Is Asking How Do We Get a Seat at the Table the Wrong Question?

Let’s start off today with a fun little exercise.  Not the kind of exercise that I hate doing every morning of a physical nature, but one of the mind. (Sigh of relief.)  All you need is a blank piece of paper and a writing utensil.  First, draw a a vessel that holds flowers.  Now, flip over the page and draw how flowers can add beauty to your home.

What is the difference between your two pictures?  The first one might be a vase holding some flowers.  It might be beautiful, but it what purpose is it serving?  What value is it adding?  In the second picture, you might look at it and actually get a sense of joy.  You might think of people in your past who loved flowers.  You might want to go to the farmer’s market today and buy some flowers.

If you think of the questions above, they are very similar to how we tend to ask questions.  Most of the time, we are focused, and at times stuck, on the solving the immediate need – providing the product or service.  This happens in design sessions, as an example, for Procurement technology implementations where there is a focus on delivering the technology, but might not be focused on the experience or adding value to the customer.  We are, at times, focused on the vase.

So, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with getting a seat at the table.  If you do the exercise above again asking two questions – “how go I get a seat at the table?” being the first and “how can I provide business solutions to my company?” – you get two very different pictures, don’t you?

Think about how framing a question correctly can drastically change your outcomes.  For, none of your customers care if you have a seat at the table.  That seat does not change their world, help them solve their problems, does not add to their strategies.  They care about the business solutions you are providing or aren’t providing in some cases.

Framing questions differently can not only change outcomes, but it will change what skill sets you, and your teams, need to be successful.  It will  change the role of Procurement in the company – as long as you act on your newly framed questions.

For those unicorns how are really interested in learning more about this topic, I highly suggest reading, “Think Like a Freak”, by Stephen J. Duber and Steven Levitt.  It is not a Procurement book (again, sign of relief), but the third book in a series with a mind blowing amount of examples about asking the right questions and getting transformative, break through results.

So, this week, let’s be awkward.  Let’s stick out from the crowd of lemmings who are following the the mantras.  Let’s think of the toughest issues we are trying to solve and challenge ourselves to ask the questions through a different lens. Get out of the normal and challenge what has not been challenged.

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