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A Romance Novel Gets Down to Business--for Productivity

November 26, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Poor Alex Rogo. His marriage is about to collapse, and things are no better at UniCo, where Alex is division manager. Julie, his wife, wants more time from Alex. His superiors want increased productivity. His second-grade daughter is getting straight A's. Alex, it seems, is flunking out.

This is a new genre of romance novel, "manufacturing romance," fiction that comes from the literary land of heavy passions, mythic heroes and monumental conquests. This is "The Goal."

\o7 She puts her hands on her hips.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did stay with a friend," she says.

"Man or woman?"

Her eyes get hard on me. She takes a step forward.

"You don't care if I'm home with the kids night after night," she says. "But if I go away for one night, all of a sudden you have to know where I've been, what I've done."

"I just feel you owe me some explanation," I say.

"How many times have you been late, or out of town, or who knows where?" she asks.

"But that's business," I say.

\f7 Privately published just over a year ago, "The Goal" has sold more than 100,000 copies. Co-authors Eliyahu M. Goldratt and former Westinghouse writer Bob Fox have done no advertising or publicity for the book, used as a text in at least 40 business and management schools across the country. At one school, Notre Dame, for example, the book accounts for 20% of the course grade in a class called "Labor Management Relations and Religion."

Hundreds of manufacturers have placed orders: companies like Hughes Aircraft, Teledyne, Pacific Scientific and Calcomp. At trade shows, the book disappears in a matter of hours. Translated into nine languages, "The Goal" sold out after one day in Holland, when all 5,000 first-edition copies were snapped up by a single manufacturer.

Major publishers laughed at the idea of a novel that explained how to increase profitability and productivity, Goldratt and his Creative Output colleague Bob Fox said. Tiny North River Press was chosen to print "The Goal" because its executives were neighbors of Fox.

"They did it as a favor," Fox said. "Now they're astounded by how much business it has brought them."

"My original sales estimate," Goldratt said, "and I was quite optimistic, was 20,000."

"It defies all the formulas," Fox said, "especially since we have yet to spend penny one on advertising and promotion." Added Fox, laughing, "We weren't smart enough to do it the right way."

As partners in the Milford, Conn., "software and thoughtware" company called Creative Output, Fox and Goldratt happened upon the idea for "The Goal" while seeking to convey the message of OPT, or Optimized Production Technology, a management system that began as a method for increasing chicken-coop production while Goldratt was a graduate student at Israel's Bar-Ilan University. So successful was Goldratt's mathematical procedure for optimizing systems with complex variables that the now 39-year-old entrepreneur/computer whiz extended the software and the philosophy of OPT to apply to any manufacturing venture.

"We were so convinced that the technology was powerful," Fox said, describing OPT as "a different set of decision rules on how you run many aspects of a manufacturing business." A washing machine manufacturing company, for example, or a large maker of electronics might adapt OPT to its particular needs by applying its own data base to the OPT program. Efficiency is the objective, Fox said, regardless of where the system is employed.

Tried Conventional Ways

But "it didn't seem like it (OPT) was getting across, or that clients were going as far and as fast with it as we thought possible," Fox said. "We tried all the conventional ways of conveying the technology--lectures, videotapes explaining the logic and technique--just a whole host of very conventional ways to explain it."

Said Fox: "We probably did it all the so-called right ways."

So Goldratt decided to write a text to go with his system. "But since we all have our memories of textbooks as being boring, dull kinds of things, he decided to write it as a novel," Fox said. "I think it was strong intuition."

At UCLA's Graduate School of Management, Prof. Elwood Buffa said he uses "The Goal" in a course called "Operations, Strategy and Policy" because "the novel really is very instructive. The hero of the novel strides forth and solves some important problems for the company through what I would term really good manufacturing strategy.

"It provides information to students in a form that obviously is unique to them," Buffa said, "and more interesting than perhaps some of the usual materials we use."

The Romantic Line

As for the romantic aspects of "The Goal," "I think the love line is a little to the side," Buffa said. "I accused him (Goldratt) of adding it later after he figured it would be too dry without it."

But at least one manufacturing executive, Goldratt said, "became an advocate of 'The Goal' " because "he could relate not only to the industrial section, but also to the part with the wife."

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