Disruption and the Antifragile Supply Chain

Bristlecone’s second annual Pulse event concluded a week ago – a platform for leaders in supply chain and visionaries in technology to design their future strategies.  I’m looking through the presentations, videos and social media posts from our conference, delighted to share more content with those of you who were unable to join us in person.  (We’ll be updating our website, www.bcone.com, over the coming weeks.)

Irfan A. Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone, opened the sessions with a discussion on disruption.  He shared examples of business and technology disruption, the value of a digitized supply chain and the potential of the platform economy.  Later speakers addressed these topics in relation to supply chain, Internet of Things, Advanced Planning Systems, Analytics and Procurement.

One idea Irfan discussed was the antifragile supply chain.  A concept defined by popular economic thinker Nassim Taleb, an antifragile system is a system that, instead of breaking under stress and change, thrives under it.  The antifragile grow and improve from external shocks.  As supply chain leaders, we are better set to deal with risk factors if we can make our supply chains robust rather than fragile.

An antifragile supply chain would have:

  • End-to-end visibility, making it possible to detect, understand, and endure the changes affecting the supply chain
  • Real-time adjustment, to react while there is still a chance to influence positive change
  • Benchmarking against both industry peers and one’s own internal needs and goals
  • A network approach instead of a pipeline, avoiding single points of failure

The headline speaker at Pulse was John Rossman, former Director of Enterprise Services at Amazon.com.  His leadership lessons on disruptive innovation weaved together management advice with examples of newer technologies.  Rossman urged leaders to have elastic capabilities in their businesses.  In describing Amazon strategies, he recommended to “create your own disruption, else someone else will do it for you.”  As Managing Director of Alvarez & Marsal, Rossman has found it important to “never let a good crisis go to waste” – to learn from disruption and plan how to be more effective in the future.

We are better set to deal with business risk factors if we can make our supply chains “antifragile”.  Surviving disruption will rely on investment in digital transformation – proactively and strategically.  The value will be cumulative and the benefits long-term.  By introducing resilience and flexibility into the system, businesses can maximize profitability, obtain real-time insights, and improve customer relationships.

The Bristlecone Pulse event gave its attendees the opportunity to look beyond daily operational activities – beyond integration, short-term technology ROI and functionality.  It challenged supply chain leaders to plan for future disruption and to not rest on traditional views of competition.  Per Taleb: “There is an Irish revolutionary song that encapsulates the [antifragile] effect: ‘The higher you build your barricades, the stronger we become.’”  It’s time to prepare our supply chains for the coming disruptions, so our businesses can thrive in the future.

Reference: Taleb, Nassim N. (2014) Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.  Random House