I have observed a fairly disturbing trend: Many organizations are heavily engaged in reengineering or change management efforts that are focused on best practices, benchmarking, balanced scorecards, metrics and KPIs, etc. in order to become lean, agile, customer-relationship-centered, world class entities. Additionally, many young professionals are learning logistics and transportation based primarily on the use of their organization’s resident computer systems and software rather than learning the basics of the logistics and transportation process itself. While these may be useful tools, they are no substitutes for the logical processes and foundational principles they execute. Without knowing how and why these tools work, the logistics and transportation professional is reduced to wooden puppetry, unable to respond with the intelligence and self-directed agility needed to cope with today’s challenging supply chain environment.

We need to get beyond the buzzwords and back to the basics. In reality, the logistics and transportation profession, which we call ours, is not a simplistic craft or a job, nor is it grounded on the latest techno-babble. It is a blend of both art and science. At its best, it is based on fundamental facts, application of the basics, and good practices rather than on elusive jargon, formulaic processes, or canned computer software magic. While never losing sight of its foundation, sound, experienced logistics and transportation professionals keep a skeptical eye on the latest fad, hype, trend, or new practice before implementing it and adapting it to their organization.

Such fad-oriented tools and techniques may be based on good intentions, but they are undoubtedly of more benefit to the self-labeled gurus, evangelists, masters, and thought leaders who generate and publicize them. You know what I’m talking about. You hear the same esoteric group of academics, consultants, researchers, and bloggers at professional conferences; you read their books, blogs, white papers, and their articles in the leading magazines and journals; and you watch them get labeled for their sage commentary as “trend-setters” or “visionaries.

Don’t be fooled. You may be tempted to make the kind of mistake being made by so many logistics and transportation management professionals today—thinking that the more traditional logistics and transportation skills they have honed in the past are no longer needed. Ironically, forgetting the basics can make them more vulnerable to layoffs, job attrition, or downsizing efforts in organizations that increasingly rely on automated systems to do their thinking for them. Even more ironically, it is not a computerized system or a fancy buzzword but the well-grounded logistics and transportation professional who has the flexibility to be truly responsive to an ever-evolving supply chain management environment.

So let’s get back to rediscovering and perfecting the basics by shifting the paradigm about how to achieve success and what will bring you the best results! Although it is important to approach problems with a set of fresh eyes, maybe we should focus on thinking inside the box before moving outside the box.

Thomas L. Tanel, CTL, C.P.M., CISCM, is the President and CEO of CATTAN Services Group, Inc., specializing in Logistics and Supply Chain issues. He is also the Chair of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at tanel@cattan.com or (979) 260-7200. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.