A Guide to Implementing the Theory of
There is a paradox afoot that I will call the paradox of systemism. All of our systemic endeavors suffer from this paradox, and all of our human endeavors are systemic at their roots. That is to say all of our human endeavors are to do with the social whole rather than the individual parts, and regardless of what we as individuals may think, we are social animals. My own experience within Theory of Constraints; borne directly from my implementations, indirectly from countless interactions with others, and the historical perspective of the preceding pages in this section, convinces me of the prevalence of this issue.
The paradox can be expressed as follows;
Ø How is it that a systemic endeavor once established is on-going and robustly stable, and yet so difficult to start and also so easy to destroy?
To that statement I would only like to add “apparently so difficult to start,” but I am getting ahead of myself. What then are the pre-requisites that give rise to this situation?
Of course in a “blink” I can tell you the reason for how this is – it is a result of the application of our own common sense, our so-called common wisdom. That is, common sense is the cause of the paradox. But to explain to you the reason why this happens will take the remainder of the page.
And is there a solution to the paradox? Well, yes there is. The solution is a particular mix of; skill, rational knowledge, and experience – a rather uncommon experience, an expertise actually – but in no sense restricted or unobtainable. It is exposure to, and assimilation of, the uncommon rational knowledge, that enables us to first gain, and then to internalize, the necessary uncommon experience, the necessary uncommon expertise.
I want to explain this in three stages. The first stage is something that we now “know” and accept as true, but which still, if we are honest, confounds ours senses – the Copernican Revolution – the fact that the earth moves around the Sun and around its own axis too. I want to address the broader issue of learning through this example of the Copernican Revolution. The Copernican Revolution in its historic context was as paradigmal then as is any current systemic, or organizational, or industrial process today, in fact much more so. Once we have established the story and the logic for the Copernican Revolution, then we can then port the logic to develop the case for systemic industrialization, using the broader issue of managing via the Theory of Constraints as the example. This is the second stage. The third stage returns to the starting question, the paradox a systemism, and answers it explicitly for the first time, although by then we will have seen this happen twice already. You will know the answer before we get there. The three stages are tied together; firstly by a consistent logic, and secondly by our own individual need for our sense of identity.
You may not wish to know this, but let me tell you anyway, this is abductive logic. The three stories, the three explanations, share the same structure, or rather the same logic, but differ in the details. Abductive logic is important to me. The cloud is a superb example of this type of logical structure appearing in the same way in different narratives, in fact allowing us to make sense of apparently different narratives, and it is the cloud that we will use to illustrate this process.
In my earlier iterations of this page I told this story to completion without the use of clouds. That was in part to overcome the resistance of those for whom clouds are something to react against. For some people the message is lost in their reaction to the medium. I no longer wish to accommodate those who do not wish to make any effort. Some people react simply to avoid the responsibility that they can see staring them down. If we don’t each develop our own individual skill for using clouds then we won’t succeed in this transformation. Clouds were born out of necessity, they are not “nice to haves” they are “need to haves,” otherwise we are forever locked in a local conflict with no way out.
Indulge me for a moment longer. The two “base” clouds that you are going to see; about learning and the Copernican Revolution, and about managing and the Theory of Constraints, have a special structure. I will return issues around that structure towards the end, but for now I just want you to be aware that the “B” entity is a “subset” or local need, and the “C” entity is a “set” or global need. As these two clouds unfold you will see they share a commonality. This commonality is productive in numerous other clouds once you learn to use it. Some other “rules” will fall out as we proceed, and you will find a lot more in the Advanced Section on the mechanics of clouds. I had to decide a cut-off, or else we will be here all day, there is much productive work to be done, but this page was intended to be the last page of (this part of) the website, and that is the way it should remain.
So I’ve pretty much let the cat out of the bag, we can draw this simple paradox, the paradox of systemism as a cloud, so let’s do that first – partially complete at least – and then we will examine the issues around learning and the Copernican Revolution, then managing and the Theory of Constraints, and then come back and complete the missing parts of this cloud.
In this cloud there are two mutually exclusive states. One state, the upper arm, is the state of non-systemism, the state of local optimization. For most people this is also the current state, and our undesired state, where we have difficulty starting our systemic endeavors and no difficulty in destroying them. It is what we do have and don’t want.
Now let’s be just a little more particular. The two arms of the cloud, or rather the two “wants” of the cloud, should be mutually exclusive, and preferrably opposites of each other – otherwise we might simply oscillate between the two. The upper arm is about the beginning and the end – undesirable as it is – whereas the lower arm is about the middle – desireable as it is. Well, in this game it is often necessary to say what we really mean so I will reword the cloud a little differently from the formulation of the original written paradox that we started out with. Additional clarity will not hurt.
Let’s have a look.
Before we leave this partially completed cloud, note also how I have kind of “twisted” the two entities or the two subparts of each entity. The upper one reads “difficult to start and easy to destroy” and the lower one is reversed to “easy to start and difficult to destroy.” It seems a feature to me of many paradigmal clouds that there is often a two-foldedness about the contents of the entity in conflict. I don’t know if that is a hard and fast rule, but it certainly seems common and I would encourage you to watch out for it in the following two examples.
Let’s start our exploration then with learning and the Copernican Revolution.
For a general overview of the Copernican Revolution and its technicality, please see Thomas Kuhn’s (1957) book, The Copernican Revolution: planetary astronomy in the development of Western thought. This work precedes his seminal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by some 5 years. A more recent, delightful, and thorough treatment of the Copernican Revolution is Dava Sobel’s (2011) A More Perfect Heaven: how Copernicus revolutionised the cosmos. It has a great deal of the historic socio-economic context – or should I say contemporary socio-economic context of that time. It is a kind of story behind the story, and the tacit nature of paradigm is imaginatively illustrated but that is all that I will tell you.
It is very hard for us today to imagine a world in which the size of and distance to the sun, or any other celestial body, was unknown, unimagined, and unimaginable. The earth was viewed as the center of the universe and surrounding it were a series of fixed (solid) spheres containing the various known planets or wandering stars; the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, all moving against the “fixed” stars of the firmament. The system of astronomy, instrument-based naked-eye observations, was used as much for fixing and understanding both past and future happenings on earth via astrology as for the understanding of the cosmology. There was a strong prevalence even amongst Copernicus’ closest confidants that the stars preordained one’s future and explained one’s past. And such a system had served admirably for some 1300 years since the time of the ancient Greeks.
We can summarize the pre-dilemma phase as follows;
Why is it that a system that had served so admirably for so long, should come under the inspection of Copernicus? In part the answer to that was to seek greater predictive accuracy, the heavens of that time were the pre-mechanical clock of the world, and in part it was to remove the pesky issue of a mathematical construct, used since the Greeks and called an equant. The pre-mechanical clock of the universe, while working well on average, sometimes slowed down and sometimes speed up, that is predicted events could be out by several days either way, and in the context of a heaven that was believed to be constructed of perfect spheres this was a worrying anomaly.
There is nothing wrong with an equant per se but its use in this circumstance was simply inelegant. It was, for lack of a better word, a mathematical “fudge” that made the astronomical or rather mathematical system yield numbers that agreed with natural observation. Copernicus realized that his objection to the use of equants could be overcome by changing the center of the universe from the earth to the Sun.
The suggestion that the Sun could be the center of the universe was not a novel idea and had been mentioned a number of times by Arabian astronomers. In fact, Copernicus goes to some length to invoke the authority of these earlier astronomers who had argued in its favor. But his use of the idea to remove the apparent anomaly of equants was original and in doing so he created a dilemma that occupied mankind for several hundred years and every school child since up to a particular age.
The full dilemma is expressed below;
Now let’s be careful. This is not to say that the older geocentric model was not rational, it certainly was, but Copernicus had taken things to a higher logical level, a different logical type, an abstraction, something more than we can directly sense. In doing so he set up a hypothesis that could either be proved or disproved in the future but maddeningly unprovable at the time. Copernicus did have the satisfaction of removing equants from his calculations – and thus a more natural description of the mechanics of the cosmos, but he also had something much more; he had created a new harmony in the heavens.
The real issue, however, is not the conflict between the two outcomes, but rather the contradiction of the senses and of experience; jeopardies in fact. Let’s have a look at these;
If common sense jeopardizes the gaining of and new uncommon experience, and common experience jeopardizes new and uncommon sense, how then did things move forward? Was it only the inelegance of the equant that drove Copernicus to overcome these jeopardies? Well the answer has to be an emphatic no. It is his theology that drove him forward; his discoveries reinforced his own sense of identity. Paradoxically his passion to prove the centrality of God, in time, disproved the same. That ironically was never his intent.
Let’s look at this;
Copernicus saw the Sun as God’s central lantern illuminating his handiwork, he was not the first to do so, it was a common theme in his time. Therefore his own sense of identity as a canon in the Polish Catholic Church was reinforced by his hypothesis, he was therefore willing to stop doing old things and to start doing new things, in order to gain control of that which he had rationalized. His belief and his faith were one and the same; he had an heuristic passion, a passion to discover and to learn for himself powered by his faith. He and other mathematical astronomers found great harmony in the idea of a heliocentric – a sun centered – universe once it had been proclamated. It redoubled their faith. For others the very rock-solid centrality of man and earth and God and the authority of the scriptures was brought into question and it was viewed as an attack on that very same faith. The sense of loss of control for those that had relied upon their senses must have been profound. It is the two sides of this dilemma built around our own sense of identity that kept the dilemma open for so long. One cannot find new evidence if one is not willing to venture past the jeopardies.
Copernicus’ book De Revolutionibus has been described as “the book that nobody read.” But Owen Gingerich of Harvard University tracked down 277 copies of the first edition and 324 of the second. Finding Kepler’s copy (with the word “ellipse” inscribed by the previous owner in answer to Copernicus’ concern for epicyclets producing non-circular orbits), and Galileo’s copy, he decided, that everybody had read it so to speak. Some copies going from generation to generation contain annotations in two or three different hands (Sobel 2011).
The outcome of Copernicus’ rational approach is a unique solution that is independent of place, that is regardless of where we sit in the Copernican Universe (solar system), we can tell what is happening and predictively what will happen in the future. It is this harmony that spoke directly to the astronomer/mathematicians of the time and those who were to follow. However, for the practical astronomers of the time Copernicus’ system was neither appreciably simpler nor more accurate.
During Copernicus’ life-time and for some time thereafter, his ideas remained as hypothesis, unsubstantiated by any external data. Guided by the harmony that was implied, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others found and built productive new science. However, it wasn’t until 1838 that parallax measurements on nearby stars were accurate enough to determine that the earth did indeed revolve around the Sun.
Today when we talk about this dilemma it is often about the contradiction of the senses, but there is a much richer story, and the underlying lesson is that for us, rationality must finally win out. As Polanyi (1958) explained; “We abandon the cruder anthropocentrism of our senses – but only in favor of a more ambitious anthropomorphism of our reason.”
Let’s have a look at the “modern” post-dilemma cloud;
We no longer live the dilemma, the conflict, the contradiction. And those that did at the time lived it as much as reinforcing their insider view – which ever side that might have been – and disproving the complementary outsider view. Rather today we “switch” views as required. For the most part we operate as pre-Copernicans, in as much as we fail to abandon Sunrise, and Sunset, but also acknowledge and accept the post-Copernican rationalization. There are very few of us who have become astronauts and they alone are the ones who have directly experience what for the rest of us is an exceedingly rare rather than uncommon experience.
Why is there a paradox, why is there a dilemma? The first part of the answer is that there is something in our rationality that contradicts our senses. But what is it? I’ve often called it domain dependence, but in reality it is a failure to recognize an error of logical type. The rules that apply under the logical type of our senses do not tell us, and in fact can never anticipate, the rules that apply under the higher logical type of our sense of senses, our rationality.
Almost none of us, astronauts excepted, ever venture into the larger domain of larger logical types and therefore we never worry too much about the duality of what we sense and what we know. We switch between the two as need be. And with that thought, and with some logic, and structure, and understanding under our belts, let’s now turn our attention to Theory of Constraints and managing our modern industrial invention, the linear serial dependency, for it is the same story.
Theory of Constraints is used here as a proxy for all systemic endeavors, not just Goldratt, but also for Taylor, Shewhart, Deming, Ohno, and Ackoff. These are people for whom the whole was more important than the parts, and for whom the parts did better for being a part of the whole.
Managerial hierarchy isn’t new, it has existed in the church, the army, the state, and in various admixtures of the three, at various scales for maybe 10,000 years or more. But managerial hierarchy within industrial process is new; it didn’t exist prior to the early 1850’s even in the largest cotton mills of the time. These systems employing up to 300 people, still had supervisory foremen who were workers themselves (Drucker 2006).
Up until this time the pre-dilemma world looked something like this;
In fact, even today, we (erroneously) know that everyone needs be busy most of the time (except maybe of course for ourselves), because if they were, then we wouldn’t have to wait for people upstream to produce the things that we need and we wouldn’t have to wait for people downstream to be able to receive the needed things that we have already produced (or be complaining about the new or different things that they now, suddenly, want produced instead). Except, of course, if we change departments or positions, and find that now our old department or position is as much a part of the problem and our new department or position no different from our experience before. Such analysis shows a host of non-unique solutions that are each place dependent.
Let’s look at this in another way. We all know that there are folks in the place who are less effective than they could be, but we are certainly not one of those. However, the same question to each person yields the same answer. The positional or departmental viewpoint is a non-unique solution and it is place dependent.
We still see this pre-dilemma played out every time an individual in a group is “reviewed” or “appraised” as an individual, and rewarded or otherwise as a consequence. We see this pre-dilemma played out in the Western thinking of worker “compensation” where bonuses demonstrably harm the system if not the individuals concerned and yet we fail to understand why.
Why did this pre-dilemma paradigm last so long? It lasted so long because as one moves down the managerial hierarchy, especially pre-industrial hierarchy, there are more and more individuals doing the work, and more importantly, they become more and more independent of one another – usually by virtue of geographic separation – think again of the church, the state, or the army. The further down the hierarchy the greater the independence, the greater the ability for local exploitation to work, or to appear to work.
So what changed? Well, let’s have a look.
Much has been made of specialization, but specialization is nothing special. There have always been shepherds, shearers, fullers, spinners, dyers, and weavers; specialities if not characterized by age, or gender, or seasonality alone, then certainly by skill and experience. Ridley (1996) notes the number of different items found on the 5000 year old mummified remains of a Neolithic man found in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991 – all products of division and specialization of labor. And he goes on to note the “non-zero-sumness” that this achieves; that is, society can be greater than the sum of its specialized parts.
What has changed is the co-location and lock-step between the specializations and indeed within any single specialization as mechanization and industrialization has brought about technical and economic efficiencies that were beyond the imagination of prior generations. In the terminology of Ackoff (1981/1999) we have replaced muscle with mechanization and more recently replaced mind with instrumentation, telecommunication, and computation. During the Industrial Revolution we moved from loose independent networks of craft made-to-fit, to linear serial dependencies of manufactured made-to-specification. Although absolute variability went down the relative importance of the remaining variability rose astronomically. As you well know, and many others do not, it is the presence of variability and not the absence of hard work that causes the fluctuations in flow upstream and downstream of each and every point in the system. As fewer and fewer entities make more and more of the same output better and better, the dependency between supplier and supplied becomes greater and greater. That is not a bad thing at all, so long as it is understood.
Goldratt used the analogy of a chain to describe such a linear serial process – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and for the first time ever we had a guiding principle for where to focus our improvement activities and more technically; where to schedule back from, and also where to schedule forward to. Previous systems did not offer that simplicity because they all attempted to; manually at first, electronically later, schedule everything everywhere all of the time. And the advent of electronic computational power only further fooled us that it was technically possible to do so, even though we had never asked if it was technically desirable, faith in the old paradigm of keeping everyone busy drove us on to do it without forethought.
So Theory of Constraints and especially the scheduling system called drum-buffer-rope presented a dilemma within which we are still largely immersed. It looks like this;
Sure, Taylor (1911) in his introduction talked about the system rather than man and implied man must subordinate to the system (“In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first). Deming (1994) talked about the obligation of a component, but that can be too easily read in the old paradigm of “obligation to do something” whereas here for the first time it meant “obligation to do nothing” albeit from time to time. The issue was somewhat further confused by Goldratt’s use of the term Road Runner Ethic. I am told that Real Road Runner birds in their native habitat (and the cartoon rendition too) run at great speed and then stop dead still. But that is always their normal speed. However, it lost something in the translation and again it seemed for many people that we were being asked to behave in the old paradigm of working harder and faster, albeit for shorter periods with more frequent breaks. Nothing is further from the truth, but the mis-understanding, indeed the mis-appropriation of the old paradigm for the new, is still apparent. The cliché from Taylor’s time of working smarter not harder seems a pipedream for many, it should not be, it is the only way forward.
Once again, the real issue is the contradiction of our senses and of our experience; jeopardies in fact, rather than the conflicts between the outcomes. Let’s have a look at these;
Looking at the other diagonal, the common experience of being “busy” or at the very least appearing to “look busy” has literally been beaten into us. Deming said “drive out fear” and I think that he knew a thing or two. Of course we hide our productive capacity so that we can respond as quickly as possible, but it is a delicate balancing act. Fear has been so well beaten into us that it contradicts and jeopardizes our ability to rationalize the skills and knowledge of the uncommon sense needed to operate within the new paradigm. Taylor said as much in 1911 when he rued that people failed to follow the essence of his methodology, opting instead for their incomplete and wrong interpretation of the mechanics. Liker showed that the Western implementations of Toyota’s philosophy have suffered a similar fate.
Why, why, why, is this?
The answer to a large extent lies within each and every one of us and our own sense of identity. Let’s have a look;
But all is not lost. There are others for whom the rationalization – the uncommon sense – put forth is sound, they can see the evidence of success in other situations, or even in the abstract, and they take the time to learn and internalize the necessary new knowledge. Frankly they are “big enough” for the job or they are well supported from higher up within the organization, which in fact means the same thing. Their sense of identity will grow around the new knowledge and they will want to stop doing old things because this now makes new sense to them, and they will want to start doing new things because this too makes new sense to them, and they will move forward.
Sense of identity is a metastable product. Many of us cling to the old one well after its use-by date, some of us never relinquish it, many though will “cross-over” at some stage, the more that have already done so, the more likely the laggards will follow. And of course, later on, newcomers don’t even see the issue. Just think, once, not so long ago, large inventories were an asset, nowadays they are more likely, much more likely, to be viewed as the opposite. The world has moved on, but we did not get there overnight – not all of us that is – but at some stage the metastable sense of identity around inventory as asset switched over and became inventory as liability.
Rather like Copernicus in search of the centrality of his God and inadvertently removing that centrality, Goldratt’s own search for the centrality of the weakest link has inadvertently removed that weakest link. Goldratt moved the world from treating each and every link as exploitable, to only 4 or 5 in the earliest algorithms for OPT (Optimsed Production Technology), to just one in drum-buffer-rope, and finally none at all in simplified drum-buffer-rope. Conversely, the role of subordination increased from almost nothing to essentially everything.
“A chain is as strong as it weakest link” was a pre-paradigmal expression, it owes more to the past than to the present. In fact a chain should have no weak link, all the links should be demonstrably stronger than the environment in which it operates. We are so unused to thinking like this that we fall back to our pre-industrial idioms with ease.
The outcome of our rational approach is a unique solution that is independent of place; that is, regardless of where in the process we sit, we can tell what the output is and predictively what will be the output in the near future. And let’s be quite sure, the output will be very much greater than anything before.
Post-dilemma, there is no conflict;
Our rationality gives rise to a harmony, an inherent simplicity, which to my mind leads us into many other areas of fruitful endeavor which we have hardly begun to scratch yet. Accounting, or rather decision making springs to mind. The same principles have already had a major impact in the areas of project management, distribution, service operations, healthcare, sales, and strategy.
Many, many, people forget, or indeed have never known, about one of Goldratt’s necessary conditions for on-going improvement; that of “provide employees with a secure and satisfying workplace now and in the future.” It’s the antithesis of the Anglo-American Social Darwinism of the upper arm of the dilemma, it humanistic in fact, ultimately it is systemic, it is the form of the post-dilemma cloud, and this is the direction of the solution.
We can summarize all that we have said mechanistically as;
A chain must be stronger than the use it is put to
Or more ecologically;
A process must be more capable than the environment that it operates in
Again we must ask why is there a paradox, why is there a dilemma? And again the first part of the answer is that there is something in our rationality that contradicts our senses. But what is it? Once again there is domain dependence, but in reality it is a failure to recognize an error of logical type.
Much as in the Copernican case we moved away from being small independent “wholes” to being a “part” of a much greater interdependent whole. In the larger scheme of things few of us venture into the domain of these wholes – linear serial systems – and even fewer of us are asked to manage them in stasis, let alone improve them. Many, many people work as individuals, or like individuals, in trades, professions, and domestic situations. More importantly, unlike the Copernican case where we can switch freely between the two domains because one domain is essentially abstract to us, here we fail to switch between the two even though, or even maybe because, we can move so freely between them. They look so similar we fail to recognize the transition.
How to switch, and it can be done, is the central issue of the paradox of systemism. We’ve visited the problem already, not once but twice, let’s now return to that problem and solve it once and for all.
Now that we have journeyed through the Copernican Revolution and through Theory of Constraints, let’s return back to our original issue, the paradox of systemism, this is the paradigmal issue that we need to resolve. Here is the modified cloud that we started with;
The answer should be familiar to us now; it is the contradiction of our common sense and our common experience, and the way that this also jeopardizes our sense of identity. Let’s roll this together for the first time; we have in the same diagram both the need to protect our sense of identity and the jeopardy arrows as well;