The Fourth Fear (or How to catch a gorilla?)

Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, or Eli as we all called him, developed the TOC (Theory of Constraints) on two principles:

First, as a physicist, he based his work on the convention that the underlying concepts and methods used in the hard sciences can and should be applied to the social sciences. In parallel, he tried to show that TOC will always have a focus on human behavior, e.g. the enormous power of inertia in human behavior; the tendency to focus on local optima rather than global; the importance of correct measurements and much more.

In his last months, already aware he was ill, he started to write what he hoped would be his final book. He named it “The Science of Management”. But unfortunately, he succeeded to write only the first three pages. But it is remarkable to note that in these three pages Eli used a totally new verbalization for the essence of TOC regarding human behavior, and for the first time used the term Fear. The core of Eli’s last printed words were – 

  • Our fear of complex systems that drives us to dissect the complex system into sub-systems, diverting management attention to chase local optima which are not in-line with the global objective;
  • Our fear of the unknown, that drives us to finer and finer resolution – diving into more and more details, diverting management attention to optimize within the noise; and,
  • Our fear that conflicts will lead to a tug-of-war, diverting management attention to constantly struggle with unacceptable compromises.

For me these lines were insightful, but many questions stem from them:

Why did Eli use the term fear for the first time? Why had he never used it before? Does Eli, in his last days realize that the main constraint of a human being is fear, and therefore, any behavior streams from fears? We will never know. What interests me is the question, are these three fears the only ones, or are there additional fears that govern Management behavior?

I endeavor to answer these questions and express the deep learning of the first three questions (as they are manifested in both the Project environment and the Manufacturing environment) in a two-hour presentation, as presented for the first time in a keynote lecture I gave at the Japan TOC Association conference in Tokyo, in July 2015. In this short post I will try to challenge the entire TOC community with the following question – is there an additional fear Eli has not verbalized, and maybe understanding this fear is the missing link in making TOC the main way?

TOC has proven itself – in endless cases across numerous industries globally – to be the most effective management tool in existence. There are many academic works showing quantifiable results proving TOC is the most effective method today. Industry leaders such as Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, promote TOC (please see THE WEEK from Nov. 6th 2014). And still, TOC implementations and thinking are embraced in only a small fraction of global industry… Why?

For more then 30 years, TOC has been dealing with the question “Do people resist change?”

Eli’s constant answer was NO – people only resist change when we have failed to show them all aspects of the change. The four quadrants tool, presenting all the aspects – the pluses and minuses of making the change, as well as the pluses and minuses of not making the change, should be utilized when we try to convince people or companies to accept TOC.

It is interesting to note that over the years, TOC has developed many tools for three of the four quadrants: relating to the plus of the change (the “pot of gold”), we have developed Decisive Competitive Edges, a body of knowledge for sales and marketing (SFS), tools like Throughput Accounting, simulators and more. To address the minus of making a change (the crutches), tools like the S&T trees and templates, thinking tools like trimming negative branches and many more were developed. We also developed tools to quantify and highlight vividly the Alligators (the minus of not changing): tools like UDE analysis, the CRT, CCRT, FRT – to show why a company must change. But still, not enough are moving… Why?

We have not developed any tool to deal with the Mermaids (the plus of not changing).

Scientists like Professor Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel prize in Economic sciences) and Professor Dan Ariely (in his book Predictable Irrational) have proven the huge power of the fear of losing what we already have. We are facing this additional huge fear that Eli did not mention – a fear that stops us, even when all aspects presented, understood and agreed upon, and all risks are mitigated. In order to better understand this behavior, I would like to explain “How to catch a gorilla.”

Catching a gorilla is not an easy task. It is a powerful animal. But the way to do it is to look for a big tree in the jungle with a small hole in it. Inside the hole you place some bananas, and then you wait. When the gorilla smells the bananas, it pushes its hand into the hole to grab one. But there is a problem – the hole is too small to withdraw the banana when held within the gorilla’s fist. Now the gorilla is stuck. So what does it do? It uses the ruthless force it has, shaking the tree and pulling as hard as it can to escape from the trap, with increasing persistence and devotion – but with no results. The only action the gorilla could take in order to get its hand out of the tree is to leave the banana, but it doesn’t do so – it is against its nature to leave what is already in its grasp. Now the gorilla is very easy to catch! The fear of losing the Banana is stronger then the fear of approaching hunters.

The fear is that of departing from a known situation/environment/paradigm, the fear of departing from our comfort zone where we feel safe and familiar, even if there is a known and clear threat.

This fear has some different characteristics, unlike the first three fears Eli defined, which are more organizational in nature. The fourth fear is more personal and as such, the TOC community should invest a lot in developing new tools to deal with it. To make TOC the main way, this is a critical subject.

This fear is by far the greatest motivator in most people decision-making and as such cannot be ignored. Developing the correct tools to deal with this fear may bring us much closer to make TOC the main way.