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Goldratt vs. Japan

I found out something really bad and disappointing about Eli Goldratt. He delayed translation of his books into Japanese for fear they'd be really successful, increase the trade imbalance, and generally help Japan get way ahead of the West. He delayed translation from around 1987 to 2000, by which point he thought Japan was stagnating and the West had caught up.

Goldratt's own words, from 4:04:45-4:07:45 in his 2005 audiobook Beyond the Goal (my emphasis):

For a long time, I didn’t allow my books to be translated into Japanese. Not because I don’t like them — the opposite is true — but because my opinion was that they are so much more advanced in production than the U.S. or Europe and the penetration of cost accounting is so much smaller in Japan (by the way, statistics show that they have one-seventh of the cost accounting people in their organizations that we have here in the states — one seventh) and they are in love with simple solutions rather than complicated solutions, sophisticated solutions, and that’s why the penetration of ERP [enterprise resource planning] for example in Japan is less than ten percent. I was afraid that if I will release my material into Japan, actively, they will go on it very quickly, they will increase the gap, and by that they will tilt even more the trade balance. If the trade balance will be tilted even more, the gap will become much bigger, I was afraid the whole economy of the world may go down the drain. Yes I know that these are maybe megalomaniac thinking, but I didn’t want it on my shoulders. So for a long long time, I refused to allow my books to be translated into Japanese.

About two years ago, I came to the conclusion that probably the gap had been closed. Now I am almost convinced that the gap is closed. So it’s about time to give this know-how. In June of this year, The Goal came out in Japanese, in Japan. They were waiting for it, because otherwise I cannot explain what happened. The first three months, 300,000 copies have been sold. The Goal is selling now in Japan more than Harry Potter! That’s not a joke, that’s a fact. And I got an article — translated article — from the number one business magazine of Japan two weeks ago about The Goal. By the way, The Goal appeared on the cover of that magazine. And in this article, there is a box of an interview with the President of Toyota. And he said he made The Goal mandatory reading to all his management. The mere fact that he came to this statement is another crack in the conformity. Now it’s allowed.

In what ways was Japan ahead? For big examples, think about how Toyota was beating Ford, and Japanese companies like Sony excelled in electronics. Not everyone is aware, but Japan today is considered the world's third largest economy, after just the U.S. and China. Japan was second until China's recent growth, and (unsourced on Wikipedia) represented 17.8% of the entire world economy at its peak in 1994.

The supposed harm of trade imbalances is junk economics. Apparently Goldratt never gave the matter much thought. That's disappointing because he's an advocate of win/win solutions and says there are no conflicts in reality. When you seem to see a conflict – e.g. Japanese people would benefit from your book but you think there'd be a negative result – then there's a mistaken premise somewhere. It's a mistake – in Goldratt's own view – to accept lose/lose solutions or compromises. But that's what he did!

Goldratt's goal was to teach the world to think. He betrayed his goal by withholding educational material from people specifically because he thought they would learn a lot from him. He intentionally blocked progress because he wanted the West to maintain a position at the top.

He could have been wrong. Maybe his books wouldn't have made much difference in Japan. But his intentions were gross. And I think his books could have changed the world if released promptly in Japan. When finally released, they sold very well in Japan, got lots of publicity, and promptly resulted in adoption by major companies (like Toyota) and parts of the Japanese government.

What if they were released earlier? They could have made a much bigger difference. They could have prevented the stagnation of Japan which Goldratt saw later. They could have given Japan a bigger competitive edge – exactly what Goldratt feared – and thus spread to the whole world. The West learned a lot from Japan while trying to catch up (e.g. Just In Time and Lean). Goldratt's ideas could have been part of that, and that way they'd have much better adoption worldwide today, making the whole world much better off.

Goldratt didn't just delay Japan's progress, he missed out on a timing window when Japan – the country where he could most successfully get adoption for his ideas – was acting as somewhat of a model for the rest of the world. And today software is super important, which lessens the relative importance of manufacturing, which is the area where Goldratt's ideas could most easily have a big impact.

The general consequences of a world with less wealth (due to lack of adoption of Goldratt's great business management ideas) include people dying due to less medical research and dying in many other ways. Wealth helps prevent deaths from heatwaves, cold, drought, tsunamis, hunger, inadequately funded police and much more. The specific, direct consequences of Japanese car companies being less successful include more Westerners dying in car accidents because they drive Japanese cars that aren't as good as they could be.

patio11 argued that Japan is part of Western society (I saw this later the same day I wrote this mini essay). I agree. Goldratt shouldn't have seen Japan as the other. Yes, there are some substantial differences between Japan and the English speaking countries that don't set us apart from France. But Japan Westernized and assimilated enough after World War II that I say to accept them, and I see the success of companies like Toyota and Sony as demonstrating the merit of Japan (rather than being exceptions). Goldratt himself was from Israel, another country I'm happy to credit as being Western, despite it having some differences from America. Anyway, Japan is certainly no threat. Japanese success should be celebrated without hesitation.

Sources and Details

Regarding dates, The Goal came out in 1984 and I found Spanish (La Meta), German (Das Ziel), and French (Le But) versions from 1987. (I also found a 1992 Italian version. I'm guessing the 1987 translations I found are the earliest years, but I don't know about 1992.) The Japanese version is from May 2001. (The English ISBN info saying 2000 seems to be incorrect.) The Japanese publication delay is 14 years from the first foreign language versions I could find, and 17 years from the English version.

I found some further discussion of the issue (emphasis added):

A Process Of On-Going Improvement (POOGI) – Part 36 by Dr. Lisa Lang (a TOC expert), 2008 or 2009, says:

For years, Dr. Goldratt refused to have his books translated into Japanese. He thought and felt that Japan was so far advanced that if it applied the improved processes of the Theory of Constraints, that the trade imbalance would further increase, threatening to destabilize the world economy. Six years ago, when the U.S. and European economies had closed the gap, and Japan had stagnated, he relented. In the first month of its release, “The Goal” sold a half-million copies. Since then, its sales are equal to the sales in the rest of the world.

Japan is adopting TOC at a much faster rate than the Western World. For example, last year Japan announced the requirement that all companies supplying infrastructure projects must use Critical Chain project management, the TOC methodology for managing projects (and delivering them in half the time).

Theory of Constraints is Gaining Awareness and Success in Japan. Is This the Quality Movement All Over Again? by Carol Ptak (Goldratt co-author and TOC expert), 2012, says:

Japanese adoption of the theory of constraints is growing at a rate that rivals the quality movement started by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The founder of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, made several personal trips to Japan and allowed his books to finally be translated to the Japanese language. The most respected national newspaper in Japan, Asahi Newspaper (circulation 8M), runs a weekly regular article about TOC written by TOC expert Yuji Kishira....

The Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization (TOCICO) hosted the first international TOC conference in Japan in 2009 with a keynote from the Director General of the Ministry of Land Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism on how TOC was used to complete infrastructure projects in less time and provide one day response to contractor requests. The impact of TOC on the country of Japan is so significant that immediately following the TOCICO conference a MLIT conference drew over 300 executives. Dr. Goldratt said, “Toyota changed factories in the world. In the future, people will say that MLIT Japan changed government management in the world. I want you to understand how important your activity is.”

Carol Ptak also quotes herself saying, "The United States could easily be trying to play catch up with Japan once again."

Book: Introduction to the Theory of Constraints (TOC) Management System by Thomas B. McMullen, Jr. (1998):

I recently had lunch with a manager in a large, well-known, brand-name Japanese company, a company recognizable both in consumer and industrial markets as a huge, powerful, and successful outfit, who has been translating TOC concepts into Japanese lately for use by his colleagues around the world. Dr. Goldratt, until recently, has said he was unwilling to assist in making translations of his TOC materials into Japanese due to a concern about balance of trade and power.

The Japanese Wikipedia for The Goal says (all translations from Japanese were done by a professional):

Due to the wishes of Dr Goldratt, permission for the publication of a Japanese translation of the novel was withheld until 2001.

It's sources are:

2014 article from The Goal's Japanese publisher:

At the time it was first published in 1984, Dr Goldratt is known to have said "if a Japanese version of the book were to be published, only Japanese companies will win and there will be great turmoil in the world economy". Given that it would be another 17 years before Dr Goldratt would give permission for the book to be translated into Japanese – it certainly has an interesting backstory.

2009 article from Nikkei Business:

“The Goal” was first published in the United States in 1984, but Dr Goldratt did not authorize a Japanese translation of the book until 2001.

The reason for the delay was that the international competitiveness of Japanese companies was far beyond that of most other countries and it was felt that there was a need to eliminate the trade imbalance by closing the gap. In other words, Japan was the goal of SCM [Supply Chain Management].

Elliot Temple on February 21, 2018

Comments (4)

Do you watch anime/manga? I've been told these are good: Hero Academy, Assassination Classroom, and Attack on Titan. Any opinions? AssClass seems to have interesting premise about assassinating the teacher. Wonder if it has anything interesting to say about schhol. AoT just watching first episode and like the theme about how you have to face and take seriously big problems or die

Anonymous at 11:38 PM on February 21, 2018 | #9600
I haven't watched much anime for years.

curi at 12:00 AM on February 22, 2018 | #9601
he should have shipped his books to africa

Anonymous at 11:05 AM on March 4, 2018 | #9673
> he should have shipped his books to africa


Anonymous at 12:29 PM on March 4, 2018 | #9675

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)