The Death of a Guru: Eli Goldratt


On June 11 Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt passed away (1947 – 2011).  While he was not so well-known in the development field, his thinking and influence had a deep impact in the world of management and especially manufacturing operations.

He is most famous for the creation of the Theory of Constraints. There must be hundreds of consulting firms all over the world that make a living from his ideas, and his ideas have made manufacturing viable even in countries with high manufacturing costs. In his most popular book, The Goal, he uses a novel format to get the reader excited about certain challenges within a manufacturing firm. This was followed by several other books that challenged dominant paradigms in since the 1980s. I can still remember reading The Goal the first time and the applying the insights in my first business. All my staff also read the book and we applied the theories in our work at customers.

But you would be wrong to think this book and theory is about manufacturing. It is about change. Actually, come to think of it, it is about equipping managers to frame their concerns, and then think them through. From my daily experience of interviewing firms to find ways to improve their competitiveness, I know that this is a problem. Managers of firms are too scared to write down their fears or concerns. They just allow them to nibble away at their confidence.

Take a look at the following example of how a very simple 5 step process can be used as a mantra to equip managers to think things through. One of the many useful processes developed by Goldratt is called “the thinking process”. I believe this is relevant also to economic development. It is a set of tools to help managers (in our case it would be translated to stakeholders) through the steps of initiating and implementing a project. It helps people to not only think through a problem, but it actually helps to build momentum towards a specific set of solutions. The thinking process steps are:

  1. Gain agreement on the problem
  2. Gain agreement on the direction for a solution
  3. Gain agreement that the solution solves the problem
  4. Agree to overcome any potential negative ramifications
  5. Agree to overcome any obstacles to implementation

These steps seem very obvious for people that are trained in change management. Not surprisingly Theory of Constraints practitioners would refer to these steps as working through layers of resistance to change.

I hope that Goldratt consulting and the whole Theory of Constraints movement will continue to share and promote their learning. We need this kind of frank discussion in the developing countries. If only we had such a neat and concise framework in economic development.

Dear Eli, Rest in Peace.

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