Building an Antifragile Packaging Procurement Program

As we turn the page to 2021, one of the biggest lessons learned from the past year is that many things in packaging supply chains are just not predictable. And it’s interesting to see the annual ‘this is how next year will play out’ prediction articles popping up.  

As we look to 2021 and planning for the coming year, we fell into the trap of trying to predict what would happen. After a few hours kicking around our thoughts on packaging procurement in 2021, we started to laugh at ourselves. We were trying to make predictions in a consistently unpredictable environment – and that trying to figure out what is going to happen over the coming year isn’t nearly as important as how can packaging procurement be built to thrive regardless of what happens. 

To be clear, we aren’t saying that there’s a magical way to make managing packaging easy, or enjoyable. Or that 2020 would have been a walk in the park – that isn’t even in the realm of possibility. What we are saying is that as we head into 2021, the focus should be not so much the ‘what will we need to deal with’ rather than ‘how do we deal with what comes’’.  

The concept that really comes to mind is ‘antifragility’. Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced this concept as a follow-up to one of the best (in our opinion) business books in history, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. 

To make the concept of antifragility more concrete, below are two examples of common things that are antifragile: 

  1.   Diamonds – put a piece of coal under extreme pressures and it doesn’t crumble, it becomes stronger as a diamond.
  2.   Muscle Growth – as you stress muscles, they tear but then come back stronger than before.

To quickly define the concept of antifragile, Taleb states: 

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness.  The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”. 

If there was ever such a black swan year, 2020 would be it. And that gives rise to the necessity of antifragility, which if obtained, can help companies not only survive, but thrive in growing uncertainty. 

In our view, there are three main pillars to building an antifragile packaging supply chain: People, Process and Tools. For a little more detail around those:

  1.   People – a culture built of individuals who thrive in uncertainty and see it as an opportunity to learn. 
  2.   Process – Specific enough processes to provide a roadmap, but broad enough to be flexible regardless of the specific ‘prediction’ that’s occurring
  3.   Tools – Antifragile companies enable their team with data and automation that frees up space for creative problem solving.  

So – no predictions from SourceHUB for what is going to happen in 2021. We will be focusing on people, processes and tools that build antifragile supply chains so that no matter what happens, packaging supply chains can get better – even when things are unimaginably difficult.