Spend Matters Book Club: Must-Read Books for Procurement Professionals

The idea for this post came to me when I was reading a book about misuses of big data — not related to procurement per se, but still potentially relevant to the profession. That book was “Weapons of Math Destruction,” by Cathy O’Neil, a former hedge fund quant who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Harvard University.

Here’s a simple, extreme illustration of a misuse of data. A company wants to find the best engineers to hire and uses an algorithm based off historical data of successful and unsuccessful engineers that have been hired in the past. Few of the past successful engineers have been women, so the algorithm concludes that women job candidates are less likely to be successful. I want to emphasize that O’Neil’s book delves into real-life algorithms that are much subtler — and more insidious — than that last example.

As I read about what O’Neil termed weapons of math destruction (algorithms that are opaque, affect large populations and can wreak serious havoc on people’s lives), I began to think about how many of us work with data in some capacity and could benefit from this book. Most of us may not be in a position to create or wield a high-impact algorithm, but it is only to our benefit to learn to probe our numbers deeper and ask harder questions before making a data-based conclusion.

Let’s Read!

Then I wondered: what other books, while not nominally related to procurement, have pertinent takeaways? To find out, I asked around. Welcome to the first meeting of the Spend Matters Book Club.

“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson and Ron McMillan

“I am a fan of non-fiction in general and read a lot of business related books. [This is] one book in particular that I recommend to my team, to graduates that work with us in procurement and to graduates in our mentor program. This book helps you to stay in control of any conversation and make your point effectively. It will help you in negotiations with your suppliers, your business units, your managers, your kids, your significant other. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.” — Anthony Ryan, head of procurement operations at Eir Ireland

“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond

“Sustainability for sustainability’s stake is downright silly (unless you’re a bleeding heart — I’m not). But sustainability because it’s the only way to survive is critical. We need to treat our supply chains as fragile ecosystems and learn from the mistakes of past societies. [There are] lessons for procurement (and governments too … hint, hint).” — Jason Busch, founder of Spend Matters

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

“[This book by a Nobel laureate shows how] we are easily manipulated, we are suggestible, we jump to conclusions, fail to calculate risk or probability properly, are influenced by irrelevant factors... That list might begin to explain why classical economic theorists got very nervous about Kahneman’s work. They had worked on their assumptions of the rational individual,’ which he said doesn’t exist. It might also start to suggest why it also has major implications for us in procurement, and indeed anyone in business… It is brilliant, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.” — Peter Smith, managing director of Spend Matters UK/Europe

“Sales-Side Negotiations: Negotiation Strategies for Modern-Day Sales People” by Patrick Henry Hansen

“People are always taught that the buyer has most of the power in a sales situation, which I've found really isn't necessarily the case. By learning sell-side negotiation as a buyer, you can learn where your suppliers are coming from. Frankly, I've used tactics from this book to outsmart more than my fair share of sales people in my day-to-day life — try some on your gym membership, major purchases (especially my car!) and more. It's a fun, fast read.” — Sheena Smith, VP of client services at Spend Matters

“Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos” by M. Mitchell Waldrop

 “Something to stretch yourself. I take solace in knowing that Feigenbaum's constant exists and shows that there is some type underlying structure to the workings of the universe that we simply can't see yet. Supply networks are complex, adaptive systems. Appreciate their complexity [and] tame the complexity too. Learn about supply network design, combinatorial optimization (e.g., in ‘expressive bidding’) and complexity reduction.” — Pierre Mitchell, vice president of research at Spend Matters

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey

“[This book reminds] the procurement professional that they must be well-rounded in many areas outside the technical knowledge of procurement. Our business is about relationships and people. These types of books help develop a well-rounded procurement professional.” — Marcheta Gillespie, director of procurement for the city of Tucson, Ariz.

“Bionomics: Economy as Business Ecosystem” by Michael Rothchild

“This is a useful analogy for procurement (to understand economics) in more ways than one. It’s a shame this book never became a classic. I bonded over it with my then-girlfriend and now wife.” — Jason Busch

“Tulipomania” by Mike Dash

“As I am a sucker for stories of irrational exuberance, I would first recommend Mike Dash’s account of the seventeenth-century asset bubble surrounding tulips. They became wildly popular in the Dutch lowlands and across Europe around the same time much of the population was succumbing to the bubonic plague. The rise in popularity of the flower caused the price of bulbs to skyrocket for a short period and suddenly collapse after the intense and highly speculative investment activity around bulb contracts dissipated.” — Jonas Divine

“The Society of Mind” by Marvin Minsky

“I’m still reading this. It’s a bit of a salt lick, so take in small doses. It's great to learn about the plumbing of machine learning, but this is an easier read that gets at heart of artificial intelligence.” — Pierre Mitchell

“Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy — And How to Make Them Work for You” by Geoffrey G Parker, Marshall W. Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary

“An accessible introduction to the platform phenomenon, [this book] is written by three of the world's leading experts. If you keep hearing the term "platform" (which unfortunately is used in many ways, both in terms of technology and business models), this is a good opportunity to gain a quick understanding of how platform-based business models (e.g., Uber) actually work.” — Andrew Karpie, research director of services and labor procurement at Spend Matters

10 More Recommendations

  • “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
  • “Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads” by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches
  • “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport
  • “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't” by Jim Collins
  • “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
  • “Modern Monopolies: What It Takes to Dominate the 21st Century Economy” by Alex Moazed and Nicholas L. Johnson
  • “The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company” by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham
  • “Say It With Presentations: How to Design and Deliver Successful Business Presentations” by Gene Zelazny
  • “Collaborative Advantage: Winning Through Extended Enterprise Supplier Networks” by Jeffrey H. Dyer
  • “The Cartoon Guide to Statistics” by Larry Gonick and Woollcott Smith

We have no doubt there are many more invaluable books and movies with lessons for procurement. Give us your recommendations by leaving a comment!

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First Voice

  1. Eleanor Wang:

    “Sales-Side Negotiations: Negotiation Strategies for Modern-Day Sales People” by Patrick Henry Hansen is more attracting me compared with other books recommended in the articles. Because in the procurement practice, the buyers are positioned in the different conditions, maybe procurement power is stronger than supplier, maybe equal, maybe weaker. if we are in the last two conditions, then we couldn’t order suppliers to do this, to do that without any benefits. To keep the continuity of supply, the buyer should know more how they were be treated by the supplier, what tactics the sales usually takes in the daily service, in the critical support activities… Knowing ourselves, knowing our enemy, we may win in each battle.

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