Thomas Edison

Why Thomas Edison Would Have Been A Great Procurement Professional

When asked about his many early failures to invent the light bulb, Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” In short, failure is an inevitable part of the success process. 

In these uncertain times, publications such as the Deloitte 2021 CPO Survey report that procurement “isn’t just about cost savings and operational efficiency anymore” and that “there’s plenty on CPOs’ plates, with no relief in sight.” Based on these findings, failures in this age of transformation are inevitable. 

The question for many procurement professionals is how many failures we can take—or those who depend on us tolerate—before we achieve success? We doubt that you have a 10,000 times margin for error. 

What Makes a Great Procurement Professional?

With a rapidly expanding mandate that now includes areas of practice such as data modernization and cybersecurity, procurement professionals must acquire new skillsets to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing post-pandemic world.

Besides new skills, procurement professionals must also hone and evolve our traditional capabilities to effectively leverage the emerging AI-driven technologies that promise to free us from the mundane tasks of the past. We need to do this because the new demands we are now facing require a high degree of strategic thought versus functional execution. 

For some, this is an exciting time offering abundant opportunities to grow in importance and influence. For others, it is a time of great uncertainty. For both, failure along the way will be a reality. 

Procurement’s Avoidance versus Acceptance 

A funny thing about failure is that in the past, we generally saw it as a bad thing—some still do, to be avoided at all costs. However, that line of thinking has changed in recent years, from avoidance to acceptance. When we say “acceptance,” we recognize that it is okay to have a setback as long as we learn from it and move forward quickly.

This shifting mindset is all about being able to fail fast. If you have not heard that phrase before, you are likely to hear about it with increasing frequency in the coming months and beyond.

What “fail fast” means is that you are allowed to fail, just don’t wallow in it. In other words, don’t beat yourself up when things go awry, or you discover that what you have been doing all along is no longer viable. Above all, don’t reject a solution because you think it makes you look bad.

Procurement Pros Need Mental Toughness

So, why would Thomas Edison make a good procurement professional?

He had the mental toughness to anticipate and deal with failure—10,000 times. Can you imagine what might have happened had he quit trying at 9,999? We may all still be in the dark had he not persevered.

Our point is that we need to have the same mental toughness to persevere that Edison had because we will, on occasion, stumble with all the changes happening. 

Despite the inevitability of failure, we believe that procurement is up to the task—what do you think?