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Ride the Wave of Supply Chain Uncertainty: Adopting the Surfer’s Mindset

November 17, 2023
Keith Hartley

As we enter the final months of 2023, what new challenges await supply chain and procurement leaders as they navigate declining US–China relations, the ongoing Ukraine war, and the eruption of the Israel–Hamas crisis? How can we think differently about the opportunities and headwinds we’ll undoubtedly face in 2024—and predict their potential effects on labor, automation, and digitization?

Over the past year, the US CHIPS Act increased export controls on advanced chips to China as reshoring accelerated. Now, China has responded by restricting the exports of rare earth minerals required to manufacture electric vehicles and some weapons, including missiles. The World Bank warns a prolonged IsraelHamas conflict could lead to a repeat of the 1970s oil price crisis. Moreover, if the conflict escalates further, oil prices might skyrocket by more than 75 percent. Combined with the inflation brought on by the RussiaUkraine conflict, drastic oil price increases will produce a “knock-on” effect, driving up expenses in the shipping sector—which means higher prices for commodities.

It’s difficult to navigate so much uncertainty using traditional thinking. Sometimes, the best ideas come from outside your industry. That’s why tapping into the wisdom of the surfer’s mindset is a potentially interesting tool. As a surfer, I’ve faced being crushed under a wave and dashed to the bottom, uncontrollably tumbling as helplessly as shells and sand. But the surfer mindset has taught me to go with the water and not fight against it. Eventually, the wave subsides, and I’ll be back on my board, riding the next wave. I bring this thinking into everything I do, including helping leading companies navigate supply chain complexity using the power of AI.

Metaphorically speaking, it’s just a matter of time before the procurement process wave you’re riding now will crash. In other words, traditional thinking and tools won’t be enough to get you to the next wave. Adopting surfer wisdom could help you get up on the next wave and ride it to greater profitability while reducing risk.

The Surfer’s Mindset

Get in the water. You can’t ride waves from the shore.

Surfers know that, at some point, they’ll wipe out. But surfers always paddle back out into the water. If you’re still on the fence about utilizing AI to manage your supply chain, the time to move beyond spreadsheets is now. The incredible insights and “what-ifs” provided by data-driven decision intelligence can get you back “into the water” and “riding the next wave.”

Create a strategic position when you’re about to be crushed by a wave.

Sometimes when you’re surfing, you know you’re about to be crushed by a wave, and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. However, you can position yourself to maneuver through the wave without getting sucked back into the ocean’s depths. There’s no doubt that 2024 will bring new crushing challenges to the supply chain. Procurement teams can position themselves as value drivers, contributing directly to the bottom lines of their organizations. AI-powered insights can’t keep supply shocks from happening, but they can provide advance notice so teams can pivot on parts and suppliers before supply shifts affect customers.

Only ride the best waves instead of reacting to every wave.

Every wave isn’t catchable. But great surfers learn to know when it’s time to catch one. What if you could learn how to spot the biggest spend opportunities right now? Or what if you could get a benchmark for a custom part that’s otherwise unbenchmarkable? AI-powered intelligence can help you identify the biggest and best ways to manage spend and risk so you can prioritize the most valuable opportunities instead of reacting once things change.

Learn from past failures.

It’s not easy to pop up on a surfboard and catch a wave at first. From choosing the wrong board to tackling a monster wave, novice surfers fail a lot. The ocean is a harsh teacher, and those who go on to become master surfers continuously adjust their timing and technique. If procurement teams have learned anything over the past several years, it’s that demand shocks cannot be managed with traditional procurement processes and tools. That’s why more and more forward-thinking organizations are embracing AI for their direct material sourcing. Not only do AI-powered insights unearth incredible new value for the company but they also enable procurement teams to learn about and avoid potential failures.


Like learning to spot and commit to taking the drop on the perfect wave, teams that use AI to transform their direct material sourcing can spot opportunities in real time, adding millions to the company’s bottom line. When the opportunity to immediately transform your supply chain, utilizing AI-powered insights, presents itself, it’s time to jump in and commit. 

I’m not the only one who believes having a surfer’s mindset can improve your business. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently discussed the surfer’s mindset with entrepreneurship students at the University of Virginia. This statement sums things up very well:

“I will never control all the things around me . . . but I can always control how I think, respond, and act.”

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