Friday Rant: The Value of Triangulation

I've been working on a research project of late for this blog, attempting to really understand a certain "thing". I won't get more specific than that for the purposes of this post. But in my examination, I've made the point of talking to multiple individuals who I thought might have an opinion on this thing. And in nearly all of these discussions, the exact same points have been coming up again and again, albeit with slight nuances which are helping shape the story. This whole experience has reminded me of the value of triangulation as a key element of any well researched and developed plan where the actual target of the analysis is an unknown -- or known to others, but not you.

I'm sure every Spend Matters reader remembers something of the theory of triangulation from middle or high school geometry. Wikipedia defines it as the "process of determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline, rather than measuring distances to the point directly. The point can then be fixed as the third point of a triangle with one known side and two known angles." In other words, triangulation lets you determine an answer -- or at least an hypothesis -- from multiple points of reference.

Now, I'm no mathematician. In fact, I spent the better part of middle school trying to work up the courage to ask girls out than running the numbers. But I did learn the basic rules of triangulation early on in my consulting, analyst and journalism career. And what I can tell you is that it's an invaluable skill set to have, especially when you can rapidly deploy it across a set of known points or contacts (having a broad network is certainly beneficial in this regard, but with Linked-in and other social networking tools, it's possible to expand on one's own network if you need additional points of reference).

But how can triangulation help us in the procurement and supply chain worlds? It's easy. Just take a few examples, I've used with colleagues in the past year to better understand whether or not:

  • Supply markets are likely to go up or down
  • Suppliers or companies will remain solvent
  • A supplier or sub-tier supplier is likely to skimp on quality or cut corners
  • A supplier will ultimately be interested in a specific opportunity (despite their initial response to it)
  • How competitive and organization will be in a negotiation process (or not)
  • The real reasons behind a merger, acquisition or change in business strategy
  • Key individuals or team members of an organization are likely to leave (and/or the reasons for their leaving after the fact)

The list goes on. But hopefully you get the point -- the ability to triangulate to answers from soliciting information from contacts within your network and then apply your own set of analytics and reasoning is an invaluable skill to have. I think it's probably the most important factor behind my ability to not only get information and intelligence quickly, but to relay it with a degree of accuracy that is usually quite high. My one tip for others here is that while elements of triangulation can be taught, the practice also requires an outstanding professional and social network if you're to succeed at the method with any degree of efficiency, scale and frequency.

Jason Busch

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