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Book Review: Soft Skills for Hard Business
“…we need to be prepared to think the unthinkable, even if we subsequently have no plan to deal with it now, as we may have in the future.” (p. 62)
Soft Skills for Hard Business by David Loseby (FCMI, FCIPS Chartered, FRSA) calls to mind the difference between movies that are based on books and those that are based on original screenplays. Movies based on books have a depth and complexity that you can not fake, while those based on screenplays alone have a hollowness to them (although they often include more car chases and explosions to make up for it). Loseby clearly did not just decide a book would be a good idea before setting out to fill the pages. Instead, he gathered a large pool of information and made it unexpectedly accessible for the reader.
As Loseby explains in a brief section regarding the structure of the book, Soft Skills is based in large part on the research he conducted for his PhD in Behavioral Science. The depth of his knowledge and the length of time he has spent considering and studying its application in business are evident, and they give each subject covered in the book a satisfying richness.
With that depth, however, comes a responsibility on the part of the reader to slow down. This is not a beach or airplane read. You’ll want to allow yourself the ability to focus on each section and the chance to pause between them. This is a thought leader’s book, not flashy coverage of a fly-by-night trending topic. And given the relative complexity of the subject matter, the author/publisher’s decision to opt for full color graphics was most appreciated.
In my mind, the best application of the idea of behavioral procurement is in regards to risk. Although we are trained to objectively evaluate the relative merits of each option, a natural (if not always logical) desire to eliminate risk completely can unintentionally take good options off the table. As Loseby writes, “… a healthy amount of well-managed risk is what allows commercial enterprises to be successful and profitable.” (p. 139) The same can be said of a preference to maintain the status quo. The organization that balances their risk/change aversion with their strategic vision has the shortest path to competitive advantage. If this is an idea that appeals to you, do not miss Chapter 11 on Prospect Theory.
If objectivity is an important element to our navigation of unknown outcomes, so too then are our biases: self, group, societal, and institutional. Loseby lays each of these out in its own chapter, complete with the information required to recognize or diagnose, manage, and work through the implications of biases. For instance, addressing an “affinity bias” may allow us to better work with stakeholders who are irrationally bound to their incumbent suppliers.
This book is deserving of the focus and attention required to read it, and it rewards the reader with the exact understanding and perspectives required to excel in a procurement function that is increasingly driven by soft (rather than technical) skills.