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The vast majority of the countless business books published every year sit on shelves gathering dust. We buy a book with every intention to read and learn from it, but that often turns out to be merely a fantasy of productivity. In those cases, the only real benefit we get out of the purchase is ownership — we now possess something of value. We desire edification and are driven by a wish to succeed, so we lay down the cash or swipe the credit card, and you know what? We feel good about ourselves in that moment. We did the right thing. And then we put the book on the shelf in our office and it sure looks good up there, doesn't it?
There is, however, a book that escapes this all-too-common fate, an example that is exceptional in more ways than one.
"A survey of the reading habits of managers found that though they buy books by the likes of Tom Peters for display purposes, the one management book they have actually read from cover to cover is 'The Goal'." – The Economist
And if a manager hasn't read "The Goal" of his own volition, he may actually be required to. Of "The Three Books Amazon's Jeff Bezos Asks His Senior Managers To Read," Drucker's "The Effective Executive" is first; Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma" is second; and Goldratt's "The Goal" is third.
Eli Goldratt published "The Goal" more than 30 years ago, and it remains to this day one of the most important and influential books on management, operational analysis, and optimization. The learning contained within is transformational, but the key to the book's tremendous success is as much its delivery as its message. "The Goal" is written as a novel. It has a setting, characters, a plot, a conflict between a good guy and a bad guy, tension, resolution, a climax … everything you need in a good story. When you can visualize the action as it's occurring, when you can relate or identify with the events, when the text triggers an emotional reaction in you, when you are not only interested but entertained — that's when you not only learn something, but internalize it.
Among the characters in the book is a young boy named Herbie. Goldratt doesn't tell us Herbie's last name, nor does he hint at his future. You don't get many details on him other than that he's fat and slow. I have a hunch Herbie's character (or at least his name) was inspired by his corpulent counterpart in the comic-book universe, Herbie Popnecker, alias, "The Fat Fury," who first appeared in print in the Forbidden Worlds series in 1958. The Wikipedia article on the character has this to say about him:
"Herbie is an antithetical hero — short, fat, and young — but ironically one of the most powerful and best-known beings in history. Deriving some of his powers from genetics and some from magical lollipops from 'the Unknown,' Herbie can talk to animals (who know him by name), fly (by walking on air), become invisible, and (once he got his own title) travel through time. Herbie is emotionless, terse, irresistible to women, consulted by world leaders, and more powerful than the Devil."
When I imagine the fictional universe of "The Goal" and step forward in time to 2024, I see our Herbie (to whom I've given the last name Higginbotham) as no less a force to be reckoned with than "The Fat Fury." This is his story, one in which he tackles the very same epoch-shifting economic trends we are witnessing today. He masters the capabilities required to stay competitive over the next decade, and after years of torment, he ultimately overcomes his own constraints and exacts his revenge.
If you haven't read "The Goal," do so. Buy a copy, but don't just purchase it; actually read it.