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Actionable Awareness: How to avoid becoming supply chain roadkill

Disruptive events affect us all. But companies with supply chain sensing capabilities can take action to avoid becoming the proverbial deer in the headlights.

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This is an excerpt of the original article. It was written for the July-August 2022 edition of Supply Chain Management Review. The full article is available to current subscribers.

July-August 2022

In late May, I attended the Institute for Supply Management’s first live conference since 2019. The message from Tom Derry, ISM’s CEO, was simple: These are challenging times, but along with the challenges come opportunities for those of us who can step up and lead our organizations into the future. One area where supply chain will be tasked with stepping up to the plate is going to be ESG, the initialism for environmental, social and governance. It was a major theme of the conference, and while all of the reporting requirements are still being debated, there’s little question that supply chain will lead the charge in environmental initiatives…
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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic. The WHO was too late. Travel bans and lockdowns followed, but COVID had breached containment. Two-plus years of pain—physical, emotional and economic—ensued, injuring individuals, businesses and economies worldwide.

During COVID’s twists and turns, decision makers, including supply chain professionals, acted like deer caught in the headlights: Startled, vulnerable, they froze. So did global supply chains. As if struck by an unyielding force, the global economy staggered. Eventually, COVID became endemic, supply chains thawed and the global economy rebounded. Many inquired: “Why was the COVID response so hard?”

We have another question: After a half dozen infectious-disease events since SARS in 2003, why didn’t we see COVID coming? Once spotted, why didn’t we sense the nature of COVID’s threat earlier? The answer stares us in the face: Our sensing abilities, at all levels, are under-evolved.

Critically, we don’t just miss disruptions—large and small—we often fail to get out in front of emerging trends, and we seldom sense and make sense of changing competitive rules. Do you remember Blockbuster, Compaq Computer or PanAm? Each was an industry leader killed off by a disruptive marketplace.

Now, a little good news: The deer-in-the-headlights idiom offers keen insight into how to improve our sensing abilities to achieve actionable awareness. Let’s take a closer look.

The origins of the idiom

Have you ever tried to sneak up on a deer in the wild? It’s quite the impossible task. Deer possess highly evolved senses. Their eyes, ears and nose keep them fully aware of their setting. The eyes are especially well adapted for survival. You may know that as a prey species, a deer’s eyes are widely spaced. They can spot and track movement across a 310° field of view. But do you know the rest of the story?

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From the July-August 2022 edition of Supply Chain Management Review.

July-August 2022

In late May, I attended the Institute for Supply Management’s first live conference since 2019. The message from Tom Derry, ISM’s CEO, was simple: These are challenging times, but along with the challenges come…
Browse this issue archive.
Access your online digital edition.
Download a PDF file of the July-August 2022 issue.

Download Article PDF

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic. The WHO was too late. Travel bans and lockdowns followed, but COVID had breached containment. Two-plus years of pain—physical, emotional and economic—ensued, injuring individuals, businesses and economies worldwide.

During COVID’s twists and turns, decision makers, including supply chain professionals, acted like deer caught in the headlights: Startled, vulnerable, they froze. So did global supply chains. As if struck by an unyielding force, the global economy staggered. Eventually, COVID became endemic, supply chains thawed and the global economy rebounded. Many inquired: “Why was the COVID response so hard?”

We have another question: After a half dozen infectious-disease events since SARS in 2003, why didn’t we see COVID coming? Once spotted, why didn’t we sense the nature of COVID’s threat earlier? The answer stares us in the face: Our sensing abilities, at all levels, are under-evolved.

Critically, we don’t just miss disruptions—large and small—we often fail to get out in front of emerging trends, and we seldom sense and make sense of changing competitive rules. Do you remember Blockbuster, Compaq Computer or PanAm? Each was an industry leader killed off by a disruptive marketplace.

Now, a little good news: The deer-in-the-headlights idiom offers keen insight into how to improve our sensing abilities to achieve actionable awareness. Let’s take a closer look.

The origins of the idiom

Have you ever tried to sneak up on a deer in the wild? It’s quite the impossible task. Deer possess highly evolved senses. Their eyes, ears and nose keep them fully aware of their setting. The eyes are especially well adapted for survival. You may know that as a prey species, a deer’s eyes are widely spaced. They can spot and track movement across a 310° field of view. But do you know the rest of the story?

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