The Choice Passage: Dealing With Conflict

The Choice by Eliyahu Goldratt and Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag (emphasis added).

"Father, I can assure you that there is no way you can convince me that people don't have conflicts."

He resorts to his pipe.

After a while he starts again. "Let me take a step back. Maybe we should discuss the differences and similarities between the words contradiction and conflict."

Since I don't know where he is heading, I keep quiet.

"Let's examine an example of how deep everybody's conviction is that there are no contradictions in the material world. Suppose that we have two different techniques to measure the height of a building. And when we use them to measure the height of a specific building we get two very different heights. Facing such an apparent contradiction no one would say, 'Let's compromise; let's agree that the height of this building is the average between the two measurements.'"

"What we would say is that somewhere along the line we have made an erroneous assumption. We'll check to see if, in the time that passed between the two measurements, additional floors were added. If that's not the case, we'll explore if our assumption—that each of the measurements was carried out properly—is correct. If they were, we'll look for an erroneous assumption in the techniques themselves; we'll explore the possibility that one of these two techniques is faulty. In extreme cases we'll even doubt our understanding of height. But we'll always look for the erroneous assumption and never contemplate the possibility of compromise. This is how strong our belief is that there are no contradictions in nature."

I'm not impressed. "A building cannot have two different heights, that's obvious. But a person can have two conflicting desires."

"Believe me, I know," he says. "I know that people may have conflicts. But that is also the situation in the material world. It is filled with conflicts. Reality doesn't contain contradictions, but it is full of conflicts.

"Can you explain the difference between a contradiction and a conflict?"

"Conflict is a situation where what we want is a contradiction." When he sees that doesn't help, he hurries to explain. "Take, for example, the wing of an airplane. On one hand, we need the wings to be strong. And in order to ensure the strength we should use thick supporting beams. But on the other hand, we need the wings to be light, and in order to ensure that, we should use thin supporting beams. A typical conflict. And like any other conflict, including conflicts between people, it will lead in good situations to some acceptable compromise, and in bad situations to a stone wall."

"Actually," I say, "in many situations a conflict will lead to a bad compromise. To a compromise that is bad because it is the cause of many undesirable effects. Come to think of it, I cannot think of even one example of an undesirable effect that is not the result of a conflict."

"No argument," he agrees. "What I'm suggesting is that we treat any conflict like a scientist treats a contradiction."

In the last ten years I've gained a lot of experience, most of it successful, in using his conflict removal method. So I allow myself to take over. "In other words," I say, "when we face a conflict, especially when we cannot easily find an acceptable compromise, let's do exactly the same thing we do when we encounter a contradiction; let's insist that one of the underlying assumptions is faulty. If, or should I say when, we pin down the underlying assumption that can be removed, we remove the cause of the conflict; we solve the conflict by eliminating it."

"Correct," he says. "So can you now verbalize the second obstacle that prevents people from effectively using their brainpower?"

Slowly I say, "I need a minute to organize my thoughts."

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that meaningful opportunities are opened when one sees how to remove a blockage, how to overcome an undesirable situation that I'm convinced I cannot change. Many times, the blockage is due to a conflict that does not have an acceptable compromise. From experience I know that as long as we think that the only way to handle a conflict is by compromising, we'll never think about the underlying assumptions and how to remove at least one of them; we'll never find the way to eliminate the conflict. And we'll never come up with the breakthrough; we'll never reveal the great opportunity that hides there. We'll just lower our expectations.

Confidently I say, "The second obstacle is that people's perception is that conflicts are a given and that the best we can do is to seek a compromise."

Bitterly Father remarks, "In academia we are encouraging that devastating mistake. Under the glorifying title of 'optimization' we invest considerable efforts to teach students, not how to remove conflicts, but how to waste time finding the 'best' compromise. What a waste of talent."

Consider the connection between conflict is a situation where what we want is a contradiction and the TCS concept of "coercion".

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Learning From Emergencies

Eli Goldratt Interview:

EG: The first one is: how do you invent? Invent powerful solutions to your real problems, to your environment. And most people think that, maybe, you have to be born with this ability to invent. What I’ve tried to show here is that every good manager is a fantastic inventor. But you don’t pay attention to it, and you waste all the inventions. Let me explain a little bit what I mean, okay? Every manager faces emergencies. And he reacts to emergencies. What can he do? As a matter of fact, a good manager will react quite well to emergencies, and he solves the problem. And what we have to realize is: whenever we react to an emergency we actually deviate from the standard rules. Always! What people do not pay attention to is that you don’t just deviate from the standard rules, you are actually following a different set of rules. And the point is: after the emergency is over, why won’t you take the time to verbalize the new set of rules that you just followed? Then think on the following; if I would have used this set of rules not just in emergencies, but in the normal day to day, what damages will happen? What undesirable effects will result, and how can I prevent them? Because, if you will now augment this new set of rules with what should be happening, in order that, when I’m using them in day to day life at the normal time they do not lead to anything negative, what you are ending up with is a set of rules that is so much better than your current rules. So much better, that even emergencies are handled as if there is no emergency. And that’s what I’ve shown in this book, if you notice. Okay, a pipe is broken. Emergency. Fine, you react to it. But then what is even Paul saying? He’s dying to go back to normal! Wait a minute, pay attention. Look at how much the situation is better now. Think, how can you use it on a daily basis, because then you get this huge improvement. And that’s what’s happening in this book.


EG: Absolutely! But what I’m saying is: this is always the case. For example, take ‘The Goal’. In the first chapter, he faces an emergency. As a matter of fact, the emergency is so big that the head of the division comes to say, “There is an order which you are late on. You must expedite it!” So they expedite it. And he’s bitching and moaning about it. At the end of the book he’s doing exactly the same for the big order that saves his bottom line. If he would have just stopped after the first chapter and said, “I’ve deviated from the rules of how we are running a plant. It did work, I did send the order earlier. What are the new rules that I’m following?”, he would have saved the whole book, and he would have invented it rather than Jonah. Because, let’s face it, the way that he handled his big order at the end is exactly the same concept that he handled the emergency in the first chapter. It’s always the case. So, if people would just pay attention to it, everyone becomes an inventor.

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Integrating Goldratt's Philosophy with Fallible Ideas

i do lots of stuff and mention it and ppl usually don’t follow along and do my cool new projects. sometimes a few ppl read or learn 1/4 of it, a bit late, and then don’t take it very far.

and they aren’t doing a stream of their own awesome projects either.

this is my overall impression.


well they are overreaching. they don’t have spare capacity to jump on opportunities as stuff comes up. they are booked up too much. if they only booked 50% of their time, then they’d have time available for cool opportunities as they come up.

in the name of efficiency, ppl will schedule all of their time, and then there’s no flexibility to get anything else done, and they miss out on tons of great opportunities. and they are often in crisis mode b/c they can't even do everything on their schedule, but they made promises to do those things, and then they have to take inefficient steps to deal with the crisis.

this is a ton like in The Goal, by Eli Goldratt, where factory work stations need excess capacity. and ppl intentionally try to get rid of any idle time in the name of efficiency. (read the book if you wanna understand this post better, and also b/c it's a really great book. there's tons of relevant stuff in the book which i don't go over here. also read his book, The Choice.)

this attitude ends up chasing lots of local maxima at the expense of global ones. that’s what busy schedules do too.

in The Goal, for example, they run robots 24/7 at their manufacturing plant so the robots won't be idle. but they end up producing too much of the stuff the robots can make, which makes things worse. and they have ppl at the heat treat oven go do other tasks while it runs, but then they're late to come back and lose super valuable time starting the next oven batch, so what they're doing is actually much, much worse than having ppl just sit around and wait by the oven and never be late to get the next load started.

paradoxically, ppl have their lives so full they never get anything done. which is exactly one of the main problems in The Goal.

it’s also like poor ppl who stay poor partly b/c, lacking spare money, they can’t jump on sales or bulk discounts very well. ppl who lack spare/idle time, b/c they are so time poor, end up using their time really inefficiently exactly like poor ppl use money inefficiently.

ppl often will make some attempt to free up time for a specific purpose. they want to do X so they manage to shift some time on their schedule from something else to X. but doing that never solves the problem of being overbooked in general, let alone giving one the excess capacity to jump on good opportunities and do things with longterm benefit (in the same way having excess money in the bank lets you use your money better).

i'm not advising you sit around doing literally nothing for long periods of time. but for most ppl it's really not hard to find things to do! most ppl have plenty of stuff they want to do. if you aren't doing anything for a while, don't rush to start an activity. give yourself time to think sometimes! and if you aren't doin much thinking right now or you finish thinking, ok, then consider your priorities and pick something good to do. also place a higher value on activities with flexible scheduling that are easy to interrupt and take breaks from, and activities that offer fast returns on investment so it's fine if you quit.

that's how i organize lots of my time. i avoid scheduled obligations and longterm commitments. instead of literal idle time, i have a lot of flex time where i have some things i can do, but also it's no problem to not do them if something else comes up.

examples of flex activities including reading, writing, playing games, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and having discussions. at a moment's notice i can redirect all my time away from those things and have all day to do something else, no problem. (it doesn't have to be something else, either. if i get really into reading something, and i'm learning a ton and excited by it, then i can redirect time to that. when i want to read something, i'm usually pretty much only limited by getting tired, not by my ability to free up time for it immediately. b/c of how i run my schedule, raw time is much less of an issue for me than for most ppl, so i have gotten to put a lot of thought into some more advanced issues of managing energy/attention/focus, which are where people's bottleneck should be. there are more hours in the day than hours per day you have the energy to do good thinking, so if time is your bottleneck you're doing something wrong!)

people managing their time, attention and mental energy very badly is also why Paths Forward seems so implausible to them. so to try to save time they actually act irrationally which is very destructive, especially for supposedly truth-seeking intellectuals.

also, in the majority of cases, concretizing plans in advance is premature optimization. don't tie down what you're going to do in advance when you have less information about what's best to do. in some cases you get benefits from partially deciding early (e.g. you can buy supplies for a project in advance), but you should usually avoid it. don't concretize plans early without a very clear reason it's beneficial, and only concretize to the extent needed to get the benefit, and be wary of activities that require a lot of concrete, advance planning.

ppl often push you for concrete planning, implicitly. cuz they are overbooked on concrete plans, they never get to the less concrete plans. so you have to schedule concrete plans with them in advance or you can't do anything with them. so their lack of idle time is causing every additional thing added onto their schedule to be concretized in advance (which is worse). the busy schedule itself is preventing the best activities and only letting lesser activities get onto the schedule! the busy schedule is causing tons of premature optimization.

making the right changes is so much more important than spending tons of time making tons of changes. it's not "efficient" to spend all your time that way, that's a local maxima. you'll get more productively accomplished, in a fraction of the time, if you do the right things. this is a theme of Goldratt which fits with FI well.

if flex time loses 10% against the local maximum to retain flexibility, and you do a different much better activity once a week (use the flexibility a minority of the time), you can come out way ahead.

e.g. you might play video games that are easily interruptible. this reduces your selection of games, so you get to play a slightly less ideal game on average. some days, as a result of doing this, you come out behind – play a less ideal game with no upside on that day. however in the bigger picture you come out ahead – the days where you gain a large benefit from the flexibility more than make up for the minor downsides.

don't screw up the important stuff b/c you were too distracted optimizing minor details! this is a big deal, and is in The Goal (having ppl wait around at the bottleneck work stations, spending most of their time idle, improves production b/c those work stations are so important that it's better to wait around for hours than to be a little late from multitasking.)

you can look at this in terms of local vs. global evaluation of results, or seen and unseen (Bastiat's take on the broken window fallacy and selective attention).

what's natural for me personally is to see that, right now:

1) play game with 9 value per hour, and have a 10% chance to interrupt it to do something worth 50 value per hour

is more points, now, than:

2) play game with 10 value per hour.

cuz i look at expectation value (a well known poker concept meaning the avg expected value of what ur doing, regardless of what happens today), so i even get the local case right. the expectation value is 90% * 9/hr + 10% * 50/hr which is 13.1/hr (that math doesn't cover the mixed case where you do it for a while then interrupt partway through, so the real advantage is smaller but, given reasonable assumptions about the unstated details, it'll still be an advantage. note: you do need to be careful with risk when dealing with expectation values, especially when dealing with high stakes all at once. e.g. i'd rather have a million dollars than a 50% chance of 2.1 million dollars, even though the second option is a little more money on average. the only way i'd take the second option, which comes out to 50k more on avg, is if i made a deal with a bank or rich guy. e.g. the bank gives me a million dollars plus 10k, and i pick the 2.1m choice and give them the full amount from it. then i get 10k more than if i picked the 1m option, and the bank comes out 40k ahead on avg, and they have enough money to deal with the variance.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

Expanding Our Limits

It must be that long before the technology was available we developed modes of behavior, measurements, policies, rules that helped us accommodate the limitation (from now on I’ll refer to all of them as just “rules” even though in many cases those rules are not written anywhere).

What benefits will we gain when we install the technology that removes the limitation, but we “forget” to change the rules?

The answer is obvious. As long as the rules that helped us to accommodate the limitation are obeyed the end result is the same as if the limitation still exists. In other words, we cannot expect to see any significant benefits.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Logic vs. 200 People

Production the TOC Way by Eliyahu M. Goldratt:

But it was an unfair fight; I had the logic and they were less than two hundred.

This is my favorite Goldratt quote so far. He, alone, thought he had the advantage because there weren't even 200 people against him, and he had logic on his side :D

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Goldratt vs. Japan

I found out something really bad and disappointing about Eli Goldratt. He delayed translation of his books into Japanese for fear they'd be really successful, increase the trade imbalance, and generally help Japan get way ahead of the West. He delayed translation from around 1987 to 2000, by which point he thought Japan was stagnating and the West had caught up.

Goldratt's own words, from 4:04:45-4:07:45 in his 2005 audiobook Beyond the Goal (my emphasis):

For a long time, I didn’t allow my books to be translated into Japanese. Not because I don’t like them — the opposite is true — but because my opinion was that they are so much more advanced in production than the U.S. or Europe and the penetration of cost accounting is so much smaller in Japan (by the way, statistics show that they have one-seventh of the cost accounting people in their organizations that we have here in the states — one seventh) and they are in love with simple solutions rather than complicated solutions, sophisticated solutions, and that’s why the penetration of ERP [enterprise resource planning] for example in Japan is less than ten percent. I was afraid that if I will release my material into Japan, actively, they will go on it very quickly, they will increase the gap, and by that they will tilt even more the trade balance. If the trade balance will be tilted even more, the gap will become much bigger, I was afraid the whole economy of the world may go down the drain. Yes I know that these are maybe megalomaniac thinking, but I didn’t want it on my shoulders. So for a long long time, I refused to allow my books to be translated into Japanese.

About two years ago, I came to the conclusion that probably the gap had been closed. Now I am almost convinced that the gap is closed. So it’s about time to give this know-how. In June of this year, The Goal came out in Japanese, in Japan. They were waiting for it, because otherwise I cannot explain what happened. The first three months, 300,000 copies have been sold. The Goal is selling now in Japan more than Harry Potter! That’s not a joke, that’s a fact. And I got an article — translated article — from the number one business magazine of Japan two weeks ago about The Goal. By the way, The Goal appeared on the cover of that magazine. And in this article, there is a box of an interview with the President of Toyota. And he said he made The Goal mandatory reading to all his management. The mere fact that he came to this statement is another crack in the conformity. Now it’s allowed.

In what ways was Japan ahead? For big examples, think about how Toyota was beating Ford, and Japanese companies like Sony excelled in electronics. Not everyone is aware, but Japan today is considered the world's third largest economy, after just the U.S. and China. Japan was second until China's recent growth, and (unsourced on Wikipedia) represented 17.8% of the entire world economy at its peak in 1994.

The supposed harm of trade imbalances is junk economics. Apparently Goldratt never gave the matter much thought. That's disappointing because he's an advocate of win/win solutions and says there are no conflicts in reality. When you seem to see a conflict – e.g. Japanese people would benefit from your book but you think there'd be a negative result – then there's a mistaken premise somewhere. It's a mistake – in Goldratt's own view – to accept lose/lose solutions or compromises. But that's what he did!

Goldratt's goal was to teach the world to think. He betrayed his goal by withholding educational material from people specifically because he thought they would learn a lot from him. He intentionally blocked progress because he wanted the West to maintain a position at the top.

He could have been wrong. Maybe his books wouldn't have made much difference in Japan. But his intentions were gross. And I think his books could have changed the world if released promptly in Japan. When finally released, they sold very well in Japan, got lots of publicity, and promptly resulted in adoption by major companies (like Toyota) and parts of the Japanese government.

What if they were released earlier? They could have made a much bigger difference. They could have prevented the stagnation of Japan which Goldratt saw later. They could have given Japan a bigger competitive edge – exactly what Goldratt feared – and thus spread to the whole world. The West learned a lot from Japan while trying to catch up (e.g. Just In Time and Lean). Goldratt's ideas could have been part of that, and that way they'd have much better adoption worldwide today, making the whole world much better off.

Goldratt didn't just delay Japan's progress, he missed out on a timing window when Japan – the country where he could most successfully get adoption for his ideas – was acting as somewhat of a model for the rest of the world. And today software is super important, which lessens the relative importance of manufacturing, which is the area where Goldratt's ideas could most easily have a big impact.

The general consequences of a world with less wealth (due to lack of adoption of Goldratt's great business management ideas) include people dying due to less medical research and dying in many other ways. Wealth helps prevent deaths from heatwaves, cold, drought, tsunamis, hunger, inadequately funded police and much more. The specific, direct consequences of Japanese car companies being less successful include more Westerners dying in car accidents because they drive Japanese cars that aren't as good as they could be.

patio11 argued that Japan is part of Western society (I saw this later the same day I wrote this mini essay). I agree. Goldratt shouldn't have seen Japan as the other. Yes, there are some substantial differences between Japan and the English speaking countries that don't set us apart from France. But Japan Westernized and assimilated enough after World War II that I say to accept them, and I see the success of companies like Toyota and Sony as demonstrating the merit of Japan (rather than being exceptions). Goldratt himself was from Israel, another country I'm happy to credit as being Western, despite it having some differences from America. Anyway, Japan is certainly no threat. Japanese success should be celebrated without hesitation.

Sources and Details

Regarding dates, The Goal came out in 1984 and I found Spanish (La Meta), German (Das Ziel), and French (Le But) versions from 1987. (I also found a 1992 Italian version. I'm guessing the 1987 translations I found are the earliest years, but I don't know about 1992.) The Japanese version is from May 2001. (The English ISBN info saying 2000 seems to be incorrect.) The Japanese publication delay is 14 years from the first foreign language versions I could find, and 17 years from the English version.

I found some further discussion of the issue (emphasis added):

A Process Of On-Going Improvement (POOGI) – Part 36 by Dr. Lisa Lang (a TOC expert), 2008 or 2009, says:

For years, Dr. Goldratt refused to have his books translated into Japanese. He thought and felt that Japan was so far advanced that if it applied the improved processes of the Theory of Constraints, that the trade imbalance would further increase, threatening to destabilize the world economy. Six years ago, when the U.S. and European economies had closed the gap, and Japan had stagnated, he relented. In the first month of its release, “The Goal” sold a half-million copies. Since then, its sales are equal to the sales in the rest of the world.

Japan is adopting TOC at a much faster rate than the Western World. For example, last year Japan announced the requirement that all companies supplying infrastructure projects must use Critical Chain project management, the TOC methodology for managing projects (and delivering them in half the time).

Theory of Constraints is Gaining Awareness and Success in Japan. Is This the Quality Movement All Over Again? by Carol Ptak (Goldratt co-author and TOC expert), 2012, says:

Japanese adoption of the theory of constraints is growing at a rate that rivals the quality movement started by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The founder of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, made several personal trips to Japan and allowed his books to finally be translated to the Japanese language. The most respected national newspaper in Japan, Asahi Newspaper (circulation 8M), runs a weekly regular article about TOC written by TOC expert Yuji Kishira....

The Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization (TOCICO) hosted the first international TOC conference in Japan in 2009 with a keynote from the Director General of the Ministry of Land Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism on how TOC was used to complete infrastructure projects in less time and provide one day response to contractor requests. The impact of TOC on the country of Japan is so significant that immediately following the TOCICO conference a MLIT conference drew over 300 executives. Dr. Goldratt said, “Toyota changed factories in the world. In the future, people will say that MLIT Japan changed government management in the world. I want you to understand how important your activity is.”

Carol Ptak also quotes herself saying, "The United States could easily be trying to play catch up with Japan once again."

Book: Introduction to the Theory of Constraints (TOC) Management System by Thomas B. McMullen, Jr. (1998):

I recently had lunch with a manager in a large, well-known, brand-name Japanese company, a company recognizable both in consumer and industrial markets as a huge, powerful, and successful outfit, who has been translating TOC concepts into Japanese lately for use by his colleagues around the world. Dr. Goldratt, until recently, has said he was unwilling to assist in making translations of his TOC materials into Japanese due to a concern about balance of trade and power.

The Japanese Wikipedia for The Goal says (all translations from Japanese were done by a professional):

Due to the wishes of Dr Goldratt, permission for the publication of a Japanese translation of the novel was withheld until 2001.

It's sources are:

2014 article from The Goal's Japanese publisher:

At the time it was first published in 1984, Dr Goldratt is known to have said "if a Japanese version of the book were to be published, only Japanese companies will win and there will be great turmoil in the world economy". Given that it would be another 17 years before Dr Goldratt would give permission for the book to be translated into Japanese – it certainly has an interesting backstory.

2009 article from Nikkei Business:

“The Goal” was first published in the United States in 1984, but Dr Goldratt did not authorize a Japanese translation of the book until 2001.

The reason for the delay was that the international competitiveness of Japanese companies was far beyond that of most other countries and it was felt that there was a need to eliminate the trade imbalance by closing the gap. In other words, Japan was the goal of SCM [Supply Chain Management].

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Evaporating Clouds Trees

These trees explain Eli Goldratt's problem solving method called Evaporating Clouds. Click to expand or view the PDF.

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