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How can a chubby little scout on  a straggling, dragging hike give us guidance in how our lives and businesses can unfold more easily–with greater efficiency and effectiveness? 

His name is Herbie, and if he can help me, I’m all ears.

Herbie came along in the 1980’s before cell phones and the Internet.  An Israeli son of a Jewish Rabbi, Eliyahu M. Goldratt, wrote one of the most unlikely, influential business books ever written. 

Originally published in 1984, the book was called The Goal, and even the people in his own company didn’t like it.  Goldratt had a difficult time publishing the book, but when he did, this unlikely book took wings and became a best seller. 

Goldratt used the format of a novel/love story about a factory manager, Alex, fighting to save his plant and the jobs of his Midwestern hometown friends.

Now you’d be forgiven if you don’t see the connection between Alex and his failing factory and your issues of threading the needle of your own life.  Carol and I have found that the principles of this book can guide virtually every facet of your life from doing your job to doing the laundry.

So my counsel is to hang on–if you get through this article you’ll discover how to get things done you’ve never been able to accomplish.

Alex soon discovers upon his arrival to his hometown dream job that his factory is failing, and also finds out that his marriage to Julie is also failing too.  He has three months to turn the factory around.  Alex turns to his old physics professor turned consultant, Jonah, who gives him scientific principles that he assures Alex that if he can apply them to his factory he can save it.  Then the elusive Jonah is off to his next engagement and leaves Alex to figure out the details.

Alex Becomes the Unwilling Scout Master

Alex is so obsessed with saving the factory, that he doesn’t remember his family. It takes his son, Davey, to remind him that Alex was supposed to be helping out on a hike with his son on a boy’s overnight camping trip.  Suddenly Alex finds that he his not just helping, he is in charge and a large group of boys are depending on him to get them to their evening campground–it’s just that they suddenly find themselves falling further and further behind as the day drags on and their pace slows to a crawl.

Discover the Bottleneck–It’s Herbie

So how do you move the hikers forward more rapidly?  The issue is that one boy is moving very fast, way out in front of the group.  Then there is Herbie, trying his best to move forward with his backpack, but steadily falling behind. 

It turns out that Herbie is the bottleneck in moving the hikers forward, faster.  He is the slowest boy, and no matter how fast anyone else walks, the entire group cannot move faster than Herbie.   What is worse, because the difference in speed between the fastest boy and Herbie is so great, large gaps are appearing in the line, and the distance from the front of the line of campers to the back is getting longer and longer–the front will soon lose contact with the back.

Find and Focus on the Bottleneck–Move Herbie to the Front of the Line

Alex takes the bold move of moving Herbie to the front of the line so that the focus is on the bottleneck, Herbie.  Focusing on the slowest part of the process–Herbie–lets the other boys be supportive and encouraging of him.  The line gets tighter from front to back and begins to move more quickly.

Then someone notices the difficulty Herbie has with carrying his back pack.  Asking Herbie to open it up, everyone discovers that in the back pack, Herbie is carrying a complete kitchen–canned goods, meals, snacks, and cooking utensils.  It is amazing that Herbie moved as fast as he did.  Alex redistributes the contents of Herbie’s back pack, and suddenly Herbie is moving at top speed.  The hikers reach their campground, and Davey, Alex’s son, is very proud of his father for his leadership.

Save Money, Time and Effort–Find Herbie!

Since learning the story of Herbie, we spend our biggest focus on “finding Herbie.”  I cannot tell you the countless amount of time, energy, and money we’re saved by looking for him.

Here are some basic principles:

1. Identify Your  Endgame–Where Does the Hike Begin and End?  In Alex’s world of the factory, you begin with parts, assemble them, and sell them.  In your life and career, you’re moving from beginning point to completion.  What’s your through line?  How do you get from here to there?  Is it finding and being successful in your job?  Is it launching a business?  Is it getting your kids through college? 

2. Everything You Do Is Related to Everything Else You Do–Nothing is a Single Event.  In The Goal, all actions are dependent events, not unrelated items on a to-do list.  We all know that some things have to happen before others can, but seeing your efforts as a factory, where everything that moves down the line begins with wishes, goals, actions, and accomplishments helps us to see how everything we’re doing now relates to where we’ll be in the future.

3. Search for Your Herbie–You May be Surprised Where He is.  Herbie is the bottleneck in Alex’s boy’s hike.  Nobody could move faster than Herbie, and no one knew to how to make him move faster.  What are the factors that most slow you down from where you need to be in your work, your business and your life?  Focus on what’s most getting in your way and fix it or lessen its consequences.

4. Many Things You Think Are Herbie’s–Bottlenecks–Are Really Symptoms, Not the Real Herbie.  In years past at our company when we went through periods of low cash, we thought our bottleneck was unpredictable levels of revenue–we found that the real bottleneck was in our financial system.  We lacked a system to effectively project cashflow.  People often think their bottleneck is lack of opportunity in their field, but the real bottleneck may be in their preparation to assume new roles within the industry.  The real bottleneck may be in having a bench that can do what you do…so that your capacity is increased and you are freed for other roles.

Finding Herbie–improving the flow of processes–has been the most important single factor of building our business.  We’ve so often worked longer, harder and spent money investing in resources that changed little–and then we would find Herbie, plodding along there with a slow walk and a big back pack.  We often found that Herbie turned out to be a fine individual, important in our business–who just needed our help in getting from one point to another.  Finding Herbie is exciting and profitable.

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