© 2020 Contract Ready

Contracting Officer ‘Superpower’?


By THINK Acquisition

I like the concept of superheroes — individuals with unique talents, gifts or physical/mental attributes using their uniqueness for the good of mankind. Superman, Black Panther, Captain America, Batman, the Hulk, Wonder Woman, X-men, Spider-man, Blade and Iron Man, to name a few, have become big screen favorites as the DC and Marvel superhero clans battle it out for cinematic dominance. As I was doing some research this week for a new project, I was thinking… is there one characteristic, if one could actually boil it down to just one, that would separate and distinguish the highly effective contracting officers I’ve had the honor of serving with from the rest of the pack. In other words….is there a Contracting Officer superpower?

In the craft, intelligence is important for obvious reasons. Attention to detail would also make the list. High business acumen and math skills are in the mix as well. And a willingness to be in service of clients, customers and mission is definitely high in the pecking order. But what would be the one thing (in my opinion) that separates those extraordinary contracting officers…those that really make the magic happen…from those that just answer the mail. I wrestled with this for a couple days and then it hit me – the ability to see around corners, or what I call ‘pattern recognition’. Yes, the characteristic that separates the wheat from the chaff in this line of business is absolutely pattern recognition. Pattern recognition, as I define it in the contracting space, is the ability to take bits and pieces from your current environment, mix it with past experiences, discern patterns and then draw rational, logical conclusions about the future. More importantly it’s drawing conclusions about an acquisition future that characteristically has aspects you may have not seen or heard of before.

In depth experience as journeymen contract specialists is a huge part of making effective contracting officers. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of a decade or more of time in the contracts specialist chair for new contracting officers anymore. As in most of life, we often learn more from our negative experiences, or failures, than we do from our successes; but some feel the necessity to make all the mistakes themselves. I would argue that the VERY best learning comes from leveraging the mistakes of others, therefore using pattern recognition to stay on the straight and narrow and not venture too far off the path. Pattern recognition allows us to draw conclusions with existing data and leverage those conclusions for better future outcomes.

The most effective contracting officers I’ve seen have been able to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that, mix it up and create new tactics, strategies and plans to deliver outstanding solutions to new problems and challenges. Just because you haven’t seen the exact challenge before doesn’t mean the solution isn’t out there. While a noble goal, the problem with wanting our team members to have witnessed every contracting experience and build high degrees of confidence based on feeling and touching every possible scenario is that our careers are not long enough generally to experience everything ourselves – and the world around us is constantly changing. Therefore, we must leverage the experiences of others and then pattern recognize. As contracting leaders, our jobs are to create environments and cultures where taking the bits and pieces of what we have to devise new strategies that will answer the mail, solve new problems and deliver mission need is the expectation. Pattern recognition will allow us all to see around corners and at times predict the future with levels of surety exceeding those of a mere coin flip. Pattern recognition is a skill – a learned superpower. No bite from a radioactive spider required!