Between a true insight and an effective recipe

Vector Timer And A Electricity Light Bulb Sign, Brain Storm Conc

We all look to overcome the main problems that trouble us to the extent that most of our time is wasted just by thinking about them. Generally speaking there are two possible solutions that miraculously eliminate such a problem:

  1. A detail procedure that handles the specific problem. I call it a ‘recipe’, because it is similar to the medical treatment we follow without truly understand how it helps us. Many times these recipes, sometimes even called “best practices”, are not based on clear cause-and-effect reasoning, but on past experience that shows that the recipe usually works.
  2. An insight that is the core of a new potential solution. A new understanding that leads to the detailed development of a full solution using logical tools.

Insights have to be based on cause-and-effect logic otherwise there is no new understanding. Here are several definitions of the term ‘insight’ taken from Google:

  • An understanding of the true nature of something –
  • An understanding of relationships that sheds light on or helps solve a problem –
  • The ability to have a clear, deep and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation – Cambridge

The term ‘understanding’ appears in all the above definitions. It seems that to ‘understand’ anything the underlining cause and effects have to be part of it. Thus I suggest the following definition:

Insight: A generic cause-and-effect branch that becomes clear and can be applied to many different situations

Filling in a missing cause that explains an effect creates a sudden understanding about reality and also causes an emotional sensation of overcoming a vague situation. In my years of close interaction with Dr. Eli Goldratt I have had many moments of ‘aha’ of gaining a new insight.  Those insights had huge influence on my life and they constitute very precious memories of a truly great person.

The key value of an insight is being generic and thus its real impact is very wide. So, new opportunities are opened with every new insight we learn.  It is our duty to fully comprehend the new opportunities, which pose us the challenge of using our limited time in the most effective way to achieve our dream.  This characteristic of an insight is in contrast with a recipe that is effective only within certain boundaries.

Every practical problem is actually being torn between two different actions, where each action is target to satisfy a need and there is no way to take both actions. In itself this understanding is not all that useful as it only says that one has to choose the more important need and sacrifice the other, or decide to compromise.  The key TOC insight is that it is enough to challenge ONE assumption that lies behind one of three different causal statements to solve the problem by satisfying both needs.  One statement is that the two actions cannot be done together and the other two statements are that without the specific action the related need would not be satisfied.

This key insight is the core of the TOC conflict resolution tool, but in itself it has wider ramifications of constantly challenging key assumptions, like “When the costs go up the selling price goes up.”

When an insight triggers an effective solution to a long troubling problem there is a risk that the insight would be wasted by the recipe that is built upon the insight.  It is amazing how many valuable insights that have been implemented in one business sector are unknown in other business sectors.  For instance, consider the following insight:  It is highly beneficial to keep our current customers and it is not self-evident to our customers that they should remain loyal. Thus, we have to give our customers special and well appreciated incentive for continuing to be our customers.  This insight has been translated by the airlines to a recipe called ‘frequent flier program’.  The insight is generic, while the recipe is specific, and one has to go back to the insight to realize how to draw value in very different business sectors.

Benchmarking is a popular recipe to adopt recipes from similar organizations. This leads to major moves that imitate practices that bring limited value and close the mind to identify insights that could lead to so much more value.

TOC has developed several important recipes that work well within the boundaries determined by several basic assumptions. We should never forget the original insights.  Their scope of value is far wider.

I intend to talk about the key TOC insights in the next TOCICO annual conference in Berlin (July 2017).


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Eli Schragenheim

My love for challenges makes my life interesting. I'm concerned when I see organizations ignore uncertainty and I cannot understand people blindly following their leader.

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