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Procurement Perspectives: The focus of an organization calls for present day philosophy, inspired by the past

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: The focus of an organization  calls for present day philosophy,  inspired by the past

Every organization exists within a temporal framework of past experience, present reality and future dreams.
Most must work within their unique legacy of previous events. Even when a new organization is created, its members will often see it as being the worthy successor to some past tradition.

Every CEO and organization should learn from the past and there are times when it pays to draw inspiration from the past, but no manager or organization should become so preoccupied with the past to become a slave to history.

References to the past are useful to define values and to keep clarifying goals. The lessons of the past are worthy of study for they teach us how to avoid past mistakes. However, we all live in the present and the problems with which every organization must be concerned are those of the present, not the past.

Any organization that is dominated by the desire to address perceived past wrongs is liable to become the slave of its history.

No organization can afford to be ruled from the grave. In the British conception of parliament there is an ancient tradition that no sitting parliament may bind its successors. It is a rule that every organization should employ.

Distinguishing between the timeless traditions of history and those that are more temporal requires study and reflection. It requires distinguishing the essential values of an organization, culture or society, from its immediate and more superficial customs and practices.

There are serious potential problems with any organization that is too much concerned with the past.

One of the most important of these is the risk of anachronism: the inability to extricate the organization from an outdated and self-limiting mindset.

Of all the variants of anachronism, the problem of an anachronistic struggle, is by far the most serious. It is the situational failing that underlies the blood feud and the multi-generational war. It is also wise to bear in mind the warning of Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters must take care lest he becomes a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

The risk of anachronism is present in many aspects of organizational life.

It may take the form of attempting to perpetuate institutions or arrangements that have long since outlived their usefulness.

This sort of struggle is especially useless when no one can remember what function those instructions or arrangements were originally intended to serve. In business, anachronism often takes the form of a refusal to abandon a project even though it is a proven failure.

An uneconomic venture does not become profitable merely reason by investing more money in it. The same is true in other contexts as well.

There are always opportunity costs to remain in the game. It cannot be assumed that the sunk costs will be recovered if an additional investment is made.

Perpetuation of any anachronistic cause, practice or institution stifles the growth and evolution of any organization or society. It inevitably produces a crippling narrowness of vision. Preoccupation with the past can have a suffocating effect over the long-term.

Tradition is fine as a guide, but not when it blinds an organization to present needs or blocks the organization from responding effectively to them.

We live in the present and every organization must deal with the present.

Those who are preoccupied with the past are focused on things that are no longer relevant to the present day.

That focus prevents them from seizing current opportunities to improve their condition.

Business methods are evolving at a rapid pace, combined with COVID, supply chain shortages and other outside influences.
Therefore, the focus of your organization should call for present day philosophy.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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