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Learn to improve by understanding the system

Blog

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Learn to improve by understanding the system

Scott Miker

Seeing the underlying systems in our lives helps us to improve.  It allows us to see more and understand more when trying to get better.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is well known for his work with Japanese manufacturing after 1950.  Many people point directly to Deming to explain the incredible success that Japanese manufacturing had in the 1980s and beyond. 

There is a great quote by Deming that points to his belief in understanding the full system and the processes in order to improve.  He says, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”

For manufacturing this naturally led to a closer look at the process that is being used to produce goods.  It makes sense to have this level of detail in manufacturing.  But it also makes sense to look at our personal improvement in this process-focused way. 

If we set out to get healthy but can’t explain the process changes, we are merely wishing for improvement without real change.  In order to get healthy we have to consistently change the decisions we make around what we eat and how active we are. 

If we want to get rid of our credit card debt we have to make numerous decisions that impact what we spend our money on and how we budget our money.  We have to identify things within the process of budgeting and purchasing that we have to change. 

If we want to read more, we have to find a way to incorporate reading into our normal routines (processes).  But doing this can help us understand the important how part of improvement - how we actually do this.  Without adding this process look, we come up with things we want but are not really sure how to make an adjustment in order to see the goal through. 

But understanding the process gets us focused on the overall system and the patterns associated with that system.  This gives us a much more in-depth understanding and will help as we look to make positive changes in order to see growth in a specific area. 

When we understand the full system we can start to find areas that can be improved within the process.  Because we are making changes in the process, these tend to be recurring events.  We do them over and over again.  This is why the process and understanding the full system is so important.  By understanding these elements we get to consistent changes rather than one-time changes.

But most of us skip over the system when we want to improve.  We set a goal that outlines what we want to achieve and then we identify a couple things that we can change to get to our goal.  But we tend to focus more on short-term or one-time things to do rather than recurring elements.  But the recurring elements are significantly more important than the one-time or short-term elements. 

Start looking at the full systems around areas that you would like to improve.  This will clue you in to the process and the patterns that impact this area.  Then you can start to find small recurring elements that you change, which will slowly start to move you closer and closer to the goal you want to achieve.