Lessons from Leonardo da Vinci We Can Apply To Supply Chain

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I have been reading and thinking about Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the most famous engineer, inventor, painter, and sculptor in history.  Da Vinci was the illegitimate son of an Italian notary and a peasant woman. Because he was born out of wedlock, he was not allowed to get a formal education other than some basic mathematics. The key to da Vinci’s genius was his ability to integrate art and engineering. It was a kind of harmony between analytical and creative thinking. Just about everything he did started with a scientific investigation of how the human body moved and worked, how things were measured, how light and shade should be used in painting, and a calculation of angles and relationships of one thing to another. For example, consider Vitruvian Man, a naked male in a circle and square, with relational and proportional measurements. What he learned from his study of the human body, and displayed in this drawing, was the basis for his paintings of people. He studied the muscles of the face before he painted the Mona Lisa. He studied light and angles before he painted the Last Supper.

We Are Analytical Thinkers

As supply chain professionals we can certainly learn and take inspiration from da Vinci. Successful supply chain professionals are by nature, mostly analytical thinkers. We have established business metrics and we love to quantify our business strategies. We evaluate our successes by cost savings and shortened cycle times and order fulfilment cycles. But what could we accomplish if we added some right-brain creative thinking to our processes? Starting from our analytical bias, as da Vinci did with his research and engineering, we have the potential to then layer on some light and shade. We should take some time to consider the big picture and design new kinds of supply chains with fresh ideas and a vision towards what is coming next. We must learn to add art to our science

Mixing Light and Shade

This is harder than it looks.  Some of us excel at supply chain execution, e.g. moving freight, warehousing, and logistics. Others may be driving top-level strategy, e.g. where are we going and what should we achieve? But it is the integration of strategy and execution (light and shade) and the blurring of these two lines that can really make a difference. To be creative in supply chains we must build on the execution, and break through with new ideas. As da Vinci said, “Reality should inform, not constrain.” The reality of our every day supply chain lives must not stop us from introducing new ideas and ways of solving our supply chain issues to be the very best we can be. We need an integration of execution and strategy to be successful at both the art and the science of supply chain.