The larger Theory of Constraints community has been a great source of business novels over the past year. My latest find is The Human Constraint by Angela Montgomery. The story was compelling, and I thought the approach to describing the formal process was just enough to make me curious to find more without distracting from the story.
The story follows the path of several people through the eyes of May MacCarran, a writer who gets more than she expected in taking a new assignment. As we follow her and the other characters, May learns more and more about a new way to think about business and management and even people in general. I really enjoyed the way the way the story drew me in and kept me wanting to know what happened next. (The author collaborated with a playwright to keep the story compelling.)
The story is set against the backdrop of the financial crisis of the past decade with interspersed blurbs from the news on the dire effects of the crisis. And these dire effects ripple into the story with financial challenges amongst the business ventures and the human challenges to staying true to their new way of thinking. And this is where the book gets its title. It isn't a limitation in the businesses or the markets, it is a constraint in people. Can they overcome their old way of thinking and acting when the hard decisions must be made? As we see in this book, it isn't always as simple as writing a happy ending.
Rather than lead the reader through the development of the methodology and the ideas, the story takes you past that. It assumes the methodology and ideas exist and shows how they apply in several different circumstances. The story brings out the ideas in several scenarios as the characters apply the concepts in ventures from industry to business education to the public sector. There isn't even much time spent on explaining the concepts in detail - that is left for the reader in the supplemental materials.
While I learned of this book through the Theory of Constraints community, I could equally have been led to it through other systems thinking groups, particularly those linked to W. Edwards Deming and his System of Profound Knowledge. The author's colleague, Domenico Lepore, has written (with Oded Cohen) Demming and Goldratt that shows how their approaches are similar and can be combined to an overall approach they call The Decalogue. This decalogue is referenced in The Human Constraint, though I was surprised that it wasn't given explicit credit in the text (it is referenced in the endnotes, of course). If the reader weren't knowledgeable about some of the other approaches out there, they might be led to believe The Decalogue and some of the other approaches were unique to the story, rather than more widely available.
A surprise in the story is a link to Jewish scholarship. The main characters befriend a rabbi, who teaches that there are ways of thinking of the Talmud that have a lot more to do with business and human behaviors than one would think. (Apparently Dr. Goldratt once directed people to study the Talmud to understand how he came to his way of thinking.)