It’s Not Luck

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

As I mentioned earlier, when I read Kevin Fox‘s Blue Light anecdote, it spurred me to go back and read some old Goldratt books I hadn’t read yet.

When I got to It’s Not Luck, his second novel, it reminded me why I liked The Goal so much: a narrative is a surprisingly good way to explore ideas and convey technical information. Science fiction authors have known this for years, but it also works for more down-to-earth ideas.

In The Goal, our hero desperately tries to save his factory by following the cryptic advice of his Yoda-like mentor, Jonah — who bears a striking resemblance to the author, Eli Goldratt.

In It’s Not Luck, our hero has moved up in the organization — after saving the plant, of course — and he now struggles to internalize the greater lessons of his mentor and to use his methodologies to solve problems in logistics, marketing, and strategy, not just production. In fact, he has to come up with miracles to save three different divisions in the conglomerate before they’re sold off to Wall Street sharks.

It’s Not Luck is not great literature, but it has its strengths. First, the solutions our hero and his team come up with are solid, interesting solutions, and reading about them might inspire a manager to come up with similar ideas closer to home.

Second, Goldratt has worked as a consultant long enough to write convincingly about resistance and apathy from within an organization — like Scott Adams (Dilbert), but not funny. His characters don’t ring particularly true in other ways — they are quite wooden — but the “change management” portions of the story feel grounded in reality.

What does not work is the constant advertising for Goldratt’s jargon-laden Thinking Processes. Our hero routinely explains the great importance of drawing a Cloud, or spelling out a Current Reality Tree, when it’s not at all clear that these formal tools are what allowed someone to come up with the intriguing business solutions Goldratt put in the book.

One last point: Perhaps I’ve spent too much time thinking like a Finance Guy, but when our hero and his colleagues realize that they can save their companies by making them vastly more profitable, but accepted accounting practices will make them look less profitable in the short term, I couldn’t help but think, Why aren’t they arranging a management buyout? The real reason: Goldratt isn’t a finance guy.

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