The Passing of a Giant

By: Henry F. Camp


I bring you the last exhortation from Eliyahu M. Goldratt, guru to business, author, scientist and thinker.

The knowledge exists right now to make the world a much better place.  As Sir Isaac Newton famously wrote “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”  Eli asks that we climb up on him and improve the world.

Yesterday, my mentor Eliyahu Goldratt died.  Only 64 years old, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer just over two months ago.  If you are not yet familiar with Eli, he wrote The Goal, a business novel which is one of the longest lasting and best selling business books of all time, along with numerous other timeless books and papers.  He posited the Theory of Constraints (TOC) which is just as applicable to life in general as it is to business.  And, he was my friend.

Eli’s mission in life was to teach the world to think.  He meant to accomplish this by making TOC the way that people deal with their world.  His definition of success was when the consensus of the cognoscenti agree that TOC is the correct approach.

Briefly, TOC is the notion that any system has very few things (usually only one) that keeps it from generating more of whatever it is trying to produce: love, profit, less hunger, health, education, etc.  Once a constraint is identified and as long as you are willing and able to take a fresh look, it is straightforward to decide how to get the most from the constraint.  By definition, improving the throughput of the constraint disproportionally improves performance like nothing else, suggesting a single minded focus on making all other required activities subordinate to exploiting the constraint.  Should a breakthrough result in enough improvement, the constraint may move, requiring the process to start over.

TOC is a big deal.  At IDEA, we use TOC as the core value proposition of our consulting products.  We have helped lots of companies dramatically.  Things like:

  • same store sales doubling within 30 days
  • reducing inventory investment by 50%
  • shortages reduced by a factor of 10
  • the need for firefighting banished
  • stability established

The week before last, 30 of us were invited to Israel to talk with Eli, physically weakened, bald and one eye patched from radiation treatments, about the culmination of his life work.  With his one good eye dancing, he fixed each of us with a relentlessly piercing stare as he showed us logically how to remove what he called “The Engines of Disharmony” and how to convert them to engines of harmony in any environment where people interact.  The result is a solid base which supports the next leap ahead.  This last breakthrough is to the social and management sciences what a unification theory generalizing the four known forces is to physics in other words, a guaranteed Nobel Prize, along with the recognition which would make TOC “the way”.

Unfortunately, Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously.  So, the remaining TOC community is tasked with two responsibilities:

1)     To live our lives with TOC and share Eli’s gift with others and

2)     To stand on Eli’s shoulders in order to see farther than he was able to see and to continue to develop and understand the application of TOC.

I, for one, am humbled by the charge.  I take heart from Eli’s claim that he was not simply born a genius, rather that through focus, time, practice and scientific inquiry he was able to recognize TOC inherent in the world around us and utilize it.  This means that regular people can and should make a real difference.  There are already thousands, like me, who work every day as Eli’s apostles and conscripting agents.  Through us common folk, including you, if you wish, TOC will become “the way” and Eli’s dream will come to pass.  Welcome to Eli’s army.