Two weeks earlier, when Alex felt like things were still operating smoothly, he ran into Jonah, an old Israeli physics teacher of his, in an airport. Alex fills Jonah in on his role as the plant manager and explains that they’ve recently started using robots, which everyone agrees will take their company into the future. Jonah listens with interest and asks if the robots make the plant more productive. Alex exclaims that the new robots increased his plant’s efficiency in one area by 36 percent, but when Jonah asks if they are making 36 percent more money, Alex admits that they’re not.
Jonah represents Goldratt himself and directly voices Goldratt’s opinions and theories throughout the novel. Aside from also being an Israeli business theorist, Jonah’s role as a former physics teacher reflects Goldratt’s scientific approach to management and business systems. Meanwhile, Jonah’s intuition that supposedly-efficient robots have not made the plant any more money foreshadows his argument that efficiency is not the same thing as optimization.
Alex insists that a more efficient plant costs less money and thus makes a greater net profit. However, Jonah asks if his number of employees or amount of excess inventory has decreased, and Alex admits it hasn’t. Jonah suggests, then, that the plant is not any better off with robots then without. Alex feels ill as he thinks about what Jonah says. When Alex adds that the robots have an efficiency rating over 90 percent, Jonah surmises that they must run all day and all night, and that Alex’s inventory must be skyrocketing. Alex again admits that Jonah is right and wonders how he could know all these details about the plant.
Jonah’s insight into Alex’s plant’s problems, such as high inventory, suggests that he has a deep understanding of manufacturing systems and the problems that can plague them. By contrast, Alex’s belief that they are making more money despite having the same number of employees indicates that he has misguided notions of what practices will lead to success.
Jonah explains that he studies manufacturing organizations now, and that many plants have the exact same problems as Alex’s. However, he is late for his flight and must be going. As Alex walks with Jonah to his gate, Jonah explains that although Alex believes he is running an efficient plant, it must be an inefficient plant judging by what he’s described. Although Alex’s measurements tell him that the plant is running well, he is using the wrong sorts of measurements. Alex insists that they are the same measurements that everyone else uses.
Jonah’s recognition that most plants have the same problems as Alex’s indicates that Alex’s plant is not unique—it represents every manufacturing plant run by traditional corporate standards. His suggestion that Alex’s plant is actually inefficient when it seems efficient indicates that much of Jonah’s insight will be counterintuitive.
As they reach the gate, Jonah hands Alex a cigar and challenges him to question whether his plant is productive and whether it accomplishes a goal. Alex responds that of course it accomplishes a goal, since they make things, but Jonah argues that this is not the plant’s actual goal—nor is it necessarily productive to simply make something. Before boarding his flight, Jonah tells Alex that he must figure out the primary goal of his manufacturing plant; without a clear goal, it is impossible to be truly productive.
Jonah’s insistence that Alex must figure out his primary goal alludes to the importance of having clear goals in any endeavor. However, Alex’s inability to state a clear goal suggests that the proper goal for one’s endeavor may also be counterintuitive, even if it is uncomplicated. Alex’s lack of a clear goal for his manufacturing plant explains why he struggles to manage it well or lead it toward success.