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Unconstrained Thinking
-- Ax or Slack?

I was reading the May 27, 2001 business section of New Jersey’s major paper, the Star Ledger. They’ve been carrying a series of articles on Lucent Technologies. This particular article focused on a possible takeover by Alcatel and the style of that French firm’s chairman and CEO. This headline grabbed me…

Rebuilding with ax and cattle prod

I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but… I think Orwell’s 1984 has arrived. The newspeak nature of so much of today’s business writing in which cuts equal building and cattle prods pass for motivation reflects the nonsense going on in our current “management” environment.

The same day that I came across that disturbing headline, I was in the middle of reading a book that I will highly recommend to all. Slack – Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco (Broadway Books). Run, do not walk, to your local bookstore and get this book! You need its common sense diagnosis and prescription to counteract absurdities like that headline.

DeMarco’s message is consistent with Deming, Goldratt, Drucker, and others who think seriously about the management of organizations. It’s about driving out fear. It’s about gaining effectiveness by compromising a bit on efficiency. It’s about focusing on global performance and not on local optimization — all themes common to my Unconstrained Thinking columns. It’s about managers managing.

The book’s title refers to the idea that every organization needs protective capacity, occasional sprint capability, and available resources beyond immediate operational needs in order to identify and effect necessary change — slack. Without slack in a system, we’re incapable of proactive growth and can only react. And even the ability to react is hampered by the burnout and survivor syndrome that too many of our major companies suffer under. When companies try to build with an ax, what goes is the slack and ability to act.

Think (and read) about it.

©2001, Frank Patrick

If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going. - Professor Irwin Corey

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick

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