Last month I devoured a book that I’ve heard of around the block for quite a while.
Work The System by Sam Carpenter.
And I loved it.
The author, Sam Carpenter, bought and ran a telecom company, and their service offering was to receive and process calls for their clients. This service was constant, as in 24/7/365. I can barely imagine a more complex and highly-strung sort of business! Everything is time sensitive, requiring constant human presence, seemingly a million miles from anything resembling a “passive income”.
And indeed, for 15 years he worked heroically through sleepless, 100+ hour work weeks.
“All I did was kill fires, unaware that those fires were the products of dysfunctional subsystems.”
Yet at the time of writing this book, Sam is required for only 2 hours a week for his business.
“I’ve had the same small business for thirty years, and this is the story of how I transformed it from a chaotic ordeal into a gold mine, pulling my staff upward with me while delivering the highest quality of service available in my industry”
It all changed for Sam one dark night under the apocalyptic pressure of a looming payroll that he simply couldn’t meet. With the inevitable abandonment of his workforce, the final death blow for a business that had been on life-support for a decade, he finally gave himself space to think freely.
No longer did he feel he should push away those airy-fairy thoughts like, “Why are we here?” and, “What would we do if we had all the time in the world?” It was all doomed anyway, so at long last he felt free to lift his mind and take the “outside and slightly elevated viewpoint”, and look at his business from an objective, systemic, and surprising calm place.
In that calm, he had his epiphany.
Everything is systems.
Including your life.
“The planet earth is not a huge, amorphous, seething mass of people, objects, and events swirling in disarray. It’s a place of order and logic, a place of predictability. The world is a collection of logical systems!”
Every single thing in this world is a logical and reliable progression from A, to B, to C, towards a predictable end.
And if everything is made of logical sequences, then everything (that we can influence) can be optimised to produce more of the results we want by altering pieces of that chain.
It seems like quite a basic revelation, and it is. It’s the most basic there is
Yet, even though it seems obvious, not many of us really understand it on a gut level, myself included.
If we did, wouldn’t we use it to the fullest extent we could?
The Colossal Misperception
The Colossal Misperception, as Sam calls it, is that people notice dysfunctional systems more than functional ones. They ignore the countless functional systems that surround them day in day out, from the chair they sit on to the metabolic buzz they get when they ingest coffee. Since they only notice the dysfunctional systems, they then conclude that the whole world is a hot pot of mayhem just barely holding itself together.
The universe prefers order, not chaos.
Physics are defined by laws, after all, laws that are well known to be indomitable.
Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is explained by the sequence of events that lead to it.
As the deep and simple truth of this begins to dawn on you, you begin to realise something wonderful.
“…if the universe has a predilection for order, it should be a simple thing to climb on board.”
The Struggle to Implement
It’s easy to agree with, but how about implement? How many people do you know who spend their lives struggling with things that they ultimately could change?
Fitness. Income. Spending. Keeping in touch with people. Everything is a system.
Why are so many of our systems so dysfunctional? Why haven’t we all already designed our lives into perfectly oiled machines, steam-rolling us inexorably towards our wildest dreams?
“…life events that go wrong are due to component irregularities within systems.
“Systems want to be efficient. If a system could talk, it would say, “My single goal – and I am passionate about it – is to accomplish the task that I was built to accomplish!” This means that our efforts to make circumstances right are aided by an enigmatic power that works hard to propel those efforts to success. Within one’s own life, getting things to work swimmingly is not a difficult task if one pays attention to the mechanics.”
When I was looking for an idea for my latest project (which became LeadGrand Web Analytics) I telephoned web design agencies to talk about the biggest problems they were facing in business, in the hope that I’d find something I could solve. The very first one I phoned said that she didn’t have time for such a conversation, and I believed her. She sounded ragged and rushed from the first click of the voice receiver.
It’s clear what her most pressing problem was, but it was one that I’m not yet equipped to solve.
How do you help someone who, like the younger Sam Carpenter, believes they have no time, and no way to make any more of it? How do you help a person who is mired every day in a never ending torrent of crises, who believe that if they stop putting out fires and focus on the root of the problem for a single hour, everything could crumble.
And maybe it will crumble.
The systems of their business are inefficient, which is why they have to be present for everything.
Being a Hero
During his company’s most hectic decade, Sam became a “master of all trades”. He could do anything that might be needed to keep the show going, and sometimes he would need to do it all. His company was on life-support, and that life-support was Sam.
He was the single tube keeping the whole body just barely alive.
He was the bottle neck. He garnered a sense of satisfaction from being such a sleepless superman, but in the end he found that one person cannot run a business.
He was the one who anyone could call on at any time to sort out the most recent disaster.
He was trying to be a Hero.
Being the Engineer
Be the Project Engineer.
“Instead of seeing yourself as an internal component of circumstance… your vantage point is outside and slightly elevated from those events. The day’s happenings are visible as separate and individual elements, arranged in logical sequences.”
That, beautifully summarised by Sam, is the systems mindset.
Try it right now, if you haven’t already. Look around the room you’re in, and imagine yourself “outside and slightly elevated” from it. How many functional systems can you perceive?
How many objects around you are part of larger systems that mankind have come up with? A filing cabinet is an obvious one. Nothing more than a pile of metal and paper until someone slides out a draw and rifles through, at which point it’s suddenly imbued with meaning as an essential cog in a larger machine.
What about your pens? Integral components of the system of written language, which also rely on a hand to manipulate them on paper and a mind that knows what to write. The one nearest to you is probably also part of a smaller system that you’ve come up with. Maybe it’s there to jot things down on a notepad, which is also nearby. That’s a good system of recording useful titbits of info that will be needed in the near future. Pat yourself on the back.
Dysfunction is Gold
Do you ever find yourself without a pen, however, running around trying to find one? Your situation is ripe comedy cold as far as Michael McIntyre is concerned, but guess what, you’re little system is inefficient!
There’s good news. Whenever you see a problem in a system of your life, from a pen that seems to have legs, to a dating life that’s stuck in the mud, you’ve just identified what you need to do!
You’re not an “internal component of circumstance”, you’re a sentient, rational being that can create it’s own systems. Find the dodgy cog, come up with a new one. Improve the system, and enjoy the improved results for the rest of your life. Do that with everything, and no matter how small each improvement is, they build on each other into an upgraded life.
The specific methods of how to do this in a business are detailed further on in this book. I’ve started to implement them myself, and the results are already clear to see.
More on that later.