"He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress." was articulated by Anwar el-Sadat. I wonder what his observations would be concerning the recent events in his beloved Egypt.

For me, the most common, frustrating problem I see and hear about is the failure by many supply chain executives to realize that "our problems are our opportunities" in today's volatile and uncertain world. This combined with an increasing tendency to think "outside the box" before thinking "inside the box" is commonplace.

Charles Kettering, the famous inventor, once said: "A problem well stated is a problem half solved." This implies that a good portion of problem solving should be devoted to a thorough understanding of what's going on [observation] before any corrective action steps are taken. In many cases, too much time is spent on proposing various solutions before the problem has been correctly defined. Observation is a powerful technique that can be used to help understand problems by forcing you to "think inside the box" first. Often, clues about how to solve a problem can come from simply observing the process.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Blink" says that by thinking without thinking (too much), sizing up situations, and determining how we feel about someone or something based not on voluminous new information, but rather on our accumulated experiences, is a good thing. We do that by "thin-slicing," using limited information to come to our conclusion(s). In what Gladwell contends is an age of information overload, he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments (gut feel) than they do with volumes of analysis. The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. Whenever we have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, we bring to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, we thin-slice the situation to comprehend it quickly.

I don't think you can separate gut feel or instinct from business intelligence (BI) analytics, because all BI can do is inform your decision and at some point you have to apply your gut (experience, training, and knowledge) to the analytics. How do you make progress? When problem-solving or troubleshooting a situation, strive to do the following:
-- Find the cause(s) of the problem or trouble, not just the effect(s)
-- Fix the problem or troublesome situation so it stays fixed for the life of the operation
-- Do not create new problems in the process of curing the old ones
-- Think beyond the fix to prevent the same problem or similar situation from occurring at a future date

Therefore, to correct the cause of the problem or trouble, you have got to know for sure what the cause is. If you do not take the time to identify the true cause, you are likely to end up taking an action which has no effect. Furthermore, you are bound to waste motion if you do not have a clear-cut method of problem solving and observing the process. Predictably, you will ask questions you do not need to ask, check into things you could ignore, or take actions that do not have anything to do with the real problem at hand, and make no progress. Inevitably, by thinking "outside the box" rather than "inside the box" first, you will then take more time than is necessary and your solution will cost more than it should.
If you wish to make progress, remember that your problems are also your opportunities

This article part of the monthly series authored by ISM's Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants and educators. In future columns they will be sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

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.