A forest not trees….

More than 20 years ago I staged a personal albeit modest ‘conscientious objector‘ moment.  I was a first year graduate student at the Harvard Business School facing a two-week break at the Christmas holidays.  Since Labor Day we’d been assigned about 100 pages of reading per night.   Our holiday assignment was to read a roughly 300 page book.   So goes the concept of a break….  Knowing full well the risk of being asked to summarize the book publicly upon my return I ignored the assignment.  Much to the horror of my classmates I might add.

I later read the book.  And re-read it.  It was The Goal: A Process of On-going Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt.   It is my favorite business book of all time.  Since my reluctant 1st read I’ve given it as a gift to countless recipients.

I know some of you are thinking how could this possibly relate to transition?  I get the concern – this looks pretty far afield.   Did I mention it is a work of fiction?

Forest or trees?

Formal reviews of the book offer a lens into Goldratt’s theory of constraints and the basic tenets for ongoing process improvement.   The book features Alex Rogo an embattled plant manager who is given 90 days by corporate to turn his under-performing plant around.  His team ultimately finds a solution that is both instructive and creative.  He gets a promotion and the entire corporation adopts a new operational approach.  By the way it doesn’t read as Pollyanna-ish as it sounds.

From my perspective….these formal reviews miss the most critical theme introduced by Goldratt.   Quite simply…it is that the real power or change occurs when one has the confidence to step back and look at the whole picture….regardless of what others are telling you to do.  Alex won by ultimately realizing that the info requested by corporate didn’t get at the true problems experienced by his plant.

At the book’s outset Alex runs around chasing after what corporate is requesting.  He is mired in details.  He has no time to see the big picture while responding to line item corporate dictates.  Does any of this sound familiar to your world?

Alex starts thinking about the problem on his own terms and coming up with a construct that allows his team to create a unique perfectly suited solution.  Own terms?  Unique solution?   Sounds like a transition I know.

Alex takes a calculated risk.  Maybe it is really not a risk at all because in the end he has no other choice.    I always wonder about the role of risk in transition.  Do real transitions occur when we realize that there isn’t really any downside?  Or viable alternative?

Goldratt’s book popped into my mind this week because of a conversation I had just before Thanksgiving with a professional friend.  He pushed back hard on me about what I’m up to.   To summarize his comments I’d simply say, “dream bigger.”

Remember defrocked journalist Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article Groupthink? from Novofemina’s February 2, 2012 post?   He wrote about the oft used process of brainstorming and said, “debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but rather stimulate them.”

I’m all for a good exchange but this week I feel pretty beat up by transition and its accompanying stimulating conversation.  Am I creating a portfolio of activities perfectly suited for me or am I hiding behind this process and its mid-point wins?

To answer that question I’ve decided to drop back to see if I can catch a glimpse of a forest.   Hopefully I won’t get mired by trees….

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