The Key To Creativity In Procurement: Play Time

Interviewed by Paul Teague for Procurement Leaders

“Grow up!” How many times have you told your children that? How many times have people told you that? Well, it may not always be good advice. There is a body of research that says children start life as creative beings, but grow less so as they become adults. That’s not a good evolution for people or businesses.

Creativity is and will continue to be critical for procurement professionals. It takes an ability to think differently to find solutions to a variety of business problems. How can you encourage or even recognize real innovation from suppliers if you can’t step out of your own comfort zone? How can you resolve conflicts with or among stakeholders regarding procurement issues if you can’t plot and navigate a new course?

Yesim Kunter thinks she knows how to instill creativity in business people. She is a consultant, play expert, and futurist, and believes that games help business people regain the creative spark that life may have all but extinguished. “In play, the true self comes out,” she says, “and brings out the hidden potential within everyone.” Play, she says, encourages collaboration, another critical thing for procurement.

Wait a minute, you’re probably saying: games have no place in business. The stakes are too high, so procurement executives and their stakeholders have to be serious. Maybe, but they have to be successful too. Maybe a little play time would help. Some large companies evidently think so.

Kunter has run what you might call play groups at a variety of companies, including Goodrich, United Technologies, Rolls Royce, and Otis, to name a few. In those workshops, managers and others observe, question, explore, experiment, take risks, embrace mistakes, all in a non-threatening environment as they try to solve a variety of tasks. And, based on reviews she has received, they like the experience.

CPOs frequently speak of the skills the next generation will need. Bill Michels, senior vice president of the Institute for Supply Management and president of ADR North America and China, is one of the foremost proponents of broader business-related training for procurement. Talent is a critical problem for procurement, he says. He’s right. Surely, the ability to think out of the box – to be creative – is one of the must-have talents for procurement. Organized play time – the setting up of games that simulate real-world problems and make solving them fun – just might be a way to develop that talent.

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