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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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36

"What's wrong with my thinking? It's no different from the thinking of most other managers."

"Yes, exactly," says Jonah.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask; I'm beginning to feel somewhat insulted by this.

"Alex, if you're like nearly everybody else in this world, you've accepted so many things without question that you're not really thinking at all," says Jonah.

"Jonah, I'm thinking all the time," I tell him. "That's part of my job."

He shakes his head.

"Alex, tell me again why you believe your robots are such a great improvement."

"Because they increased productivity," I say.

"And what is productivity?"

I think for a minute, try to remember.

"According to the way my company is defining it," I tell him, 'there's a formula you use, something about the value added per employee equals..."

Jonah is shaking his head again.

"Regardless of how your company defines it, that is not what productivity really is," he says. "Forget for just a minute about the formulas and all that, and just tell me in your own words, from your experience, what does it mean to be productive?"

We rush around a corner. In front of us, I see, are the metal detectors and the security guards. I had intended to stop and say

d- bye to him here, but Jonah doesn't slow down.

"Just tell me, what does it mean to be productive?" he asks again as he walks through the metal detector. From the other side he calks to me. "To you personally, what does it mean?"

I put my briefcase on the conveyor and follow him through. I'm wondering, what does he want to hear?

On the far side, I'm telling him, "Well, I guess it means that I'm accomplishing something."

"Exactly!" he says. "But you are accomplishing something in terms of what?"

"In terms of goals," I say.

"Correct!" says Jonah.

He reaches under his sweater into his shirt pocket and pulls out a cigar. He hands it to me.

37

"My compliments," he says. "When you are productive you are accomplishing something in terms of your goal, right?"

"Right," I say as I retrieve my briefcase.

We're rushing past gate after gate. I'm trying to match Jonah stride for stride.

And he's saying, "Alex, I have come to the conclusion that productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is produc- tive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive. Do you follow me?"

"Yeah, but... really, Jonah, that's just simple common sense," I say to him.

"It's simple logic is what it is," he says.

We stop. I watch him hand his ticket across the counter.

"But it's too simplified," I tell him. "It doesn't tell me any- thing. I mean, if I'm moving toward my goal I'm productive and if I'm not, then I'm not productive-so what?"

"What I'm telling you is, productivity is meaningless unless you know what your goal is," he says.

He takes his ticket and starts to walk toward the gate.

"Okay, then," I say. "You can look at it this way. One of my company's goals is to increase efficiencies. Therefore, whenever I increase efficiencies, I'm being productive. It's logical."

Jonah stops dead. He turns to me.

"Do you know what your problem is?" he asks me.

"Sure," I say. "I need better efficiencies."

"No, that is not your problem," he says. "Your problem is you don't know what the goal is. And, by the way, there is only one goal, no matter what the company."

That stumps me for a second. Jonah starts walking toward the gate again. It seems everyone else has now gone on board. Only the two of us are left in the waiting area. I keep after him.

"Wait a minute! What do you mean, I don't know what the goal is? I know what the goal is," I tell him.

By now, we're at the door of the plane. Jonah turns to me. The stewardess inside the cabin is looking at us.

"Really? Then, tell me, what is the goal of your manufactur- ing organization?" he asks.

"The goal is to produce products as efficiently as we can," I tell him.

"Wrong," says Jonah. "That's not it. What is the real goal?"

38

I stare at him blankly.

The stewardess leans through the door.

"Are either of you going to board this aircraft?"

Jonah says to her, "Just a second, please." Then he turns to me. "Come on, Alex! Quickly! Tell me the real goal, if you know what it is."

"Power?" I suggest.

He looks surprised. "Well... not bad, Alex. But you don't get power just by virtue of manufacturing something."

The stewardess is pissed off. "Sir, if you're not getting on this aircraft, you have to go back to the terminal," she says coldly.

Jonah ignores her. "Alex, you cannot understand the mean- ing of productivity unless you know what the goal is. Until then, you're just playing a lot of games with numbers and words."

"Okay, then it's market share," I tell him. "That's the goal."

"Is it?" he asks.

He steps into the plane.

"Hey! Can't you tell me?" I call to him.

"Think about it, Alex. You can find the answer with your own mind," he says.

He hands the stewardess his ticket, looks at me and waves good-bye. I raise my hand to wave back and discover I'm still holding the cigar he gave me. I put it in my suit jacket pocket. When I look up again, he's gone. An impatient gate-agent ap- pears and tells me flatly she is going to close the door.

39
5

It's a good cigar.

For a connoisseur of tobacco, it might be a little dry, since it spent several weeks inside my suit jacket. But I sniff it with pleasure during Peach's big meeting, while I remember that other, stranger, meeting with Jonah.

Or was it really more strange than this? Peach is up in front of us tapping the center of a graph with a long wood pointer. Smoke whirls slowly in the beam of the slide projector. Across from me, someone is poking earnestly at a calculator. Everyone except me is listening intently, or jotting notes, or offering com- ments.

"... consistent parameters... essential to gain... ma- trix of advantage... extensive pre-profit recovery... opera- tional indices... provide tangential proof..."

I have no idea what's going on. Their words sound like a different language to me-not a foreign language exactly, but a language I once knew and only vaguely now recall. The terms seem familiar to me. But now I'm not sure what they really mean. They are just words.

You're just playing a lot of games with numbers and words.

For a few minutes there in Chicago's O'Hare, I did try to think about what Jonah had said. He'd made a lot of sense to me somehow; he'd had some good points. But it was like somebody from a different world had talked to me. I had to shrug it off. I had to go to Houston and talk about robots. It was time to catch my own plane.

Now I'm wondering if Jonah might be closer to the truth than I first thought. Because as I glance from face to face, I get this gut hunch that none of us here has anything more than a witch doctor's understanding of the medicine we're practicing. Our tribe is dying and we're dancing in our ceremonial smoke to exorcise the devil that's ailing us.

What is the real goal? Nobody here has even asked anything that basic. Peach is chanting about cost opportunities and "pro- ductivity" targets and so on. Hilton Smyth is saying hallelujah to whatever Peach proclaims. Does anyone genuinely understand what we're doing?

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