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My Biggest Take-Away from My Favorite Book: The Goal

Recently, I was asked what my favorite book was, and my mind went straight to The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. I read the book back at Georgia Tech as part of a supply chain class. The book is set at a manufacturing plant with the protagonist being a plant manager trying to save the plant. He runs into a professor who helps him think about the plant in new ways and drive greater productivity.

It’s one of my favorite books because it was perhaps the FIRST book that captured my attention with a subject and real-life situation that I found fascinating. Even today having ignited a zest for reading, it sits at the top of the heap as a favorite. And though it was written in a manufacturing setting, its lessons shape my journey today – personally and professionally in sales, marketing, general business.

One of the lessons that stuck out to me was the focus on “Herbie”. Herbie referred to a boy in a Boy Scout troop who was a slower hiker than his fellow Scout members. The plant manager, Alex, realized how the placement of Herbie in line could create gaps while hiking. Place him in the middle, and the first half of the troop was rapidly walking away from the second group. Place him in the back next to the adult leaders, and the whole group would walk away. Put Herbie at the front, and the whole group would stay together – limited by the pace of Herbie. Herbie is what’s called a bottleneck in manufacturing.

When thinking about any process today, it’s important to realize the Herbie. Where is the process being slowed down to prevent throughput and scale? Where is there fallout? If a bottleneck is identified and remedied, would another bottleneck arise? Is a current improvement effort focused on the wrong part of the process?

There’s much more from The Goal that I enjoyed, but the notion of Herbie has stuck with me, and makes me think in a broader context like sales. In a sales process (think: funnel), there are chronological sales stages like an assembly line. And just like an assembly line, there’s a possibility of a Herbie where prospects either fall out of the funnel (good thing? Bad thing?) or get stuck (bad).

After the next couple books I’m reading, I’ll likely give The Goal another read, and I’m very much looking forward to it more than 12 years later.

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