Eli Goldratt, the author of many books and the founder of The Theory of Constraints, passed away Saturday, June 11, 2011. Several of his books include:
What is this thing called The Theory of Constraints?
A general theme to the progression of the books might be: "What is this thing called The Theory of Constraints" to "Here's how to implement this thing called The Theory of Constraints". He was working on a new book, I think titled The Science of Management. Here is an introduction to it on YouTube:
A working sub-title, to me, might be, "With knowledge and understanding both of what TOC is and how to implement it, what causes a manager not to act?" You know the right thing to do - but don't do it? Why not?
There's a dilemma here, of course: change / don't change. It's a timeless dilemma, not just for business but for our personal lives as well! A conflict diagram specific to our discussion here of TOC might look as follows:
I didn’t like this initial explanation.
In this video, he describes a situation fundamental to his first book, The Goal: process time wasted on a non-bottleneck resource, and then added, “If the situation is really so grotesque and it is so widespread, it must stem from some fundamental human behavior.”
He continued. “In the next chapters a rigorous proof will be presented to establish that it all stems from the following:
1. Our fear of complex systems that drives us to dissect the complex systems into sub-systems, leading to diverting management attention to chase local optima, which are not in line with the global objectives;
2. Our fear of the unknown that drives us to finer and fine resolutions – diving into more and more details that divert management attention to optimize within noise;
3. Our fear that conflicts will lead to a tug-of-war that diverts management attention to constantly struggle with unacceptable compromises.
He concluded: "This analysis will connect, through the common causes, seemingly unrelated subjects like strategy, accounting, supply chain, product development, sales and organizational behavior, shedding new light on the surprisingly (realistic) potential for improving organizational performance."
I had no doubt he could do it. After all, with cause-effect logic, one doesn't have to take one's word for anything. Is the evidence there? Is the reasoning sound?
No. That wasn't it.
It was the omnipresent use of the word "Fear".
The word sounded insulting. The implications too great. Who would believe, even if the logic sound, the conclusion "Fear" applied to them?
Was it even true "our fear of complex systems drives us to dissect them?" Maybe it's just sheer ignorance, I thought, that is responsible for wrong behavior. He's got it wrong! And even if he's got it right, the word itself will drive people to put the book down before even reading of the logic behind the conjecture!
But there it was, that word: Fear. A crucial part of the introduction to a new book!
The words of Ayn Rand came to mind:
"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises ... You'll find one of them is wrong".
What was wrong? What was I missing?
Let's verbalize my thoughts. Why was I so sure of myself? What was the connection I was implying behind the statement: "Ignorance is responsible for manager's dissecting complex systems into sub-systems." It was this:
If there's ignorance (lack of knowledge) regarding complex systems,
then managers dissect complex systems into sub-systems. Visually, we have:
This is a reasonable connection, to me. But let's not stop there. If this is a reasonable cause to explain the known effect, then what else can I expect to see - in reality?
If it's the case "Managers are not knowledgeable of complex systems",
then, in reality, I'd expect "There is a scarcity of information on complex systems, complexity, etc." That is:
A side-note is necessary, here. I like the nomenclature of E-C-E logic, but it's easy to confuse the implications of cause-effect logic here. What's clearly said is IF the above is the case, THEN the prediction should be seen in reality. Is it?
IF - THEN
That's all we need SIMPLIFY! REVEAL THE INHERENT SIMPLICITY! One of the maxims of TOC!
Is the above diagram true? Of course not. It once was the case there was a scarcity of information on complex systems, complexity, etc. When The Goal came out in 1984, this was the case. The sciences of Complexity, of Chaos Theory, etc., were new. But now? Information on the behavior of systems is so widespread it's become a cliché to use the words "Complex Systems"!
Obviously, my assumption was wrong.
Let's try to right our reasoning. Where might the book be going? A hunch: rather than my initial assumption people are not knowledgeable of complex systems, Eli will assert people have immense knowledge of such systems!
But if people are knowledgeable of such systems behavior, why would they still dissect complex systems into sub-systems?
Not only will he claim it, I suspect, he will show it, as well as showing it the underlying cause of the other two elements above.
MOREOVER, he will - likely - address the chronic conflict of change / don't change that paralyzes many - not just in business but in life as well.
ADDITIONALLY, he will then verbalize the assumptions underlying such a dilemma to work out one's way - rationally - out of the conflict!
At this point, you may be wondering why I've started a tribute with first a disagreement on what an upcoming book might cover, to understanding, to agreeing, to predicting the layout of the book! For one reason: such understanding / discovery is all TOC, to me.
Verbalization. Connections. Predictions. Logic. Reasoning. This is TOC, to me! Of course, TOC is this - and a lot more.
So in this little exercise lies, to me, the essence of "What is this thing called Theory of Constraints", the title of my second favorite Eli book (behind The Goal).
Is TOC a management systems based on constraint management? Yes. Of finding the core problem linking undesirable effects? Yes. And there are several equally valid descriptions of TOC. But this is not the essence of TOC, to me. A first pass might be:
1. verbalize everything;
2. effect-cause-effect logic.
I like that, but even this sounds a little abstract. Additionally, "E-C-E" logic doesn't capture the essence of the thinking involved in TOC analysis. Cause-Effect? Maybe. If-then? Closer. Validity? Maybe. Consistency? I think this is closer still, but still lacking something.
All of these capture, to a certain degree, what I'm aiming at. However, separately, they miss something. What is a unifying thought behind them all? Integration!
A summary, therefore:
THE THEORY OF CONSTRAINTS IS A SYSTEM OF PROCESS IMPROVEMENT BASED ON IDENTIFICATION AND INTEGRATION.
Yes, I like this. To me, everything regarding TOC are mere applications of this idea. And having verbalized TOC as such, a passage from a novel comes to mind:
"All thinking is a process of identification and integration. Man perceives a blob of color; by integrating the evidence of his sight and his touch, he learns to identify it as a solid object; he learns to identify the object as a table; he learns that the table is made of wood; he learns that the wood consists of cells, that the cells consist of molecules, that the molecules consist of atoms. All through this process, the work of his mind consists of answers to a single question: What is it? His means to establish the truth of his answers is logic, and logic rests on the axiom that existence exists. Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. A contradiction cannot exist. An atom is itself, and so is the universe; neither can contradict its own identity; nor can a part contradict the whole. No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality."
Putting these two thoughts together, I like what I get ...
How did Eli describe, not necessarily TOC in particular, but reality in general?
"I smile and start to count on my fingers. One, people are good. Two, every conflict can be removed. Three, every situation, no matter how complex it initially looks, is exceedingly simple. Four, every situation can be substantially improved; even the sky is not the limit. Five, every person can reach a full life. Six, there is always a win-win solution. Shall I continue to count?"
Your smile remains with me, my friend, but no, there is no reason to continue to count. Well done.
postscript ... here was a little booklet I put together on random TOC topics.