Humans love stories and learn best from examples.  Behavior scientists have even given a name to this common practice: Narrative Bias. In simple terms, the human brains understands and retains facts much better if there is a story binding them together. This concept has been talked about by many authors in many different contexts and then there is this:

“Because suppose you eschew gossip and just say
Mr. Smith is in love with his wife.
Why that disposes the Smiths as a topic of conversation for the rest of their life,
But suppose you say with a smile, that poor little Mrs. Smith thinks her husband is in love with her, he must be very clever,
Why then you can enjoyably talk about the Smiths forever.

– by Ogden Nash (I have it on good authority.)

The poet is recommending the inserting of a naughty narrative to make the Smiths more interesting as a topic of conversation! And in most cases, I suspect he is right.

My colleagues and I have attended many supply chain planning meetings where the decision process is weighed heavily by an anecdote or two. I do not have a statistic on it, but I suspect that negative anecdotes are used more often than positive ones. This might have something to do with the stickiness of negative plots; see my blog on whether your S&OP glass is half full or half empty.

I am sure supply chain planners will identify themselves with this situation. There is always the colleague who brings up interesting anecdotes about the collective firefight they engaged in and its impact on the decisions made each cycle. Sometimes “company specific tribal knowledge (folktale)” limits or overrides the role of data and models,

I have found that good supply chain planners understand this human tendency and use it to their advantage. Here are some of the techniques I have seen used:

  1. Lead With The Why: The why part of a question often suffices as the narrative needed to explain a plan. Putting why before who-how-what typically allows a planner to get buy-in before getting into the details.
  2. Keep A Story Repository: Good planners do not leave it to the memory. When they come across a good story or anecdote, they tuck it away in a special folder and then bring it back when the situation warrants it. By connecting a current situation to a past event, they are able to get better traction from the participants.
  3. Lead With Positive Stories: They recognize the tendencies to get stuck on the negative narratives. . Even negative stories are presented with a frame of reference that focuses on the gains rather than the losses.
  4. Include Other Storytellers: They develop relationships with other natural storytellers within the organization and engage them in the planning process. This way, the planner does not have to come up with all the stories. This works even better if the said storyteller is in the executive group.
  5. Find Amplifiers: They try and “plant” the stories with other influencers within the organization. If successful, this is a great strategy. The typical effect is that the story gets discussed in forums where they are not even present. As long as certain key elements are reported correctly, most of the time this leads to questions back to the planner where he or she can expand on the subject.

My colleagues and I have also observed best in class supply chains know “analytics” (data analysis and models) are only successful when their results tell a story and ensure these skills are in place – a topic for another blog.

I encourage all supply chain planners to consider leading through or at least incorporating stories in their plan presentations at the supply chain planning meetings. If you are already doing so, I am very interested in hearing and learning from you.

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