If you haven’t read Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Steve Jobs, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is a fascinating account of a brilliant personality who at a young age demonstrated to the world how to connect creativity and innovation with technology. He was often difficult and unreasonable; and according to one of the key software designers at Apple he had what his managers referred to as a “reality distortion field” (RDF).  The term was adopted from a Star Trek episode where “aliens created their own world through sheer mental force”. Jobs used that unique characteristic to drive Apple employees to accomplish what many of them thought impossible.

In a broader sense, RDF represents the collection of certain qualities in people that enable them to inspire, influence, manipulate and brainwash others with their authority, personality, rhetoric, and charisma. Many of us have run into a variation of RDF when we have dealt with a smooth talking, charming automobile salesman; but we also see signs of it in the supply chain as well. Take outsourcing for example. Some firms outsource because they have met obstacles in managing the activity internally; and in doing so, they often gloss over some of the issues that may arise, particularly the ones they don’t understand themselves or those that utilize sophisticated technology. The logistics service providers (LSP), in some cases will be taken in by the presentations; and in their excitement to get the new account, may agree to activities well beyond their reach.

In my experience in the industry, one of the most common causes of outsourcing failure involves a firm that outsources an activity it doesn’t completely understand to an LSP that doesn’t realize, or consider carefully the complex requirements to which they are agreeing. That is why I think it is so important for the prospective client not to rely on an RFP, but work closely with the provider right from the outset in developing the logistics solution. Presumably, providers are being considered because off their expertise. Doesn’t it then make sense to include them in the process? Pricing can follow later.

Regardless of the side of the outsourcing equation you fall on, before any agreement is finalized be sure you and your organization haven’t fallen into the reality distortion field.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch