The Power of Negative Thinking
Thrive by imagining the worst for your supply chain
There’s a long-held idea that we can will ourselves to success with the right attitude—most famously in Norman Vincent Peale’s book of the same name. Among Peale’s positivity rules: “Picture yourself succeeding” and “Think a positive thought to drown out a negative thought.”
It turns out, there may be even more power in imagining—and preparing for—the worst. To make her point, Dr. Santos tells the story of swimmer Michael Phelps.
During training, Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, asked his student to visualize greatness. Make a videotape of the perfect race in your mind. Feel the water. Smell the chlorine. Hear the crowd as you touch the finish.
Yet, none of that prepared Phelps for what happened in the finals of the 200 meter butterfly race at the Beijing Olympics, when all the script changed on how things were supposed to go.
“After the dive, [Phelps] noticed in the first 50 meters that his goggles were filling up with water,” Bowman told Dr. Santos. “But he knew he couldn’t stop and take his goggles off because that would be a disqualification. He would have broken stroke. So he was stuck with the goggles. By the time he was halfway through the race, he could not see anything.”
It was an unprecedented disaster unfolding. And that’s where a few of Phelps’ mental horror movies helped out.
It seems in practice, Phelps had gotten so bored with the visualization exercises that he began to amuse himself by imagining all the things that could go wrong. When he suddenly found himself really swimming blind, he already had a visualization for that: 19 strokes to the wall, then trust that you touch it on 20.
The result of pre-swimming his calamity? In the worst imaginable circumstances on the world’s biggest stage, Phelps won his race and set a new world record.
A little negative thinking can help in the supply chain, too.
Myrtle Consulting Group’s Melvin Bosso writes in the current issue of Industrial Distribution that disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic can be a gift for future operations. The movie that our supply chain plays under stress can expose business process weaknesses and failures that would remain hidden in more normal times.
Now’s the time, Bosso argues, to assess your enterprise’s efficiency in four key areas: Inventory, procurement, logistics and customer issues. “A once in a generation crisis doesn’t have to drive your organization our of business,” he says. “Now is the perfect time to reevaluate your company’s relationship with the fundamentals … which can produce the insights and actions necessary to thrive both now and in the turbulent months ahead.”
As we learn from current events, we can also adopt the practice of running “what if” drills for supply chain resilience and business continuity. No one might have predicted a worldwide, viral pandemic, but thinking about disruptions in supply, transportation capacity, natural disasters and political events should be a part of every enterprise’s regular diligence. And, assessing partners for agility should be as important and solving for best cost.
It turns out, a little disciplined, negative thinking creates the most positive results when the water hits your goggles.
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Heard On The Dock
“Reacting to supply and demand is no longer enough. Knowing where products are at all times and where they will be needed in the future is the only way to stay ahead of the curve.”
--"Overcoming Obstacles: How to Weather COVID-19 With Integrated Data," Supply & Demand Chain Executive Magazine
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