Category Management - Creative Tools Image


Category management – How do you access your creative side?

By Alison Smith |

Over the last 12 months, during our category management workshops, some new tools have emerged – tools that involve pipe cleaners, books, newspapers and coloured pens!

That might sound more like the props for a show and tell, or primary school art class, but they’ve actually been included in the agenda item on creativity.

Being creative and innovative requires Procurement to use a part of their brain that many don’t use often. When asked to think outside the box on our workshops many category managers, being more used to data, analysis, and process, find it difficult to understand how to do that. They’ve no muscle memory of thinking outside of the box, nor differently.

Think about it for a moment – when do you get most of your ideas?

The answer to that is rarely never “when sitting at my desk”, “in a meeting room”, or “when looking at an excel spreadsheet.”

Instead, we get ideas when in the shower/bath, walking, driving, playing with the kids, or even when staring out of the window!

The common denominator in these creative occasions is you’re relaxed, you’re doing something unrelated to the situation you want a solution about, and you’re not in an environment you normally associate with logical thinking, and perhaps difficult or stressful conversations or hard work.

Which means creativity will rarely be found at your desk, in the office, or in the room you associate with yet another ineffective meeting!

With this in mind, I decided to experiment

How could I bring a new creative environment into the training room. After all walking meetings might be a great mechanism for shifting state but weather doesn’t always allow for it (even if in the example shown we’re walking around Warsaw when it’s close to freezing in November).

One aspect we needed to remind delegates first was, how they might feel when trying out some unfamiliar techniques, or felt when outside of their comfort zones.

Which means we needed to normalise that they might feel fearful, scared, weird, self-conscious, resistant, and so on. Even give them permission to feel all these feelings.

What we didn’t tell them was they would have some fun and enjoy it too. Anna loved reflecting back to people at the end of the session how much noise, laughter and energy was being had as they explored creative techniques to find solutions to challenges they were facing.

The experiment included pipe cleaners, pens, collage, books, newspapers, and metaphor and we asked participants to put to one side a problem they’ve been struggling with, as they used the tool.

One common outcome has been people moving from blaming others for the current situation, to understanding what they could do differently – i.e. taking personal responsibility. (a big proud enthusiastic grin from this trainer for that.)

Other outcomes have included:

Drawing it – finance might not be the ones responsible for the barriers between us and them – we might be!

Pipe cleaners – stop dragging stakeholders along and treating them like the devil and find a means of coming together with a common language.

Blackout poetry (or redacted reflection) – a need to get over our own self-importance and concentrate on business needs and priorities.

Problem reversal – oh dear we’re doing many of the things we know will make it worse!

Role models – be a little more forceful and confrontational because that’s what 007 would do.

Metaphor – we need to plant the seeds and have patience to allow them to grow not get impatient when it’s not done anything after 5 minutes (Gardening as a metaphor for supplier management crops up often.)

Collage – making the path ahead clearer for all to see.

Not necessarily all innovative solutions in their own right, but solutions that were very much outside the awareness and often way outside the comfort zones of the participants at the time.

Having tip toed out of their comfort zone and found a solution many leave the workshop inspired to try again in other situations. How fantastic is that!

Always very, very happy to facilitate a session with you and your team to explore challenges you’re facing using a number, or all, of the above tools and techniques. We’re always adding to the list too – which means next week I’m using Lego and Scrabble for two of the breakouts. Do email us for more information [[email protected]] or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Further reading

Blog post: Category management workshops – We’re having a chocolate moment

Alison Smith

About Alison Smith

Principal Consultant

After 15 years in Procurement in organisations, Alison decided that she wanted to expand that pattern observation, exploration, and problem-solving to help others solve their problems in life and to help them get back on track. Combining her unique experience as a procurement expert and a coach she offers a refreshing approach to personal development for Procurement Professionals.