A key TOC insight: “Don’t Spend Time on Choopchiks”

Goldratt introduced into the TOC vocabulary the word “choopchik”, originally Russian but also used in Hebrew slang to describe a very small unimportant issue. Dealing with a choopchik could bring value, which one needs a microscope to be able to see, according to Goldratt’s illustrative description.

The obvious insight is:

We are constantly flooded with choopchiks. We won’t achieve anything substantial if we spend time of those choopchiks.  Thus, dealing with a choopchik is a major waste, because you have something much more valuable to do.

The emphasis is on our ultimate constraint of attention. The relevancy is both personal and organizational:  focus on what brings value.  When you inquire a little more into the cause-and-effect behind the above insight you realize that there is no way to achieve all the potential value you, or the whole organization, are theoretically able to achieve.  So, you need to give up minor potential opportunities for added-value, and concentrate on achieving the more meaningful ones.

Insight means a new realization is happening. If it is obvious then it is just good effective verbalization of an already existing paradigm.  However, is ignoring choopchiks truly common?

Just the other day someone told me a story about a good rational manager who spends a lot of time validating that every one of his subordinates works full weekly and monthly hours according to their contract. Isn’t it a choopchik?  Still, isn’t it a pretty common practice?

When something obvious is not common then there has to be reason.

Here is a related insight:

Dealing with choopchiks is easy and certain, while striving to achieve substantial value is risky.

In itself the feeling of risk is frightening and fear causes paralysis, which impacts the person to be active on something else. Is the risk of striving to generate significant value all that high?  Not necessarily, but one needs to evaluate the risky situation and find ways to reduce, or even eliminate the risk.  The common mean to run away from thinking about risky moves with high potential value, is to focus on a choopchik and feel good of achieving an infinitesimal value.

So, shouldn’t you challenge the risk and strive to achieve true substantial value that is part of your dream? This is what the insight of not dealing with choopchiks is all about.  The point of having a strange word to color an unimportant issue is to make it visible so we can pull ourselves and go back to what truly matters.

The more generic insight of ignoring choopchiks is to ask ourselves the following question:

Is the resulting value of what I’m busy with right now truly significant?

Personally I don’t want to write about topics that are choopchiks. I’m not always certain the topic I’m writing on is not a choopchik, but, the question certainly bothers me. So I assume I succeed to avoid many choopchiks, probably not all.

Let me remind you again of the coming TOCICO conference in Berlin. This is where the opportunities of gaining new insights are.  I hope to see many of you there, talking to each other and sharing insights.  Learning a significant insight from somebody else is a blessing.  It depends on us to be open enough to notice the insight, and then to think further how to use it for generating value.


Published by

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.

3 thoughts on “A key TOC insight: “Don’t Spend Time on Choopchiks””

  1. This is a good one, Eli. You are right, so often we take the easy route to nowhere.

    As I think I have mentioned to you, I try to “run at my fears.” What I find is that this makes me very alert. As I get close, I always find an unguarded way. I often think of it as running into a fire; the opportunity I find is only after I am feeling the heat on my face. It is far enough in so that nobody else goes there, in fact, quite the contrary — they avoid it. For that reason, the way is always unguarded. This is the basis of any sustainable and truly decisive competitive edge, the protection against duplication. Of course, you have to avoid running into the fire and burning up, which I think is why I find myself so alert. 🙂


    1. Henry, I fully agree. Even more, I think what you have written is truly inspired. I think you are raising two important insights:
      1. Because you take a risk and you are fully aware of the risk, then you are truly alert. In other words you keep looking for signals that something is going wrong, and when you see one you re-evaluate the situation.
      2. Because you take a risk, and because most people shy away from such a risk, they are not competing with you. So, when you finish your mission and have established your decisive-competitive-edge, you have very large market open for you.
      Both insights are highly valuable. I suggest we think more on how to deal with the heat, or the fire, in a safe enough way. Being alert is definitely necessary, but it might not be enough. I think some clever early planning can point to early signals that you are going into the heat, before you really feel the heat.
      We should also think how risky it looks to others, and when possible make the risk look more risky to the eyes of our potential competitors.


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