What the purchaser can learn from the ‘underworld’ (Misfit economy)

No purchaser in her right mind would want to choose a criminal path, but there are benefits to looking at the underworld from a different perspective.

Creative thinking is increasingly vital in purchasing. With that in mind, purchasers might have a lot to learn from the underworld, which often has an underlying business case with a surprisingly creative solution. This comparison was presented during the World Procurement Congress. No purchaser in her right mind would want to choose a criminal path, but there are benefits to looking at the underworld from a different perspective. 

On behalf of NEVI-Purspective, I attended the World Procurement Congress organised by Procurement Leaders in London on 16 and 17 May. NEVI-Purspective is an organisation that offers clients information and knowledge in the field of procurement and supply management, and partner of Procurement Leaders. The annual event is therefore an important moment for us to keep up with all of the latest trends and issues in the field. 

Digital transformation

One of the most important trends at the moment is that everyone is looking for a way to use procurement to adapt to changing conditions. It is a technical discipline, but purchasing increasingly focuses outward and is affected by business issues like digital transformation. The challenge for procurement is to find ways to apply these issues in a concrete manner. Digital transformation is not a goal in and of itself; you have to know what you hope to achieve with it. Is it efficiency? Integrating blockchain? Or perhaps introducing more transparency into the chain or improving the procure-to-pay process?


Innovation is also an issue, but in order to innovate disruptively, procurement leaders have to think out-of-the-box. Since procurement is such a technocratic field in many organisations, the challenge is to find the necessary open mindset, combined with the soft skills that facilitate change. That means organisations will have to pay much more attention to training their people and selecting for the right kinds of skills. Today, a CPO also has to be a bit of a change manager. Communications skills are essential for procurement professionals in order to be able to bridge the cultural differences between departments and organisations. They must also be inspiring leaders, in order to motivate their staff, and they especially need to be open-minded about the world around them.


Issues such as agility, design thinking, and sustainability were dealt with at the World Procurement Congress, and it was clear that the procurement field will have to challenge itself to operate more flexibly, creatively, and sustainably. Several speakers emphasised the importance of these issues. One of them, Duncan Wardle, who has served for many years as Vice President of Innovation and Creativity For Walt Disney, challenged the audience to operate outside of their comfort zone and to be more creative, but also to integrate intuition and mindfulness. Another inspiring speaker was Alexa Clay, who had conducted a study of the underworld circuit. She had what was perhaps the most unexpected message: that we in the procurement field could learn a lot from criminals. Not by becoming criminals ourselves, of course, but by looking at the world from a different perspective: open-minded, outside of the ossified structures, and above all; more creative. “Bringing the secret misfit out of procurement” was the message Alexa Clay brought to the last session at the congress.

To hear that at a procurement congress was a pleasant surprise, because it meant that the procurement world is increasingly aware of the importance of creative thinking.

Author: Monique Plantinga, international programme and knowledge manager, NEVI-Purspective