Beware the Oracles
Welcome to the 100th edition (whut?!?!) of The LogTech Letter. TLL is a weekly look at the impact technology is having on the world of global and domestic logistics. Last week, I bunked (a combo of legitimately having zero time to put this together and also not wanting to give short shrift to such a momentous edition). Two weeks ago, I posed a question about whether container lines may eventually rue the extent to which the market worked in their favor the last two years. This week, I’m sounding the alarm about placing too much faith in any one person.
As a reminder, this is the place to turn on Fridays for quick reflection on a dynamic, software category, or specific company that’s on my mind. You’ll also find a collection of links to stories, videos and podcasts from me, my colleagues at the Journal of Commerce, and other analysis I find interesting.
Thanks for reading The LogTech Letter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
For those that don’t know me, I’m Eric Johnson, senior technology editor at the Journal of Commerce and JOC.com. I can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LogTechEric.
First and foremost, I have to comment on this being the 100th edition of this newsletter. What started as a COVID lockdown project has morphed into a core part of my week, and for that I have all the subscribers to thank. I mean that sincerely - I would have abandoned this long ago if the list of subscribers didn’t keep growing, and if people didn’t regularly reach out to say they love the newsletter, or that it helps them think about our industry in a different way. And to the early, loyal followers, I can only offer up my gratitude for following along over two-plus crazy years.
I’m not one for retrospectives or dwelling too much on the past, so I’d rather this edition not be bogged down in that way. Rather, I thought I’d use this signficant occasion to address something I think about a lot: the idea that certain people are seen to have so much wisdom that they can never be wrong. You could call it hero worship. Or you could chalk it up to a lack of time or inclination most people have to verify the things that experts say. Whatever the case may be, it’s very dangerous to put all your eggs into the basket of one person’s apparent clarity on a given topic.
Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to grab a couple beers with Kris Kosmala, a frequent commenter on all things logistics, technology, ports, and shipping. Kris is a highly intelligent person with a wealth of experience across a number of companies and projects. When he comments, he does so confidently, from the point of view of someone who knows what he’s talking about. And yet, we talked about this issue, this idea that there are oracles of information who are deemed infallible. His response (and I’m paraphrasing here): we have to challenge those people, because we shouldn’t just assume they are correct 100 percent of the time, just as I’m not correct 100 percent of the time.
Looking back on this newsletter (I know I promised I wouldn’t a few minutes ago, but indulge me), I’m much more interested when someone is ready to challenge my position here than when someone agrees with everything I write. Sometimes I don’t even agree with everything I write! There are people in shipping, people in logistics, people in trucking, people in economics, and people in technology who are blindly trusted because they largely have a track record of impeccable insight. But it’s dangerous to presume that everything they do or say is automatically correct. And the true icons of thought would agree with that. They would want to be challenged, they would want someone to offer a thoughtful, dissenting viewpoint, because that would either change their mind, or it would allow them to strengthen their position.
The overarching problem is that we live in a world where confidence, not humility, is the key characteristic in earning trust. If you say things confidently, you’re more likely to be believed than if you qualify your analysis with “but I may be wrong.” A person who makes a declarative prediction, one that leaves zero room for any other possibility, is much more likely to capture the attention of the masses (especially the uninformed masses) than someone who tempers their guidance. Especially in the social media age, where you often only have 280 characters to display your bonafides on a subject.
Let me be clear: there are a lot of people in various pockets of the industry I cover that I trust implicitly, whether it’s analyzing economic data, or conveying the underlying dynamics of container shipping, or how VC works, or how startups function, or how a forwarder buys and sells freight. But my trust for those people increases when I can independently validate what they say, not just join in a chorus of people who say they’re great (which I, like any human, do from time to time). That’s the key delineation here. Trusting and believing in an expert is different from not giving that expert’s opinion adequate critical thought. You need to treat each argument they make as if it’s first thing you’ve heard them say, not believe them blindly like a 5-year-old kid does with their parents. In fact, think of it like a 15-year-old listening to their parents: the 15-year-old knows his or her parents are probably right, but has a healthy skepticism regardless.
I think about this from a reporter’s perspective, where sourcing is an exponential game. One-source stories have a certain value and validity. Two sources are more than twice as valuable and validating, three sources are more than three times as valuable, and so on. Rely on any single person or data point at your peril, no matter how strong their provenance.
TPMTech Registration is Live!
Only two weeks left to take advantage of early bird passes for the the second annual TPMTech, Feb. 23-24 in Long Beach, Calif.
Neal Peart Lyrics of the Week:
Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact
Here’s a roundup of recent pieces on JOC.com from my colleagues and myself (note: there is a paywall):
One of the reasons I was too tied up last week to publish this newsletter was this beast of a piece on demurrage invoices, OSRA-22 and the technical connections lacking to comply with the three-month-old law. This was one of those stories where every layer I peeled back revealed another five layers underneath.
Somewhat relatedly, I looked at how software providers feel there are already solutions to whatever data sharing the FMC might seek to mandate on an emergency basis, especially around arrival notices.
Who said the LogTech venture capital well had dried up? Three significant funding rounds were announced this week, the largest of which was $80 million for Xeneta, the freight rate benchmarking software provider.
NYSHEX, which has seen significant growth on its platform enabling mutually enforceable ocean freight contracts, landed a $25 million round Wednesday.
And MyCarrier, an LTL technology provider that helps LTL carriers build an online sales presence and gives LTL shippers a way to easily procure LTL capacity across carriers, snagged a $22 million round this week.
Finally, I also wrote about an interesting visibility partnership between Vizion and BlueBox, which combines the companies’ respective strengths in ocean and airfreight data.
And here are some recent discussions, reports, and analysis I found interesting:
Nice set of pointers about picking and implementing the right TMS.
Good column here on globalization shifting, not ending.
Always worth reading Charley Dehoney’s take on investing into supply chain and logistics.
An analysis on the digitization of the shipping industry.
McKinsey with a look at forwarder earnings through the pandemic, including focusing on a metric that is vital: conversion of net revenue to gross profit (expect a future LogTech Letter on that topic!).
Great blog here by Dynamo on the realities and economic impacts of reshoring and nearshoring.
Pretty gnarly, no-holds-barred post from Brittain Ladd about the realities of Amazon becoming a full-fledged 3PL.
And finally, the aforementioned Kris Kosmala on the perils of conflating visibility and transparency in container shipping.
Some upcoming events I’ll be involved in:
Our Inland Distribution Conference in Chicago Sept. 26-28 is now less than two weeks out. I’ll be doing a one-on-one with Emerge CEO Andrew Leto and then leading four tech-oriented discussions, including the one on small carrier tech, as well as sessions on LTL tech, freight procurement advances, and venture’s future role in trucking. Don’t miss this - it’s the most substantive surface transportation conference in the market.
For early risers in the US, and morning time CET, I’ll be joining an all-star panel at Container xChange’s Digital Container Summit Oct. 4 at 4 am ET/10 am CET. Joining me to discuss where the container market is headed are The Loadstar’s Mike King, Drewry’s Martin Dixon, and Xeneta’s Peter Sand. Details to come on registration.
Really delighted to join Rob Garrison on his Let’s Talk Supply Chain show First Things First noon ET Oct. 11. Make sure you’re subscribed to his show here for updates and episodes.
Disclaimer: This newsletter is in no way affiliated with The Journal of Commerce or S&P Global, and any opinions are mine only.