The latest in our series that uses the ‘book review’ format as a springboard into a wider conversation about the world of work—and how to do it better.
It’s Not Luck by Eli Goldratt
As Yogi Berra once said, ‘When you come to the fork in the road, take it!’ We’ve all faced binary choices: opting for X means you can’t also do Y. How to decide? Confronted with a dilemma, it may feel good to trust our gut but it’s hard to avoid all our subconscious biases. Wouldn’t it be better to have some mental tools that help us think through key decisions?
It’s Not Luck, first published in 1994, was the second book I read by Dr Eli Goldratt, inventor of what he coined the Theory of Constraints. Goldratt’s first and most popular book, The Goal, first published in 1984, introduced me, along with millions of others, to the idea of identifying production bottlenecks and, counter-intuitively, using them to develop high-leverage solutions.
During 2017, I was reconnecting with an old customer of mine who had moved into a senior regional role in a global Australian company. I read in a BOSS magazine article that his CEO made much of the idea that their products and services meant nothing if they didn’t solve a significant problem for their customer. Nobody really wins until the last link in the value chain sells a product or service to the end customer. During my inquiry with my prospect, he told me he was struggling to develop and communicate a compelling offer.
Goldratt cheerfully calls this a ‘mafia offer’, alluding to Don Corleone’s infamously irrefusable proposition in The Godfather. So I gave my former client a copy of It’s Not Luck, which picks up where The Goal left off, again using the novel form to dispense its management advice with a spoonful of sugar. Goldratt may be the godfather of constraint thinking but he doesn’t resort to horses’ heads in beds. Instead, this story carefully goes through the use of the Thinking Process he invented to construct, test and communicate the reasoning behind offers any potential customers—whether internal or external to the organisation—would be foolish to refuse.
Noting the genuine excitement and enthusiasm my prospect expressed once he finished reading (he bought several copies for his sales team), I was reminded of the power of the ideas in It’s Not Luck—such as ‘sell the steam, not the boiler’. The end customer doesn’t want to be an expert in boilers but is willing to pay handsomely for the value delivered by the reliable, trouble-free use of steam.
I have found my enhanced ability to properly structure the logic of an argument, and the assumptions which support it, to be invaluable—whether the case is for funding an investment, promoting an idea or building alignment around the classic strategic questions: What to change? What to change to? And how to bring the change about?
Whilst mastery in the use of the Thinking Process cannot be attained without effort, it is not too difficult to get started and learn the difference between ‘sufficient cause’ and ‘necessary condition’ logic, the symbology Goldratt developed to articulate sound reasoning and the systematic checks necessary to ensure you mount as robust an argument as you can.
“What’s your organisation’s boiler? And what’s the steam from which the customer actually gets value?”
It’s Not Luck is a wonderful primer to introduce the mindsets associated with rigorous thinking and structured logic. But for further reading, and a very good practical guide for the use of the Thinking Process, I recommend Bill Dettmer’s The Logical Thinking Process. Step by step, Bill takes you through what you need to know to become adept at the use of these invaluable skills. Further, if you’re a fan of Daniel Kahneman and the Nobel-winning ideas explained in his Thinking, Fast and Slow, I’m sure you’ll find the use of the Thinking Process to be a fantastic way to develop your own ‘slow thinking’ skills.
It’s Not Luck takes you through a number of different cases that display the power of the Thinking Process and how it exploits our ability to reason through cause and effect to develop truly win-win solutions. Below is an example of one of the logic trees used in the book, called an ‘evaporating cloud’, or ‘conflict resolution diagram’. A little cheekily, I’ve applied it to the dilemma of whether or not you should read It’s Not Luck.
I also urge you to try a great online tool, evaporatingclouds.com, which shows you how to construct your own evaporating clouds. It’s free to use but can provide untold value if you apply the cloud to a genuine problem you or your organisation are facing.
Perhaps the best place to start is simply to ask what’s your organisation’s boiler? And what’s the steam from which the customer actually gets value? These simple questions will likely lead you down some surprising avenues you or your colleagues had taken for granted or simply not explored. Goldratt’s Thinking Process minimises the ‘just flip a coin’ element of luck. Using the ‘evaporating cloud’, you can pinpoint and lay bare all your assumptions, then ‘evaporate’ the false premises. So when you come to that fabled fork in the road, you can make a wiser decision and take the right path.
The change from standard thinking to Theory of Constraints (TOC) is both profound and exhilarating. To make it both fun and memorable, we use a business simulation we call The Right Stuff Workshop.
We’d love to run it with you. To learn more:
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