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System Thinking and Soft Skills

Improving Systems and Habits

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.  

System Thinking and Soft Skills

Scott Miker

There are countless benefits to being able to see things systematically and make progressive improvements towards a goal.  Most of the areas that I cover explain common areas that people want to improve such as their health, cleaning up their credit or paying off debt, reading more etc.  But the most valuable areas that I have improved with thinking in systems weren’t so obvious.

Years ago I stumbled upon Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life.  In it he describes lessons from the Tao Te Ching, a 2,500 year old text on leadership.  Known by many as “the wisest book ever written” the themes throughout the Tao emphasize the smaller things in life that make the biggest difference such as the importance of remaining humble, tackling problems while they are still small, learning to be more content, avoiding extravagance etc.  

In one section it talks about those who will read the tao and it emphasizes that there will be people that put the information into practice, people that hear of it and ignore it and people who will laugh at the ideas inside it.  

Reading and understanding the Tao is difficult enough but putting the lessons into practice seem almost impossible.  It drives at our very core characteristics that most people feel are set and unmovable.  Too often we associate who we are to these characteristics which makes it even more difficult to change.  

When I first started to try an implement the lessons from the Tao I found it much more difficult than I expected.  How can I remain more humble?  How can I see a big project and immediately focus on tackling the small aspects that will ultimately become the large aspects?

The answer for me was to rely on system and habit thinking.  I stopped trying to force myself to be different and instead looked for systematic ways to change.  

The 63rd chapter in the Tao starts out by stating:

Act by not acting;

do by not doing.

Enjoy the plain and simple.

Find greatness in the small.

Take care of difficult problems while they are still easy;

Do easy things before they become too hard.

While this makes sense, it is extremely rare to find individuals that truly encompass these ideas.  In order to learn and apply this lesson, start by trying to identify a key trigger.  A trigger is something that will tip you off that a habit is approaching.  

A trigger for a leader might be when they get frustrated with a subordinate.  Their response may be to complete the task themselves because they feel “if you want something done right, do it yourself”.  In this instance it would be better for the employee and the business if the subordinate learns to complete the task.  How can you create a system to change your habit from one that “takes over” the task to one that coaches the employee to complete the task?

Taking care of difficult problems while they are small is something that can become a valuable skill.  Instead of always fighting with giant problems start to evaluate them to see how they escalated.  Then identify ways that you could have reacted differently to receive a different result earlier in the escalation.  Ignoring small problems until they become devastating is overwhelming and likely puts us at a disadvantage.  

One aspect of Dr Dyer’s book talked about the escalation of fights between loved ones.  He said that you can immediately end the fight by finding a way to truly understand their perspective.  It is extremely difficult but if you can truly understand why they feel they do and acknowledge it without trying to defend your point of view the fight usually ends immediately and both parties agree they were a little to strong in their arguments but they just wanted the other person to understand.  

I have used this tactic many times in my life.  At first it felt wrong.  It felt like I was giving in and I should stand my ground because I am right and they are wrong.  But I tried to understand their perspective and when I could, I suddenly realized that there is right and wrong in both sides of the argument.  It would end the fight and soften their position because they could see that I wasn’t as rigid in my point of view.  

A key principle that I highlight throughout my website is that 100% is a breeze and 99% is a bitch.  I first heard this in Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles.  He explains that if we decide that we are going to make a change, we have to be 100% committed.  If we are even slightly willing to quit we will make it much more difficult than it has to be.

If we are 100% committed to our spouse we won’t even put ourselves in a situation to be unfaithful.  If we are 100% committed to getting healthy we won’t even choose a restaurant that doesn’t have healthy options.  If we are only 99% committed we will allow ourselves to get close and then when it is most difficult to stick with our goal we will have to be strong.  100% means addressing areas while they are small and easy to overcome rather than when they build and build and become difficult to address.

System thinking is a great way to overcome obstacles and pursue goals.  Most of the information that I have found refers to the typical goals that center around accomplishing something quantifiable.  But if we are able to learn how to address areas of change systematically we can apply that insight to soft skills that we want to grow and improve also.  This will allow you to improve on the core areas of who we are and this unlocks hidden areas for improvement.