Isn’t it often true in our industry that our business calculations start from a place of opposing propositions? If A is true, then B just can’t be true! If A and B are true, then C is absurd! We see each proposition as a zero sum game, where in order to win in one space, we have to live with the proverbial tradeoff in another. Our systems, our structures, our entire way of doing business has been crafted through generations of trial and error, traditions built on traditions, that support this way of thinking. In many cases, these checks and balances or inherent tradeoffs are good, valuable, and necessary. In fact, in some ways I love them. I understand them; they make me comfortable; they are my wheelhouse. Think of our trade allocations, our margin mixes, our cost to serve metrics, and the seemingly infinite combinations of scenarios we can play out in our minds and our excel spreadsheets. We live and breathe tradeoffs every day and for good reasons. However, in my career, it seems the most powerful business drivers are the ones where the common paradox is stood on its head. I am speaking beyond the old cliché of win/win situations or even win/win/win situations! These are easy to come by, after all, this town is full of winning companies all doing business with a retailer who wins. Rather, I am thinking of the paradox that was seemingly airtight, the puzzle that couldn’t be solved, yet when the paradox was flipped, wild success ensued.
In the late 19th century, American society was shifting dramatically, as men and women were rapidly moving from an agricultural way of life into the cities and factories springing up across America, as the industrial revolution had taken over the economic system. The way people raised and consumed food had changed dramatically, while food safety and infrastructure was a source of constant concern. How could the masses eat well and safely in dense urban communities, so far removed from the food source itself? Dr. John Dorrance, the founder of Campbell’s, grappled with how to provide safe food in mass while holding true to these 3 simple but perhaps contradictory mandates.
- “Are the ingredients of a grade we would serve at our own table?”
- “Does the combination of them appeal to our own sight, smell, and taste?”
- “Is the price within the reach of most pocketbooks?”
If the quality is very high, the cost can’t be very low!? But if the cost is low, the quality can’t be high!? We have to make a profit here don’t we? In 1897, Dr. Dorrance invented condensed soup, turning the EITHER quality OR low cost paradox into a BOTH quality AND low cost AND safe AND easy to transport equation! The rest is history. 90% of you reading this blog today in 2018 have a can of condensed soup in your pantry today. He got past the tradeoffs and never ending zero sum games of his time and entered into a paradox that literally changed and fed the world. Over 100 years later, the food industry is still wrestling with similar but new paradoxes.
I am proud of Campbell’s core belief that every person deserves healthy and great tasting food. Campbell’s believes healthy food, free of preservatives and artificial ingredients, shouldn’t be a privilege for the wealthy, but should be “within reach of most checkbooks”. Isn’t it amazing how true those words ring true 100 years later, in a society that is constantly divided into the have’s and have nots, the 1% and the rest of us? My Company is living into this paradox every day and it energizes me more than doing the important and necessary work of finding the next tradeoff in my budget or playing a zero sum game in a trade equation. Today, Wal-Mart is trying to break the standard retailer paradox that says you can’t carry fewer inventories and improve instocks. Fun times for all of us! In fact, didn’t Sam Walton himself build an empire by challenging the “conventional wisdom” and entering into his own paradox? These paradoxes are all around us, if we can take the time to put them in focus, and not simply write them off as “seemingly contradictory”.
“This statement is false.” If you think it’s true, then it must be false, but if you think it’s false, it must be true. Now, that’s a paradox!
*Director Supply Chain Integration, Walmart – Campbell Soup Company
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.