Systems can be used to create order and structure to our lives. They can be developed to build the right habits in order to reach our goals or increase our chance of success.
But systems can also hurt our ability to succeed. In life, we have to remain flexible. We can’t build and plan for every possible situation. We have to build up our foundation and then allow for us to take different approaches to different situations.
Most problems that we face today are actually patterns that go unnoticed. In business we may have the same culture issues that we keep wrestling with, each time feeling as though it is a unique problem with a unique staff member.
In our personal lives we may continue to mismanage our schedule only to complain to everyone we know how we are too busy all the time. We may never take the time to truly fix the real problem, only willing to address the symptoms of the problem.
We all want to see results of hard work quickly. If we are putting ourselves in an uncomfortable position, we don’t want to remain there for very long.
That is the drive that many use as fuel to drive harder and harder at their goals. They work extremely hard so that the goal can be reached quicker. The mindset is to suffer now so that later we can stop suffering and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
There is a tool that is often used in medical facilities, airplane cockpits, businesses, schools, the military and many other areas. It helps prevent mistakes and has an incredible ability to make sure that individuals do not forget important, yet routine, aspects of what they are doing.
The tool is so simple that a young child can utilize it. It is so effective that brain surgeons use it. It doesn’t require high intelligence or years of life experience. It doesn’t limit an expert but helps them break free from the mundane and often tedious actions that have to happen over and over again.
There is a big difference between contentment and complacency. Being content means that we don’t need anything more in order to be happy. Being complacent means that we have given up because we don’t feel we can have any more than what have already.
The first difference is the fact that being content contains an element of being happy while complacency holds unhappiness at its core.
One of the things that come from taking the systems and habits approach to improvement is that we start to see the complexity around our goals. We see that there are many factors and they all play a role.
Some of these factors are things that will strengthen the current systems and habits and make it difficult to change. Some are things that will be impacted by a new system change.
I read a lot of articles on nutrition, health, finance, education etc. I always have a biased view because of my belief in the systems and habits approach to improve. The bad thing is that this could shift the way I take in new information.
But the good thing is that I can pick out techniques and principles that come directly from the systems and habits approach to improvement. It could be that someone stumbled onto something that just seems to work without seeing the full system at play, or it could be that they learned it from someone that is using these techniques to improve.
The systems and habits in our lives are not easily changed. Whether it is a habit that we want to stop doing or a new habit we are trying to create, we push against something very powerful.
This is why, so often, change fails. We see this in the world around us as much as we see it in ourselves. A new leader emerges but after years of their change policies, we aren’t really left in a better position. More often than not the change is subtle and becomes change for the sake of change, rather than for improvement.
One of the concepts that came out of systems thinking is feedback. Feedback in the systems view is very similar to the feedback you hear when on stage and the microphone and speakers work together to create that loud, annoying, piercing sound we have all heard at one point or another.
In a very basic sense, the microphone picking up the sound output from the speaker causes the feedback from the PA system. This tends to happen to frequencies that get accentuated through the system and are boosted slightly above the rest of the sound spectrum.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is perfect so there are always things that can be considered strength and things that can be considered weak.
I had a former college professor tell us “a strength overdone becomes a weakness.” At first I was surprised by such a statement but have since realized the wisdom in those words.
There is a major difference between more and better but most people misunderstand this difference. They lump the two together, since they are often found together, and then assume a push towards more is a push towards better. But it isn’t.
Much of this stems from the difference between contentment and complacency. Being content means that we don’t need more in order to be happy and fulfilled. But it usually results in continuing to improve, not to achieve more but to keep getting better.
When most people hear about systems they immediately get the misconception that this must involve rigid rules with no flexibility. They hear about processes, procedures, habits, and structure and automatically assume these are inflexible.
But the best systems can be described as flexible. And if we are using the systems and habits approach to improvement in our personal lives, we have to embrace the idea of a flexible system.
The Tao Te Ching is a 2500-year-old text that has provided wisdom for decades. It has been referred to as the wisest book ever written. It uses paradoxes (opposites) to break down common thinking to show flaws.
Studying systems thinking, I have always been surprised by the similarities between the Tao and systems thinking principles. I’ve written about this and recently found a book that molds these two together in a very insightful way.
In life, we always have a choice yet many of us go through life feeling as though we don’t. We feel that we don’t have enough opportunity or the right situations never seem to come up for us.
This negative mindset tends to create a feeling of hopelessness. We feel that there’s no hope for improvement so we shut down and look for external sources to point the finger at.
There is a great quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer that I absolutely love. The quote is, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
While this quote definitely fits with Dyer’s writing style and ability to explain higher-level understanding of our internal selves, it also has a practicality that may be missed if we don’t look carefully.
Habits are very important parts of our lives. Psychologists have estimated that up to 95% of our lives are controlled by habit.
Habit dictates more than just the commonly thought of behaviors like biting fingernails or smoking cigarettes. Habit controls our behavior much more than this. It dictates how we get through the routines in our day. It tells us how to do everyday tasks such as driving a car. It even controls how we think and the patterns of thought that then strongly influence our behavior.
Most people misunderstand taking risks. When I was younger I thought taking risks meant that I needed to take chances in order to expand my knowledge and abilities and grow. But I also naively assumed that taking a risk didn’t have consequences.
Looking back now it seems ludicrous. But I really thought that I could take risks and by working harder than others I could avoid the downside of those risks. In other words, I thought I would immune to the failure part of taking a risk because I would work harder.
The danger of too much linear thinking and not enough systems thinking is that you miss seeing interconnectedness that may be very important. Everything around us is made up of systems and without a clear understanding of the system you may be doing more harm than good.
I heard that doctors have a saying, “first, do no harm.” They use it to establish a common ethos that leaves the patient the same or better than they would be without the professional medical help.
From time to time, we all feel the need to change something about us. Maybe we want to quit smoking or lose weight. Maybe we want to get more education or pay off our credit card debt.
Maybe we want to be a better student, or better at work. Maybe we want to be more invested in the relationships in our lives or develop a deeper spiritual connection with God.
It is really easy to find fault in others. Nobody is perfect so it is extremely easy to point out things that we don’t like about others or things that others are doing wrong.
But there really isn’t any value in that. In fact, by doing that, we tend to quickly shift blame when things go wrong in order to bypass any responsibility. But this responsibility is exactly what we need in order to improve.
There are a lot of authors that explain goals and how important it is to have goals. They tend to stress the importance of setting goals in order to improve throughout one’s life.
But despite the overabundance of information available, many of us still struggle. The reason is simple… having knowledge of something doesn’t mean it magically gets done.
When it comes to most systems we want to better understand their purpose. What do they do and why are they there?
We may be able to gain insight into the system and the elements of the system and then use this to understand why certain parts of the system exist.
In The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield says that we should all take 100% responsibility for everything in our lives. We should take responsibility even when it seems outside of our control.
I completely agree with this. Too often in life we find external reasons to point to. We find things to blame or things to point to instead of taking full responsibility even though some aspects may fall outside of our control. Yes, there are always things we can’t control, but anything less than taking 100% responsibility can quickly become a way to make excuses.
I often hear of people resist systematic improvement due to their worry they will ultimately lose their creativity. They view these things as opposites and assume striving towards one will loosen the other.
But this isn’t true. If we look at some of the most creative people in history, we usually find that they are extremely dedicated to their craft and follow set patterns throughout their career.
We all want our problems to be fixed immediately. We want to instantly solve all our work or business problems, all our team problems, and all our habit problems.
The impatience that most of us have is normal. But this normal impatience is the reason so many of us don’t improve.
Years ago when I started a new job I remember getting into the role and identifying problem areas right away. From talking to others on the team, to reviewing data on past trends, I started to see a few areas that I would need to address in order to improve the team.
I remember feeling like I already worked through these problems. It was almost a feeling of deja vu. But it was new people, new projects, new situations, new everything.
The other day I was reading a story about a successful basketball coach. The story explained a situation where the team started to lose games and were in the midst of a disappointing season.
He was incredibly frustrated and felt the team didn’t care enough. So he relied on punishment to try and motivate the team. He worked them harder and harder and harder. But nothing worked and he just kept getting more and more frustrated at the team’s performance.
We are all constantly interacting with systems. Systems are all around us and constantly “working”. Sometimes they are specifically designed systems, such as the traffic light system, and other times they are there and we barely notice them, such as our habits around driving a car.
Systems thinkers argue that the deeper you get into the understanding of the system, the more leverage you gain. This means that you have more ability to change the system when you fully understand that system.
We all know the feeling. We feel frustrated and trapped and seem unable to break through. We don’t understand what is holding us back but we certainly feel it.
But while most of us intuitively know this feeling, we don’t explore it with enough depth and insight to actually make a change. Instead we usually power through until it eases up or we change direction.
Everyone is busy. I’ve worked in many different industries and in many different roles. I’ve worked with small businesses and large businesses and everything in between. One common theme is that everyone is always busy.
There is always something that needs attention, something that needs to get done. Fires are constantly coming up and most managers use the majority of their time to put the fires out. But there really is a better way.
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