There are many brilliant people. There are very few effective leaders, most of them are not even brilliant, but they are charismatic and effective in achieving a goal. Effective leaders see to it that they have brilliant people to help them achieve the goal they have chosen.
A genius is another matter. It is a person who sees far into the future pointing to necessary changes in the current practices that would achieve a new and better reality for mankind. That far away broad vision is what characterized a true genius from a typical brilliant person who is able to find a temporary solution, without offering a change in perception.
There are number of true geniuses in art, who dramatically changed the artistic environment. This means it is possible to clearly see the difference between the artistic situation before and after the specific artist. Let me just mention the names of Beethoven, Van Gogh, Picasso, Homer, Shakespeare and Beckett to demonstrate just a few who changed the world of art. We know, of course, of few scientists who challenged the older paradigms and came up with new ones, like Copernicus, Newton, Pasteur and Einstein.
In order to achieve a true change just being a genius is not sufficient. There is a need also for one or more opinion leaders to make it happen. In art it requires some open-minded, but highly influential, critics to persuade the world of the worthiness of the new approach to art. In the academia there is a need for open-minded journal editors to allow the challenge to the current thinking to make the impact. The typical genius is looking so far ahead that it is not easy even for the brilliant contemporaries to see the vision. It could be a very slow process to achieve the wide recognition of the change and its wide ramifications.
Eli Goldratt was, to my mind, a true genius in the field of management. Goldratt perfectly understood the current situation in the world market that is complex and uncertain and the lack of capability of the existing tools of Math, Statistics and Psychology to solve the difficulty to maintain an acceptable control. The problem is that with the accelerated speed of technology, especially in big data and communication, the complexity and uncertainty grow so fast that being ‘in control’ looks like a dream.
Goldratt the genius has found several key insights that together make it possible not only to be on good enough control, but also to see the way to grow in a reasonably stable way.
He taught the world to realize the absolute need for excess capacity, actually also for excess capabilities. He taught the world to identify the weakest link that currently prevents from achieving more. He looked for the inherent simplicity that without it there is no way for an organization to act reliably. He defined the buffers that have to be part of any plan and how to draw from their state the right priorities. All of these insights, and many more, are part of what Goldratt left us to implement in the mind of managers and executives.
Managers are impatient people relative to artists or scientists. It took the world many years to fully recognize the revolution of the music of Bach or understand the ramifications of Quantum Theory. Managers need answers NOW. Frightening insights, which might have unexpected or unclear ramifications and also question the wisdom of the managers themselves, are difficult to handle and convince in the short term. If Goldratt was ‘just a genius’ it would have been impossible to turn his insights into practice.
In order to be able to spread the new provocative ideas Goldratt had to become a leader himself. It is a necessary condition for changing the mind of managers.
A leader needs to have followers who believe in the same goal and are ready to accept the leadership of one person. The vast majority of the geniuses are not leaders. They are loners who despise the world for not recognizing their greatness. Thinking of other people as idiots is a normal characteristic of brilliant people and certainly of geniuses, but this contempt is an obstacle for spreading a new message.
Like other geniuses Goldratt thought that all other people are stupid, BUT he recognized that telling someone that he is an idiot does not bring good results, except some minor good feeling for very short time. So, in order to become an effective leader Goldratt had to identify people with relatively good capabilities and convince them to join him.
This mission of attracting good people, even though he still did not truly appreciate their intellectual capabilities, is part of the Theory of Constraints, because being constrained by the capacity of people with fair capabilities doesn’t make sense. The constraint for changing the mind of managers had to be the capacity of Goldratt himself. To overcome the obstacle Goldratt had to fight with his own basic character of being so brilliant that anybody else was viewed as slow.
Goldratt succeeded in attracting a variety of truly excellent people to help him accomplish his vision. More, he succeeded to attract many more people, who did not work closely with him, but were ready to put efforts to implement the ideas and spread the word to others. Others just tried their best to implement the insights. While Goldratt philosophy is based on simplicity it does not mean it is easy to understand or to implement, so many new challenges were revealed on the way.
Goldratt died six years ago. Is TOC in 2017 the recognized way to manage an organization? I don’t think so. After more than 30 years since the five-focusing steps, which, for me, mark the birth of a new pragmatic managerial theory, there are thousands of people who practice TOC all over the world. Thousands, but not millions! Eventually Goldratt was more of a genius than an effective leader.
What does that tell us? Goldratt ideas should be widely used in managing organization, but right now this is not happening. Organizations are NOT managed according to the best available knowledge that exists today.
What do we do to make the knowledge spread and practiced?
TOC is far from being complete and it is far too rich in value to be ignored. Do we expect another leader to show up? Would that leader need to be also a genius, or just an effective leader, who listens to others, who develop the BOK further, while the leader finds the most effective way to spread it? Many questions lie open and the obvious danger is that most of Goldratt ideas would be lost. The problem of losing control on the performance of organization is still a huge threat to the world economy. Running away from the challenge of handling complexity and uncertainty together would worsen the situation.
I hope we find the way to spread that knowledge more and more, wider and deeper. I personally think that the key lies in collaboration, rather than waiting for the one leader. I’m ready to collaborate with those who like to collaborate with me.