procurement professionals. This is especially true as outsourcing, process changes, and compliance issues represent a larger portion of procurement’s project load.
The book is easy to read and comprehend, even for non-human science practitioners. The application of sensemaking in business is made abundantly clear through a number of case studies, including LEGO, Coloplast, Intel, Adidas, and Samsung TV.