What Did You Do On Your Vacation?

View From The Ridge: 58

May 27, 2016

John Moffitt

John Moffitt

Vice President, Services

Last week I attended the 2016 Gartner Supply Chain Conference in Scottsdale, AZ. It wasn’t exactly vacation. But when you’re in Arizona with temperatures in the low 80’s, no humidity, staying at a beautiful hotel, eating great food, it starts to seem like vacation. The conference itself is always enjoyable and provides ample opportunity to gain something from speakers- both Gartner Analysts and industry speakers. Sometimes I learn something completely new in the supply chain space and other times it’s just a reminder of where to focus. This year it was a combination of the two. The theme of the conference was becoming ‘bimodal’ and specifically within supply chain. I will get to the meaning of bimodal shortly. First, let’s have a little reflection.


Last year, one of the keynote speakers was Guy Kawasaki. He spoke about innovation and his former position with Apple as an Evangelist. He continually referred back to the theme of his presentation- “jumping the curve.” His message was that rather than just continuing to improve the existing process, take a giant leap to the next generation of the solution. For example, back in the day a man delivering ice might improve or expand his business by buying a bigger wagon or expanding the delivery territory. Someone that “jumps the curve” might develop a process to create the ice through refrigeration. Similar examples can be identified in telecommunications, computers, cars and countless others.

The notion of becoming bimodal is a variation or enhancement of Guy Kawasaki’s message. We all hear about strategy vs. tactics, short term vs. long term and thinking outside of the box. Becoming bimodal can be thought of in this same way. We have the traditional aspect of our business, mode 1, and then we have the exploratory aspects of our business, mode 2. In mode 1, we want our goal to be reliability, efficiency, highly governed, continuous improvement approaches. The goal of mode 2 should be to be agile, nimble, experimental and a willingness to accept failure.

The kinds of people needed to operate in these two modes are also very different. Members of mode 1 should be very good at conventional thinking, perhaps process oriented. In mode 2, they need to be able to work very well in an environment of uncertainty.

I thought this discussion with the Gartner analysts was so interesting and important to every organization. If we’re not already there, we all need to figure out how we can become bimodal in our business. Otherwise, we will just continue to do the same things making minimal improvements towards efficiency. Without being bimodal, we can never actually jump the curve or fundamentally change our business. In today’s competitive marketplace, the risk of staying in mode 1 puts you in a position to become increasingly irrelevant.

One of the key takeaways was the idea that in a mode 2 environment, you have to be willing to accept failure. The term at the Gartner show was ‘fail fast’. The way to actually change business is to start with the assumption that everything you are doing today is wrong. By way of example, think about Amazon’s delivery capabilities. As they tried to decrease delivery times, they made a few mode 1 changes, expanding their existing process. They built more fulfillment centers, closer to their customers. They start using the USPS and delivering on Sunday. They improved the automation and mechanization in their facilities.


At the same time, they were trying to figure out how to make the mode 2 changes. They began developing a plan for drones to deliver products, particularly in congested, high-density areas. Driverless cars are probably also on their horizon. The people who develop faster conveyor systems are probably not the same people who thought out drone delivery.

My point is that we all need to look at our businesses in this bimodal way. Don’t just develop a new report, or enhance your current process. Instead, take the time and commit the resources to look at mode 2 opportunities to fundamentally change your business. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be willing to tolerate some of this failure. Taking this approach, you are likely to discover a new idea that will transform your business, keep you leading the pack in innovation and allow you to stay ahead of your competitors.

I will close with one thought. Joby Ogwyn was also a keynote speaker at the Gartner conference. Look him up. His accomplishments are amazing. One of the things he said really stuck with me. In order to achieve greatness, you must have a vision. You must have a plan and, most importantly, fully commit to that plan. If you do this, whether personally or in your business, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend and remember to thank those who sacrificed their service for our freedom.