February 2001 | Commentary | Checking In

Cross-Pollination and Excellence

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Remember way back in high school bio class when you learned about J. Gregor Mendel's experiments with peas? I bet you said to yourself, "What am I learning this for? I'll never use it. I'm not gonna be a farmer." Guess again, Mr. Greenjeans!

You're all grown up now, and you are the world's finest logistician, magically materializing product exactly when and where needed. How do experiments with pea plants relate to that?

Mendel created the science of genetics. His experiments with garden peas in the 1860s taught us, among other things, that when you crossbreed purebred pea types you end up with hybrid pea types—the unique traits of one type of plant, in some cases, combine with the other to create a new type of plant. Mendel ended up creating many new varieties of peas when he crossed 70 purebred peas 287 different ways. Some new varieties were hardier than the originals. As time went on, geneticists used his techniques to create varieties of plants that were especially suited to be productive in less-than-perfect conditions.

One thing Mendel made clear is that if you are looking to create change quickly, crossbreeding—or hybridization—is one way to do it. Given the pace of change in business processes, and the resulting requirement to change and grow to manage that change, could crossbreeding your logistics team be beneficial?

Motivating your team with more money is one approach, but money alone won't work. Fertilizing with learning is also an essential element. If Mendel showed that cross-pollination creates hardier plants, can cross-pollinating logistics, purchasing, transportation, marketing and supply chain functions produce better business logistics managers? I think so.

Cross pollinating requires travel. If it is difficult to find the time and resources to travel, try assembling part of your extended logistics team for a a private meeting around an industry event, for instance the Council of Logistics Management's annual conference. But if you can manage site visits, do it. A formal program where you and your team "intern" for a day with your vendors, customers, carriers, and logistics partners will enrich your variety of logistics professionals.

Enrichment grows in at least four ways. First, you and your team gain a better understanding of how each individual's action affects the whole. As collaboration grows tighter, this becomes more important.

Second, learning best practices in school is OK, but the best way is to watch, and participate, with those who perform every day.

Third, people work better if they know who they are working with, even in this virtual world.

Finally, each individual will be enriched and motivated by the process as the insight into other functions and supply chain perspectives cross pollinates with existing skill sets to create a hardier variety of business logistics professional.

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