If you are like me you find yourself reading a lot every day. But most of my reading, and I imagine yours, is in short bursts. An email here, a blog post there, comments on a message forum, ten pages of a PowerPoint deck, etc., ad infinitum. So when I find something that I read for hours at a time, that is noteworthy.

That happened to me recently with the book, The Goal, A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt. First off, it feels pretty geeky to say that I found a book on process improvement a page turner. But Goldratt’s book has two very strong things going for it.

One is that it presented what was to me a new way of thinking about process improvements that he calls Theory of Constraints. What he has to say about process improvement goes beyond industrial engineering and offers learnings for marketing, sales and organizational communication.

(Very short version: If you trying to get more output from your office/factory/restaurant, don’t try to make everything more efficient and productive at once. Find the bottleneck and either fix or improve it first before wasting your effort and resources elsewhere. Also, understand the bottleneck could be the market(ing), and you may be calculating productivity really badly.)

The second was that it was written not in a regular nonfiction format but as a novel. Its primary setting is a mythical (but totally plausible) electrical components factory in the Northeastern US. The protagonist, Alex, is the factory manager who is battling backed up orders at the same time he is seeing stagnant or falling product sales. His problems are compounded by corporate demands for greater productivity and a personal life that is steadily falling apart. There is also a cigar smoking, globetrotting physics professor named Jonah who . . . maybe you should read it for yourself.

The book was a concrete illustration of the impact of telling a story. It also shows how looking at problems without being bound by others preconceptions and their standard ways of evaluation and then presenting the answers you find in an unexpected format can produce dramatic impacts. - Barrett Sydnor

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