The Choice - or How to have a full life

I just re-read The Choice, Revised Edition by Eli Goldratt and Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag.  My first reading was of the pre-publication galleys, when it was being called Inherent Simplicity (my review).  There is a paragraph in the appendix that summaries the book:

There are two alternatives: one is to bitch about reality and the other is to harvest the gifts it just gave us. This is what I call the freedom of choice. (p. 240 - final page)

The book is setup as a discussion / debate between Eli and Efrat (father and daughter) around the topics of “how do I think” (like a scientist)? and “how can I have a full life?”  The discussion is interspersed with notes from Eli Goldratt to his colleagues on observations he was making in working with clients.  These notes were used to illustrate the concepts that arose in the discussion. The way they were used seemed to be contrived - but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this wasn’t something Eli Goldratt did with his close associates (and family).

The updated version of the book includes a set of thinking notes, presented as Efrat’s Notes, in the back that act as another way to think about the written dialog. They read like notes and include maps of main ideas.  I thought of them as a study guide.  In terms of summarizing the book, the final map does an excellent job.

The book includes the logic diagram which I attempted to recreate here and explain below.

The Choice logic

In order to have a full life, one needs to have enough meaningful successes. To gain the successes, one has to keep trying - to have the stamina to get up after failing.  But this isn’t all, one also needs to have the opportunities in which to have the chance to success (or fail).  And, since most of those successes aren’t going to come from independent efforts, one must be able to collaborate with people.  

In the articulation of the book, all three of these things (stamina, opportunities, collaboration) are all depended on thinking clearly - and more specifically on overcoming a set of common obstacles that people face. Obstacles that prevent them from thinking clearly and creating the necessary conditions for having a full life.  These are (obstacle —> opposite)

  • The perception that reality is complex —> Every situation is simple
  • Accepting conflicts as given —> Every conflict can be removed (nature abhors contradictions)
  • Blaming people for problems —> People are good. There is always a win-win.
  • Thinking that you know —> Every situation can be substantially improved.

Of course, each of these points gets significant discussion in the course of the book.  And each point could be a source of its own blog post. I like how these all hang together. It helps that I have been participating in a number of Theory of Constraints communities and conferences, and these ideas have come up several times.

One thing that was interesting was the idea of the “mystery analysis” or what people should do when confronted a surprising result. Rather than accepting the result, it is my responsibility to discover why the result was so significantly different from expectations. This is the OODA loop or Plan-Do-Check-Act or POOGI or any of the continuous improvement cycles.  The focus here is on checking what I was thinking about the situation, rather than on the situation itself.  What did I misunderstand about the system that created the vastly different result?  And it ties together some of the ideas around the last obstacle to thinking clearly - “thinking that you know”. This is also directly related to Eli Schragenheim’s talk on Learning the TOC Way from last year’s TOC ICO conference.

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