Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Order and Focus through Gmail Cleanup

A few days ago I noticed, again, that my unread count in Gmail is far greater than I would like. Noting that the count was only for my Inbox, not including the unread mails in the Social, Promotions and the other tabs I was using I knew the situation was much worse. Still, this was not the main problem. the main problem was that I was starring important To-Do items and then letting them slip as they were pushed to oblivion by new, unread mails. I needed to get Gmail to sort my mails in another order. I wanted my starred items on top. So I went into Settings and figured out a way to do it.

Here's how my Inbox is set up now:

  • First I have all items with "Calendar" label - I set up a rule to have all the auto-reminders from Google's Calendar directed automatically to that label without staying in my Inbox more that an instant. This is a tiny list as I delete anything's that in the past.
  • Next I have my starred list - this should be kept under 10 items at all times. If I go over 10 it means I must kick something off it by taking care of it immediately.
  • Then comes the unread list - this is currently still too long but I'm working on trimming it. I've already filed away quite a lot of the unread clutter using labels and deleted a lot too. I'm hoping to get it under 10 at all times as well.
  • Last is the rest of my inbox.
This order led me to admit I am getting far too much mails I really don't need. When I used the tabs method those mails didn't bother me. I'd go in to the non-Inbox tabs and run wholesale delete jobs 2-3 times a week and thought nothing of it. This new order made me start unsubscribing and cleaning up my act.

To clean up my unread list I have started reading all those blog posts and updates I have kept in order to read "later". It seems I've accumulated quite a few of "Dr. Lisa" Lang's blog posts, so now I am reading through them ad loving them, of course. The funny thing is Dr. Lisa talks a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about focus, and with the way I was running my mailbox that's the one thing I didn't have....

So, if you aren't subscribed to the Science of Business blog or the Velocity Scheduling System blog I highly recommend you subscribe to them. If you have any good tips for Inbox control - please share with us by commenting on this post.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Amazing Power of Clear Thinking

So I wasn't planning to write an update on my Logical Thinking class just yet, the next lesson will be tomorrow. Then tonight at dinner something great happened. My younger son, who is soon to be 9 years old and takes my class, saw me preparing the handout he asked for, the one with the logic tree we made last week (as I reported here). So he decided to make his own logic tree. Later I figured out he thought that was their homework, though I only asked for simple If..Then connections.

He sat down and started working on his tree, soon he asked me to review it. It was upside down and quite illogical. He had effects leading to causes, he had facts for effects instead, when trying to read it out using If...Then it made no sense and his statements did not abide any of the rules for writing correct statements. It didn't matter - not to him and not to me, though I did read it out loud to him and asked if he found it made sense, he did. I left it at that. Then he continued working on the tree. As he was working he said - this is a tree of my problem, it explains what is causing it.

I was astonished and very delighted at his ability to figure out, all on his own, that this logic tree thing is really useful and powerful. I think this is the result of the clarity of thinking you reach when using the tree as a guideline to thinking.

In her book "Thinking for a Change", Lisa Scheinkopf claims that learning the basic tools of logical thinking, sufficient cause and necessary condition, is enough. From there you can build everything on your own. I guess my boy proves her right.

Tune in soon to learn how lesson 2 turns out.

Dominoes and Root Causes

Have you ever asked yourself how can it be that the small changes TOC calls for can create such a significant reaction, I think I found the answer.

Now, don't get me wrong, I know those changes are extremely hard, but how can you call a change that costs no money and can be done in less than a week, such as changing priorities on the shop floor, anything but a small change? All the TOC solutions are based on these small changes - hold inventory at a different point in the supply chain, start doing things at a different time, change the way you plan, measure different things. These are not technology based solutions (as in "Buy this technology and all your problems will be solved", which we all know doesn't work out like that, ever) but solutions that sometimes need technological support. So the solution isn't based on investment, although it might sometimes be required. OK, I think you get my drift.

So how do they do it? Well, TOC talk and the TP talk are all about causality and using this causality to find the root cause of things. this means they are full of chains and chain reactions. This always remind me of dominoes and that's what led me to this clip:
At first I did not see any connection between this and the TOC chain reactions but then I realized this holds a very basic truth - it takes very little effort to start the chain reaction going and once started, each step releases all the energy stored in it, amplifying the effect. The amplification can sum up FAST. It also confirms what we all know, intuitively,that it's much harder to fix the big things at the end of the chain and much easier to fix the small things at the beginning, which is why TP has you looking for the root cause - the smallest domino. The only main difference from this dominoes example is that real life seems to recharge on it's own, at least partially. You do not have to pick up each and every domino in order to start a new chain reaction.

Do you think the physical explanation hold true for real life situations? please share your thoughts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Elementary, My Dear Watson" - My First Logical Thinking Class

It's been ages since I've blogged here, I got caught up by a wicked current in the stream of life.... I'm hoping for a smoother sail in the coming future. Still, I had to share this with the people I knew would understand the most, my faithful readers.

I've started teaching a class about the Thinking Processes in my boys' school. It is a democratic school and the children choose which classes to attend. I have around 7 elementary school boys in my class, including my younger son. They are all, it seems to me, in 4th and 5th grades. Last Friday was our 3rd lesson and for the first time I could say it was a good one. Yep, I had a few false starts until I got the feel for my "customers". I have learnt the hard way that with this group I can't, at least at this time, teach them. I have to let them learn. If I stand there and talk to them, explaining my head off, they just get board. Since this is a democratic school they will then choose to stop attending the class, and I wouldn't fault them. Instead I have to create an environment or situation where they generate the learning and enjoy it.

Well, this last lesson was their first introduction to logic. I had planned to use this small section of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Dancing Men" Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Initially I was going to read the section with them and then analyze it. After 2 sessions with the group it was clear to me that a new approach was needed. I created a detective game. I took the facts Holmes presents and created 'clue cards'. Each boy got a clue card and they had to figure out which clue was related to which. I stood at the board and wrote the tree as they figured out the logic. I knew I got it right when they started asking questions, trying to understand where all of this fits into "real life".

I gave them homework to try and find causal (If...Then) relationships in their everyday life.

Check here how things turned out

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Customer Does Know Best

I'm staying with the "Cake Boss" theme, as there is one more point I'd like to make with the help of the Carlo's Bakery team, before I move on. First, if you haven't read my other post about the bakery, please read in now, so you know what I'm referring to here.

Cakes Parade

During the show you can see Buddy and other members of his family and team refer to the "Carlo's Standard". I think you can get a glimpse of that in this picture of their cake display (which I wish I took). As you can see the cakes are extremely tidy and similar.

In his spin-off show "Next Great Baker", a reality competition to gain an internship at the Carlo's bakery, Buddy had the contestants make the purple cake with the flowers. He had any cake that was not up to "Carlo's Standard" trashed. He trashed cakes because 2 neighbor flowers were the exact same colors (instead of different colors in each tier) or because the dots were not contrasting to the nearest flower. So, I'd say we were talking military precision.

Standards are kept
Rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in St. Petersburg 
In the military parade, by using uniforms and keeping all the details exactly the same, you make individuals look similar and create a single unit. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Well, at least if you are in the military and a parade is called for. I'm just not sure how useful a contribution this has for everyday life.

But, I promised we'll talk about customers, not about the merits of putting your cakes on military parade. So, let's get there.

Carlo's Bakery has set itself a standard. Standards are good, I'll be the first to admit that. But they are tools and just like any tool they are good if, and only if, they serve their purpose. If the standard becomes the goal in and of itself, it is no longer useful and it may even become a threat.

How do you decide where to set your standard so it is not so high that it's wasting your resources and not so low that quality becomes a problem? You turn to your customers. Now, in all honesty, customers do not always know best. Often the supplier is the authority on a subject matter, not the customer. But, and it is a great big But, there is just one part of life where the customer is always (and I do mean ALWAYS) right and does know best and no one but the customer is the authority on that subject. That is, of course, the customer itself. If a customer tells you there is no difference between product A and product B then, for all practical matters, A and B are the same. You, as an expert, may be sure these are different but they are not because, as far as the customer is concerned, they are equal in all important parameters. So you must only set your standards to appease your customers.

Consider the Carlo's Standard - would you notice if the color of the dot was similar to the color of the bottom layer of the nearest flower? and if you did notice, would you care? would that make the cake not as good as a cake with a good contrast, in your consumer eyes?

Many professionals start off by setting a high standard that is rewarded by the market. Then, to keep that lead, they keep pushing their standard up. This can work for a while but, eventually, the bar passes the indifference point, the point of satisfacficing and so additional improvement is not valued, or at least not values as much. This improvement still requires investment and so the market turns a cold shoulder to the offer, no longer willing to pay the ever increasing premiums as they no longer see additional value for themselves.

How does this all tie in with Theory of Constraints? easily, just 2 words - local optima. Optimizing, setting standards too high are just examples of local optima. Theory of Constraints holds local optima to be the original sin that leads to reduced performance in goal units.

How would you set your standards to avoid local optima?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The perfectionist's honey trap

Lately I've been watching old episodes of Cake Boss on YouTube. I'm enjoying it because I like cake decorations (I've already fessed up to that), and the show is funny and genuine. For those who have no clue what I'm talking about, Cake Boss is a TLC reality TV show following day-to-day life in Carlo's Bakery, a Hobolen NJ landmark establishment. Of course I also look at the situations from a Theory of Constraints point of view. Seems to me, although it could be just editing, that Dr. Lisa Lang, over at Science of Business, with their Velocity job shop scheduling system and maybe some Critical Chain Project Management skills could come in pretty handy for them. I'd also get his sisters, who run their store, to read "Isn't It Obvious" to get some new ideas about retail and expansion. But, that's not my subject for this post.

The reason I'm bringing this up is the fact that Buddy Valastro, the "Cake Boss" himself, is a self professed "perfectionist". After I brought up the subject of perfectionism Vs. satisficing is my last post, and following some reactions on LinkedIn groups, I started thinking if I can use Buddy as a test case (with all due respect, of course).

First off the bat, before I even dive in, I realize that one man's optimizing can be another's satisficing or it may not even make the bar. So, if you go back to my original Satisficing post, both of my cakes would have met with the inside of the Carlo's bakery trash can. My best is not good enough for them and that's fine. Optimizing and satisficing are subjective and maybe even personal. I write maybe because when your job's on the line the fact that you, subjectively, feel you've done good enough is just not that relevant.

Buddy's a pro, he's really good at what he does and he wants everything to be perfect. This leads, at least on the TV screen, to stress, outbursts, rework, hurt feelings and fear. It also creates a self enforcing loop (remember loops?) in which each time Buddy and his team step up to a challenge, delivering perfect cakes that are bigger, wilder and more impossible, someone (Buddy, his family or a client) comes up with an even harder challenge. Is this necessarily negative? I don't know. There are clearly positive implications, staying ahead of the competition and being interesting enough for your own reality TV show, to name a couple. Then there are clearly negative implications as these projects amplify and generate a lot of the stress, outbursts and stuff I already mentioned (and, yes, I know this can all be just editing).

I think this clearly showcases the honey trap of the perfectionist. Perfectionists always strive for more, for better. While they drive themselves and those around them nuts, they can also come through with amazing results. After all, being the best means doing something that has never been done before, otherwise it can't be The best with a capital T. Think about Nadia Comăneci's 1976 Olympic performance. She scored perfect 10s for her performance then, the first female to ever score a perfect 10 (the score watch did not have the 10.00 option as it was considered impossible). Had this exact performance been repeated now - would it be hard enough, impressive enough to justify the perfect score? Not at all, the bar has been raised. So, the more you strive to deliver, the higher the bar for best and perfect become, not just from you but from anybody delivering these types of outputs. So, to stay the best you have to do more and then even more. It's a never ending cycle, with all the positive and negative implications. Is it worth it? in the Olympics? Sure, in the business world? Maybe not.

I have an idea on how to break the loop with help from the customers themselves. It needs some thinking, but if you want me to work on it - press the Like +1 button and I'll know.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Beware of the Circular Logic Trap

Theory of constraints is based heavily, if not completely, on the premises of logical thinking. The generic solutions are the result of logical thinking done by thought leaders with regard to wide spread phenomena. The Thinking Process is a toolkit designed to help users apply the same logic to specific cases and to new situations. 

Logical thinking, and specifically sufficient cause thinking which deals with cause and effect situations, contains loops. In sufficient cause logic a cause generates an effect, that effect in turn becomes a cause and generates a new effect. A loop is a situation where the effect of one cause is also the cause of that safe effect, directly or indirectly. OK, that's confusing, so let's put a construct to it. If A causes B and B causes A, that's a loop and a direct loop at that. Most loops I can think of are indirect loops, in which A cases B, B causes C and C causes A. It's important to note that loops exist within a context, meaning there are other things happening in the system creating the results, no just a loop, and that they have a starting point, something that happens first to initiate the loop. 

Loops reinforce or amplify the effects being caused. A loop constructed of undesirable effects will create a negative feedback loop, meaning things will get worse much faster. A loop constructed of desirable effects will create a positive feedback loop, meaning things will keep on improving as if on autopilot. The bigger the loop, that is, the more steps needed before getting back to the starting cause, the stronger the effects of that loop will be.

There is another type of loop. This is a stand alone, closed loop and it lacks vital logic clarity. These loops, called tautologies, are circular logic where the result is used to explain the cause, not fortify it. These loops have no start and no end. Here's a great example of tautology, a circular logic: 

(from the great site, if you are in higher education as a student, staff or faculty I think you'll love their stuff)

Looking at it, seems to me that's there is something missing and that's causality. While the initial, intuitive, thought is that A is the reason for B and B is the reason for A, a through, logical consideration shows they are not connected. This is a logic mirage (jeez, I'm heavy into fantasy these days - sirens, mirages, the works).

Now, we all can succumb to tautology unintentionally, so we better be intentional.

If you have good examples of tautology, please share!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Satisficing and the Siren's Song - Same or Different?

In a post about avoiding change I shared my experience and presented the concept of the "siren". I then recalled a much older post about Satisficing. At first there seemed to be a contradiction. I mean, how can I tell you not to fall for the spell of the siren while I'm the one telling you to be a satisficer? Seems like double standard, but it isn't. So, I figured clarification is in order.

First off, let's recall the overcoming resistance to change video, where change is basically compared to climbing a mountain to reach the "pot of gold". I'll use mountain climbing to explain my point, then. So let's agree that we set our goal to be climbing up a very tall mountain. Not a very hard mountain, no tricky technique needed, it's all just walking up a mountain. That's not to say it won't be hard. The elevation is high and there will be oxygen considerations, for example.We have defined what we want to achieve - we want to reach the highest peak of the mountain. our pot of gold is quite clear then, the sense of achievement.

Now that we have our goal set out and defined well we make a plan - we need to get in shape, train, learn the necessary skills, purchase equipment. There is stuff to be done, targets and milestones to achieve in the quest to the top of the mountain.

The optimizer will go into analysis paralysis quiet early in the process. This character will do a full research on everything - tents, sleeping bags, garments, training protocols. The need is to know what is the best of anything and everything. Time goes by and there is no progress because things aren't perfect. How can you start training if you don't know what is the best protocol and what is the best nutrition? When, at last, things do start happening they are slow because everything has to be perfect. You can't move to the next stage or the next piece of equipment until you get this stage or this piece just right. When climbing the mountain, anything but getting to the very top will be considered a failure for this type. Even if the "pot of gold" has been discovered, the peak must still be conquered, and an exhaustive search must be undertaken to ensure that the pot of gold is THE pot of gold and there is no other, better, pot.

The satisficer will move quite briskly through the paces. The targets are there for a reason and that reason defines the bar to achieve. So if a tent is called for, it's because sleeping out at night will be cold on the mountain, so a tent good enough for the expected temperatures is needed. Find out a good source of knowledge about tents, get an answer which is good enough for these temps and get a tent, on to the next task. Is this the best tent there is? Who cares, It is good enough, it'll do the job needed. Training will be handled much the same way. Each phase is there for a reason, a certain bar that must be attained. Once you reach that bar, the fact that more can be achieved is not a hurdle. The satisficer may try to improve the result, but it is not imperative so if there is time for more training it will be done, but if there is not, no problem. Then, on the mountain, this type will have a point where, having gone this far, finding a pot of gold, she will feel accomplished. So, while going all the way to the top is an appealing option, she will have no problem finishing the climb earlier if need be. When I prompt you to be a satisficer, this is what I'm talking about - go for good enough.

A person under the spell of the siren song will do nothing, no preparation, no training, no climbing. This person will want to reach the summit, will envy those who do and even those who try. Still, nothing will be done. The current situation seems safe and comfortable. So even though there is a desire, no effort is put forth, not even a little try, one that comes at basically no risk. No looking at equipment, no training that's good for your health anyways. Nothing. Not even climbing a small hill, just for fun. This person is stuck in the "comfort" of the bland current situation - settling for far less than possible.

It is clear now that the satisficer is not under the sirens spell. The satisficer makes change happen and balances effort with reward, leaving the optimizer and those listening to sirens song far behind.

I have more ideas on this subject but first I'd like to know can you relate to this? let me know what you think and subscribe to get more post from this blog.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sugar bag logic - teaching children to think

My younger son, who is eight, and I sat in a coffee shop for breakfast today. As we were waiting for our food, I figured I might as well make some use of the time we had together. I had wanted to start working on logical thinking with him for quite some time but I never got around to it. My plan, of course, was to do something structured, maybe use the children's' workbooks I got at the Goldratt House. Well, I know that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. There's another part that's always left out. That is that even if you plan you may fail, but fail to execute, and you will absolutely, no doubt about it, get nothing done.

So back to the coffee shop. I decided to wing it. I told him that I know he'd like to be a scientist (he actually means inventor, but I won't be petty), so I'd like to present to him the most important tools for such a vocation. The tools are experiments and logic. Happy to make conversation with me, he told me right away that logic is an important part of his life, since whenever something doesn't make sense he works to fix it. That threw me off a bit so I inquired into it and, as he was finding it hard to explain himself, I requested an example. That was easy. He told me how one of the characters in his computer game seemed to have more than the fare share of something, so he investigated until he found out the details he was unaware of and realized the rules were adhered to.

That was not quite what I had in mind, but you do not want to go around putting your kid down, so I kept my thoughts to myself as much as I could. There is a more basic tool in logic, I told him, and that's the understanding of what causes what. That drew quite a blank stare from him.Good start. So I took a few bags of sugar from the dispenser and I put one down saying: "If you vex your older brother then...", I put the next one after it and he jumped in and said "I get punished". "Not quite, we aren't there yet, though it could lead to that" I say, "this process is like a ladder, you can't skip steps and you want to take small steps to feel secure". I go back to the small bags of sugar "If you vex your older brother then", the second bag of sugar goes down, "your brother gets annoyed, and if your brother gets annoyed then...", another sugar bag is added to our trail, "your brother retaliates, and if your brother retaliates then", another bag, "you get upset, and if you get upset then", another bag and he picks up, "I beat him up". Now we are working as a team, "If you beat him up then?", I put another bag down and he finishes up "I get punished".

"It's like your dominos, Mom", he says. Whenever their quarrels heat up and require parental intervention I use the domino effect to explain why I think they are both to blame. You each had multiple chances to stop this from escalating, I tell them, all you had to do was take 1 domino out. So, he was right, my trail of sugar bags did resemble the domino effect. Ah, the glory of true understanding. We managed to do a couple of AND conditions ("If we quarrel" AND "Grandma finds out" THEN "Grandma is not happy with us" - his example) and then the food was ready.

So, here's what I found out this morning, while waiting for breakfast at a coffee shop: That learning doesn't need a classroom, a format or even much time, that children can grasp logic very easily, that logic is pretty simple to start off with and that small bags of sugar make great entities in a logic diagram.

Have you ever tried to get your kids to think logically? well, that's probably the worst time to teach them. Take 10 minutes when everything is calm to set the stage and plant the seeds for the future.

If you liked this post, please share it with other parents and comment with your own experience. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stop waiting - ask and you shall recieve

I've always wanted a mentor. You could say I have a father figure issue and I'd be the first to agree but it's not relevant. I've recently figured out that in the Theory of Constraints you may learn from the past but other than that you basically let it be gone. It doesn't make much difference how you got to where you are, the thing that's really relevant is how to get to where you're going. So, as I was saying, I've always wanted a mentor.

After I began writing in the TOC groups and in this blog I, subconsciously of course, started a waiting game. I was waiting for someone to pick up a cue of my need, step forward and offer to help me. Impudent, I know (oh, the wonders of retrospect), but I was terrified of asking. Why? basically a whole load of excuses, no real valid reason. I just felt I had no right, it wasn't polite and that kind of hogwash. I told you all I have are excuses. The only thing I can say is I was afraid of consequences without putting a moments thought into why.

Another thing I realize in retrospect is that I have been offered the help I wanted many times in the past. Thing is, just as my requests were not straightforward so were the offers. I was weary of asking straight out in case I would offend someone or be turned down. In much the same way the people who were reaching out to me did not state it straight out, probably in order to make sure not to offend me if they misunderstood. Well, I hope I'm done with playing that kind of immature game. Better late than never. This doesn't change the facts, though - I was stuck, not in a very good place and I was not liking it. Still, I waited. Still, I was afraid to change anything.

When I look now at Goldratt's 4 quadrants of change, I guess I was under the spell of "The Siren". Do you remember that, in some sea going folklore, sirens are mermaids that tempt the sailors and then drawn them?
Well, as I see it, this holds true in daily life as well. The "siren" is that comfortable settling for less, the place where fear of change glorifies the current situation way beyond its truthful value and at the same time vilifies the risks of change to the extreme. When the "siren" sings, the minuscule risk of getting a negative answer that will simply leave things as they are (=nothing to lose, no?) will seam unbearable, best leave things as they are and not risk it.....

There is a parable going around email kingdom. It is about a guru that forces his student to kill the only cow of a poor family. When the student returns, full of guilt, to right the wrong he has done at his guru's bidding, he finds the family became reach. The family explains that when they had the cow and it gave a little milk, they made do with what they had. One day the cow died and they could no longer make do, they had to figure out another way and when they did they realized they could do so much more and have so much more. So sometimes we are forced out of the spell of the siren, someone comes along and "kills" our "cow". That does not happen often.

My claim is that we should not let the spell of the siren control us. We should not wait helplessly for others to come and free us. If ever we are paralyzed by the idea of change or of taking a risk, if ever we encounter a rejection to a change we offer that seems to come from a place of paralysis, we need to use our logic, the analysis tools and a little courage and break free.

So I want to thank Jim, Lisa and the others for offering so kindly to help me out. Thanks Jim for all the help and for leading me to success. It was a lot of hard work but it was not hard as I made it out to be!!!

Have you ever struggled to overcome the siren? Please share your experience. Do you know someone still under the spell? Please send them this post.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What SEO practices reveal about Theory Of Constraints

[Disclaimer - this post does not address SEO how to. To learn SEO - follow my affiliate link and view the offer there]

Intro (skip this paragraph if you'd like to get right to business, it's the background story)
It's funny how things roll about. I am a bit obsessive about this blog's statistics (I'm an Industrial Engineer by nature - I obsess about all my graph-able data), so I noticed when a new referral URL showed up on my list and went over to check the site, maybe there's some new Theory of Constraints content for me to enjoy and share. Well, what I encountered was a total surprise. It was a 1-page static site built in Blogger in order to promote a "get rich blogging" offer. Seems the owner encountered my blog and liked it, so she linked back to it. I am, of course, much obliged. And so I came face to face with this offer to get all the inside info of making money by blogging. As you can see, I am not ashamed to admit I'd like to make a bit of extra padding from this blog, so the offer sparked some interest in me. Normally, though, I would brush these kind of offers to the side, assuming they were aimed at making someone else rich... I know not what was different this time, other than the very low risk associated (1$ for the first 7 days), but I decided to risk it. I enrolled to the website and started looking over the information it offered. It was a complete, step-by-step guide to building marketing blogs to create affiliate income. I liked what I saw and decided to stick around there for a bit and even became an affiliate of his offer (you can find more info through my affiliate link, please note I have no plans to promote it in this blog, this is just FYI). Going through all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques and trying to apply them for Theory Of Constraints I started seeing some disturbing patterns. After some more research here is what I've come up with.

The Facts
Almost a year ago to the day, in this post, I pointed out that the interest in Theory Of Constraints is on the decline. Well, there has been no improvement since then, as this graph shows clearly:

Note - the number 100 represents the peak search interest.
Before I went off to dig deeper I checked if there is any search term predominant within the Theory Of Constraints world and this is what I got:

All things Theory Of Constraints are more or less equal in the interest they have been generating in the last few years.
Using the analysis tools over on Google's Adwords website, I found that 'Lean Six Sigma' generated 800 keyword combinations. Of these, over 200 combinations that are in high demand for PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns and over 300 combinations are searched 6,500 times a month or more. Using the same analysis for all the Theory Of Constraints topics combined I generated only 100 keyword combinations. No combination was in high PPC demand and the top 8 most searched combinations were either not relevant (they were actually relevant to lean six sigma) or suspected as such. Running a Google search on "Lean six sigma" yielded 19.5 million results. Running a Boolean OR search containing the words "Goldratt", "Goldratt the goal", "Theory of Constraints", "Critical Chain" and "Thinking Process" yielded 26.8 million results. I also did a few searches of  global terms that could be relevant to Theory Of Constraints such as "process improvement" or "project management" and there is no Theory Of Constraints content to be found in the results, paid or natural, in the first few and critical pages.

My Thoughts
Assuming the internet, as reflected by Google, is a good representation of reality then, clearly, the information is out there. Not so many are interested in it and, it would seem, no one is trying to generate the interest. This leads me to the assumption that the Theory Of Constraints community has become a closed community. This means that even if we, as a group, are happy and willing to accept new comers the group is still experiencing a "negative birth rate". Which is weird, since Theory Of Constraints practitioners are not working in the community, they are distributing the knowledge to companies outside this tight knit group. Perhaps that explains the leveling of the interest visible in the graphs from 2009 to the present. I have no answers here, I just know what the data is showing and I'm trying to relate this to the reality I am encountering.  So, yes, newcomers are accepted happily but they are aliens, which feels weird and uncomfortable, leading them to opt out.
Should this trouble the Theory Of Constraints community? I think it should but is it my prerogative? If we, as a community, want to change this around, we should, of course, do that by using the TP tools. After all - we all want to practice what we preach. I can't decide for the whole community, so, just for now, I'll leave it at that and only share my basic intuitive reactions, perhaps they will come in handy in the future. First, is the need to regenerate wide interest, which requires we look at Theory Of Constraints through the new audience's eyes, with the inevitable conclusion that we must and stop using our jargon when talking to them. Second, to my humble opinion, is the need to create a multiple stream of smooth and easy processes that lead from laymen to proficient. My personal experience shows that every time I look for ways to progress I find that, other than self learning everything (with or without a mentor), almost everything is either too basic or aimed at specific populations such as top managers and therefore at such a premium I can't afford  Why aren't there mid-way options?

This was a hard post to write. Not because it required research and analysis, but because I'm stepping out of my comfort zone. I am posting this knowing that some who may read it will not agree with me, that some may feel hurt or angry. While I tend to shy away from such uncomfortable situations, I decided that, since Theory Of Constraints is important to me, this is worth putting out in the open. Please feel free to comment or reply to me privately with any piece of information that I may be missing. I'd love to come back here just to say I was wrong. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Endless abundance over on Amazon

I'm planning to do a bit of research before my next post so it might be a few days in the making. Until then I just wanted to point out the total abundance of interesting resources I have been finding on Amazon. As you can see in the disclaimer above, I have decided to join their "associates" program and create my own focused store. In the past, all my Amazon searches were very focused. This time I started running wide searches and I collected so many interesting options into my store. Right now I have more than 150 products, mostly books, and more are to come. I will also add categories to make it a bit easier to find stuff. I hope you find this a useful resource.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Echoes of TOC - Volume 1

A few months ago Rajeev Athavale sent out a call for articles in some of the TOC groups I'm a member on. He informed us he was self publishing an eBook by collecting these to create more TOC resources. I saw that call and thought what he was doing was a great thing and that I'd probably want that eBook once published. A few days later I got a mail from him asking me to contribute to the book. I was shocked but very very pleased. I decided to give it a go but I wanted to make sure I brought my own twist to it. I did not want to go head to head with writers I feel know much more than me. So I decided not to write an article on business management using TOC. Instead I wrote an article about using the EC for resolving  internal, emotional conflicts. It was this work that rekindled my passion for writing about TOC, so thank you, Rajeev for the support and kind words.

Anyways, Rajeev informed me today that the eBook has been published. I'm in total awe at the work he has put forth at such a short space of time. I have just looked through it and there is a lot of reading to be done, as those articles look great. I can't wait to buy Vol 2.

You can view a sample from the book here, my article is not in it, so I do suggest you buy the book (LOL). Please remember that 70% of proceedings are dedicated to the Goldratt Foundation in order to promote TOC projects.

I hope to expand on the work I started in that article in future blog entries, but there is so much to do and share.

Good luck to "Echoes of TOC", I hope they keep ringing loud and clear.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Theory of Constraints Change Process

Everywhere we go people are talking about the need for a change, be it a small, local change like finally maintaining a healthy weight or having a better environment at the office or a big, global change like reducing poverty or illiteracy. Sometimes this talk translates into action - we go on a diet, the boss sends out an email with a new policy, people take to the streets to demonstrate.... sometimes a revolution erupts. But after the dust settles and as time goes by we repeatedly find out that the "after" picture is just as unappealing as the "before" picture. Efforts have been put forth - blood, sweat, tear, sometimes lives, to generate a totally unsatisfying result. In business speak, we'd call that a negative Return On Investment (ROI). Not exactly investment best practice, even if money did not come into play.

A main reason for these poor results is incomplete planning. We've all heard it - fail to plan and you plan to fail. But how do you plan?  Theory of Constraints calls for a 3 stage planning process:
  1. Define what you want to change
  2. Define what you want to change to
  3. Define how to change
I see way too many change processes, at all levels, where people "put the pedal to the metal" half way through stage 1. So we figured out, sort of, what we dislike in the current situation and off we go to "do something about it". Yes, of course I'm as guilty as hell of this, aren't you? 

It's just like a trip or a hike. Step 1 is our starting point, step 2 is our end point and step 3 is the planned route. Notice this is the logical order - if you do not know where you plan to start and finish you can't decide on the route. Of course, we can always go out and stroll aimlessly, but if the starting point has been defined as unsatisfactory then such a stroll, that could easily lead back to the starting point, is counter productive.

What will happen if we go through the whole process before we begin changing things around? I don't have an answer to that, the process seems logical so I would expect a high return on investment, but I have to try it out myself before I can make any statements. In the book "We All Fall Down" Julie Wright and Russ King clearly show the negative loop this kind of behavior creates.

In the mean time, here is an example. The story line represents the order of execution - 1-3-2. See if you can deduct all the stages from the clip and if you can figure out better (or more efficient) solutions.....

Thursday, March 28, 2013

On the value of examples

I't seems I've stirred a kettle of bees (is this the right phrase?) with this post, and especially the not so subtle (or appropriate) header I used to promote it in the LinkedIn TOC Learning Network group. The ensuing discussion made me think about a few examples of the need and use of examples....

So, first off - why do we need examples? Examples help us make the shift from the stratosphere of theory to 'sea level' practical use. They help us understand the theory and figure out how it's used so we can then apply it. The best example I can find to this is cooking. When I started cooking I used cook books and quickly moved from text only books to those books that had step-by-step demonstration pictures, because the theoretical explanations weren't helping me create the needed results. These pictures helped me progress a bit but I was still messing up quite a few dishes. Once I went into a live cooking demonstration and learnt by example how to perform the techniques, I started getting things right, which then created the basis for more and advanced learning by doing, a.k.a self learning.

Next important point to cover is - why do we need multiple examples? I find that each new example highlights the subject matter from a new angle and increases the clarity of understanding. If, by any chance, a miscommunication has happened between the teacher (be that teacher a real person or a teaching medium) and the learner, more examples increase the chance of surfacing this and getting it corrected. This has happened to me a few years ago when I was helping my son catch up in Math. He needed to learn long addition (I think). I taught him the concept and had him practice on examples I made up. I was pretty sure he got it all. Then we found a workbook and he sat down to use it. He stumbled on one of the most basic exercises. Turns out I forgot to teach him how to handle numbers that had zeros in them (as in 1023). My mistake for sure, but had we not practiced a wide variety of examples we would have missed that.

My last point to make is about the quality of examples - my math experience shows that quantity per se is not enough, we need a quantity of a high enough quality . This means there is a real need for a wide variety of examples. Using the same example over and over - even if we used different numbers and maybe even more digits, is not good enough. For this one I have a somewhat longer story I find funny. If I recall correctly, my brother told us this story and it had happened to him.

My brother majored in Mathematics (yep, those again) in his higher education. One day in class, the professor was teaching a very complex theme. As is the custom in higher education Mathematics, they were learning the theory and so the professor was using X,Y and Z to represent numbers. As the subject was very complex, the students requested a concrete example. After a few minutes of considerations the professor turned to the board, wrote "Let X=A, Y=B, and Z=C" and proceeded to resolve the equation using A,B and C. Now, having grown up with a Mathematics Professor for a dad, I can tell you that guy was, as far as he was concerned, complying with the request, but I'm sure that not only were the students not amused, they were also nowhere nearer to understanding the subject on hand.

Well, having stated my case for a high quality variety of examples, I'd like to discuss example recycling for just a tad. In this post I did talk against recycling examples. Well, like everything in life, this is not a black and white issue. There is one main situation where I would advocate FOR using the same example and that it when you are dealing with a progression of ideas. So, it would make sense to me to use the same example to explain DBR and s-DBR.

So, can anyone share with me other stories that demonstrate why examples are important and what makes an example good?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fall from grace

It has been over a year since I last wrote in this blog and while I have plenty of excuses, I'll be the first to admit most of it was just inertia. The other part, the thing that veered me in the wrong direction in the first place, was another round of disillusionment. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not finger pointing, it is totally my fault that I let this disillusionment take over, but that's just how it goes.

This is not my first round of disillusionment with Theory of Constraints and I consider these just growing pains, mainly since I am going through the process on my own, without a guiding hand. So I thought I may not be alone in this and that it might be a good idea to share my experience, it might be helpful to others.

I was first indoctrinated in Theory of Constraints through Dr. Goldratt's business novels, as I believe many others have been.  Business novels make a great teaching tool and I find a business novel creates the best business management book, as they make holistic action easy. They also read a bit like a cook book. When you read a cook book you can visualize everything coming out perfectly. In much the same way, business novels make things look easy even when the characters claim they are struggling. So when I tried to put these enticing concepts to practice I failed, miserably. I blamed the writers of the books, claiming it's easy for them as they control the fantasy world in which the story takes place. "It's like detective books" I told myself, "life doesn't work this way". And with that I put Theory of Constraints aside for many years.

I was lured back in the the Theory of Constraints world by courses I took during my MBA and then I had a chance to hear Dr. Goldratt talk. I was sold, it just made so much sense, it was just so simple it had to be right. This led to my decision to commit to learning Theory of Constraints and now there are plenty more resources available. I went to the Goldratt House for a seminar, read "The Choice", one of my highly recommended business books. Following all this I got the TOC handbook (well, the Kindle ebook, it's much lighter) and started making my way through it. Good read. A lot of useful information and then BAM, the idealization took another hit.

I was reading a chapter about the different uses of the evaporating cloud when it hit me. To me, this is one of the major shortcomings of the Theory of Constraints teaching I have encountered so far. I thought this presents a major set back for self learners and maybe for all newcomers, since it did for me. The problem is simple -  many of the examples available are recycled. The same example is used over and over to explain or present different aspects, without any new spice being added and it just looses traction, it is no longer explanatory. As far as I'm concerned, being that I learn better by doing and so need plenty of examples I can relate to, using the same example to explain the same concept is just as bad. I want new examples so they point to things I have not noticed with the previous ones.

Now, just to be clear, I am not claiming there is but one example out there. Certainly not! I am also not saying all Theory of Constraints thought leaders are doing this. Far from that! I'd also like to admit I understand where this practice is coming from, writing up examples is hard and even harder when you need to keep propriety information under wraps. All that being said, I think that if this is hindering my ability to use the text as it was meant to be used (that is - learn from it), it is my duty to point it out and share this information with the writers of the texts.

So yes, I was acting like a petulant teenager who just realized her idol was merely human, and I had it coming to me, as I really should not have done that. Still, the issue is real to me and I am taking liberty and calling out to all Theory of Constraints scholars - please make sure you give us a wide range of substantial examples.

And if you are on your own Theory of Constraints journey, please remember this is not a cult but a science and as such it has shortcomings. Just like in any other science, the work is never done. So do not idealize, that way you will not experience a fall from grace when things aren't exactly perfect. When you find that imperfection - that's your chance to make your mark in the world of Theory of Constraints, by doing what you can to fix it. I promise I'll try and contribute to fixing the example issue, even though I think I'm far from being a Theory of Constraints scholar.....