Uncaged Monkeys make us question the meaning of life (well, Procurement anyway)

I saw the Uncaged Monkeys on tour at Basingstoke last Friday. No, not the latest indie band, but a group of scientists and entertainers from the Radio 4 programme “The Infinite Monkey Cage” which popularises science in a humorous but clever way. Professor Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Robin Ince etc.

It was a very good evening, but the part of it that I most enjoyed – and had a real impact on me – came from Ben Goldacre, who spends much of his life de-bunking ‘bad science’. That ranges from scaremongering journalists and dodgy government reports, to quackery (faith healers and similar), through to the drug companies that cleverly skew drug trials to favour their products.

He also said that he has found journalists and politicians much more hostile to his challenges than other scientists. Perhaps that is because they are less used to serious fact-based challenge to their work and opinions; a scientific conference can be a ‘blood bath’ because much of what scientists do is based on trying to disprove another’s theory. But they don’t tend to take it personally – that’s how science evolves and we learn.

And he said this.

“There is such a thing as objective reality, and we determine it by scientific evidence and challenge”

Which sparked a bit of an epiphany for me. Where does procurement sit in this? Do we have an ‘objective reality’ of how procurement works? Are we like scientists; trying to develop more understanding, willing to be challenged, looking for objective ways of proving what works and what doesn’t? Or are we more like the *journalists and politicos who express a point of view and get upset if anyone argues strongly and objectively against us? (Or even worse, are we the faith healers, peddling our own brand of snake oil?)

Let’s face it, when did you last go to a procurement event and hear someone say to a speaker, “I don’t agree with you” or “I don’t think that’s the best way of doing that”.  When did you last read an academic paper that objectively measured the success of a particular procurement approach, strategy or process? I saw a paper recently that ‘proved’ the success of a particular procurement approach based on a sample of three organisations.  Statistically significant? Of course not.

Goldacre’s comments then led me onto part 2 of this train of thought. Here’s my hypothesis (he said, scientifically).

Procurement is the least scientific of all major business disciplines.

Yes, even more so than Marketing or Sales.  Or Human Resources.

That’s enough for today – I'll leave you hanging on that point, and return to the evidence to support this case in the next few days.

*We do try and be ‘scientific’ in some small sense here; believe it or not, we don’t like dispute just for the sake of it (although of course it is fun at times...)  But we always try and consider issues objectively, look for real evidence, and make honest comment, whether it is good or bad. We’re more than happy for people to disagree with us, there’s an open right of reply, and we’re not getting at anyone personally. We are truly and only interested in identifying and promoting how procurement people, functions, and the profession can be as good and successful as they possibly can be.  Oh, and doing it in an entertaining manner as far as possible!

First Voice

  1. Slick:

    “There is such a thing as objective reality, and we determine it by scientific evidence and challenge”… Ugh.

    Just like the world was flat. It was an objective reality…but was it ‘real’. For a bit…

    Reality is a myth. Just like objective ‘truths’.

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