What keeps TOC confidential? (and me angry)

It is one of the frustrations for Theory of Constraints (TOC) enthusiasts: why is their beloved business philosophy so barely known?

No other, neither Lean nor Six Sigma had such a visible high-flying banner like “The Goal”, the (probably) first business novel*, sold over 6 million copies so far. If readers have been so many and as it is reported so thrilled by the content, how come only very few people know anything about TOC?

*The Goal is a business novel written by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goal_(novel)

In this video interview, Nicolas Hennion shares his views, answering Philip Marris’ questions.

The first question about the name “Theory of Constraints” was also discussed with Bill Dettmer, another TOC expert with a pragmatic point of view.

I totally share Nicolas’ frustration about TOC Body of Knowledge being overprotected and monetized.

In my case, I stopped my learning journey in the mid-1990 when Internet was still young and not that populated with available free material as nowadays, Amazon did not exist and buying books from foreign countries (remember I am a Frenchman) was expensive and complicated. I resumed studying TOC and the Thinking Processes developed in between around 2010, buying carefully chosen second-hand books, still shockingly expensive.

I estimate I’ve lost 10 years in my TOC learning journey, being disappointed about the difficulties and costs to get to the educational material. I turned to Lean instead, and did well.

When the TOC old guard wonders why TOC is still confidential, they should rewind Nicolas’ interview and try to understand the way the younger generations operate; networking, sharing, hacking open source style.

Food for thoughts…

Related: Theory of Constraints is something great, except for its name


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13 thoughts on “What keeps TOC confidential? (and me angry)

  1. Pingback: What keeps TOC confidential? (and me angry) | C...

  2. Hi Chris,
    I have a similar feeling – it is next to impossible to sell TOC which is in my experience seen as “so 80-ties” and LTP which is totally unnknown. The best shot I have is to pretend both are lean tools 🙂 – then they are enthusiastically accepted.

    This has a lot to do with the public image – very much like Factory Physics – another brilliant idea that died in the market.


  3. The beautiful achievement of “The Goal” was the discovery of a core truth about processes, that was then presented in a gloriously simple an intuitive way.

    And then things got complicated.

    In my opinion, after the success of “The Goal” there may have been conversations to agree how to best monetize TOC. The result was the creation of an impenetrable and overly complex set of process models to help justify the cost of training consultants, and the cost of consultants helping customers.

    Unfortunately this affect then snowballs. Rarely in discussion do i find a more ferociously defensive crowd of people than the TOC apostles. Once you hitch your cart to a particular horse, it’s uncomfortable to admit that maybe there are other horses that are just as good, or that maybe your six-legged horse is slightly over-designed!


    • Hi Adrian,
      “Rarely in discussion do i find a more ferociously defensive crowd of people than the TOC apostles.” this is definitely true and part of the problem. Once, I mentioned to a client, that our best shot would be to simply apply TOC to a problem and the response was “But those guys are like a religious sect!”

      I also have some examples from the TOC literature -that are, in my opinion, so wildly optimistic and so ignorant of what is really going on in a real organization, that it is simply amazing. No wonder, anyone trying learn from some of those books will just wonder what world the authors live in.


  4. That’s a great chat; thanks for sharing.

    I’ve a few thoughts.

    #1 – If you apply the 80/20 rule to TOC then the most valuable 20% of the knowledge is out there, very cheap, and many people could use it themselves without needing any extra help.

    #2 – Perhaps paradoxically, I think there’s too much TOC stuff out there and that obfuscates the essentials. I wonder how many people would benefit by reading The Goal, then forgetting most of the financial ‘ measurements discussion, and only remembering the name “Herbie”? The book is too detailed.

    #3. I think Agile is the same. I summaries agile like this as a repeating 4-step process: 1) Prioritize your requirements 2) Deliver chunks of high-value, well-engineered software that’s good enough to ship 3) Maybe ship it, 4) Repeat. That’s the essence of TOC and if you know that life becomes a lot easier. Sadly, just like with TOC, the essence gets lost amongst all the details.


  5. I agree with Clarke. Everything essential about ToC is out there in the market at a very low cost. What’s missing (based on the feedback I’ve received), is practical advise to put it to work. Remember that Eli was a theoretician. The practical details of implementation were left to others.

    I can’t believe that Nicholas is slicing the difference between agile and ToC over 40 euros.

    While there is an effort to monetize ToC, the core concepts are there. Basically for free.

    But the core question – why is ToC confidential is still unanswered. There are many hypothesis out there, but I believe that most practitioners and consultants have not done a good job of connecting BUSINESS outcomes to the concepts and tools of ToC. Combined with the continuously evolving understanding of ToC, it’s difficult to get a handle on ToC Today.

    Is it bottlenecks? that’s so 1980’s. Is it the thinking process? That’s so 1990’s. Is it Critical Chain? That’s the 2000’s. Is it Viable Vision (Ever Flourishing Company)? That’s 2010’s. With each advance in ToC, the lag in understanding increases. The truth is that ToC is all of these things.

    It’s a marketing problem in that the brand of ToC is many things to many people. If you understand ToC as a bottleneck thing related to scheduling, then seeing ToC as a solution to a problem you have in managing performance will never appear.


    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I do agree with you, with some minor reservations though.
      Finding free quality stuff about TOC is rather recent. I still find only few great TOC-savvy names share knowledge for free, compared to agile or Lean gurus.



  6. Hi,
    I guess we are missing the point here: this is not about price. Companies and private people pay vast sums to learn Lean and to a measure Six Sigma – why not TOC?mJust look at linked-in and check how many vigorous lean six sigma groups we have there and compare to the number and activity of TOC groups. Both are for free BTW 🙂



    • I wonder if part of the problem is that lean and six sigma both solve problems that many people are able to solve (because it’s their job) but only a few people in each business have the authority and skills to solve the big changes that TOC sometimes requires.


      • Hi,
        I would rather think that it has to do with marketing. Yesterday I had the experience of pitching a training/workshop concept to a client working in Africa. My concept was entirely based on LPT and guess what? They already had a lean initiative going and their only question was how I can integrate the LTP concepts into their lean methodology. Why does it never happen the other way round? Everybody knows lean and nobody ever heard of LPT. If I were a manager looking for a methodology would I risk spending money on a fringe idea or go with the herd and be safe?


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