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When do you know that a system is too rigid?

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.  

When do you know that a system is too rigid?

Scott Miker

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. 

Recently my wife and I purchased a new home.  We sold the house we had lived in for years and it was time to move to a new house in a new area. 

We had about 60 days between when we knew we were moving to when we closed on the house and got the keys to actually move in.  At times we struggled with how much to pack or how prepared we needed to be. 

We felt we had most of the information but there were still some unknowns.  We started to develop plans and organize the various services we needed to assist in getting all of our stuff over to the new place. 

At one point, my wife and I were discussing an aspect of the move and she commented that she was surprised that I didn’t want more of a formal, solid plan.  She said with my love of planning and systems that she thought I would have every single detail laid out before we even moved a box.

At first I didn’t really know how to take the comment.  But now that I have had some time to reflect I realize what is happening.  Most people assume systems are very rigid and inflexible. 

This is natural because using the systems and habits approach means that we think through the process much more thoroughly.  We see more of the full picture instead of focusing on a small portion of a larger system. 

The reality is that for systems to truly be able to stand the test of time they have to be flexible.  The future doesn’t play out exactly as we assume it will.  There will always be change and always be factors that we cannot predict. 

Flexible systems allow for change and allow for unexpected circumstances to arise. They change when necessary and ebb and flow with the current environment.  Some aspects might be rigid but there is enough of a fluid approach that the rigidity doesn’t hurt what we are trying to do.

If we need to allow for some flexibility, when do you know that a system is too rigid?

There are a couple things to look for in determining when a system is becoming too rigid.

First, how often are you finding that it would be better to go outside of the structured system?  If you are constantly finding that you have to “break the rules” then you may want to explore different types of flexible systems.  They will allow for enough flexibility while still maintaining the organized, systematic approach.

Second, look for times when the system fails.  Yes systems fail all the time.  When they do use this as a chance to explore what led to the system failure.  Then structure a new process that will address similar phenomena in the future. 

Third, every system can be improved and many times this means to create a more flexible system.  Amazon has used flexible systems on their website for years.  Their dynamic approach means that the home page of Amazon is different depending on the user and what they like to view on the website.  This was very different from “traditional” websites that create a static home page that was the same for everyone.  Take a similar approach to your systems and habits in order to find better ways of doing things. 

So observing when it would be more beneficial to go outside the system, system failures and exploring ways to improve the system all mean that we should take on a fluid mindset and flexible approach.  This will allow us to avoid some of the discomfort around change. 

Going to back to my moving experience… my wife and I ultimately decided to detail out several key aspects to the move.  We would have structure around when the movers would come for the bulk items.  We would be flexible with getting the smaller stuff over to the new house, which depended on when we officially got the keys.  We also listed out projects that we needed to complete and priority order so we could tackle a few right away and leave others for when we had more time. 

This allowed us to have some flexibility and enough structure to complete the move.  Throughout the process we had confidence that we were moving in the right direction.  Despite many changes that we couldn’t foresee, we were able to move necessary items in order to continue to make progress.  Moving is never a fun experience for me but having these flexible systems in place helped me to feel confident that we wouldn’t miss key aspects to our move and that we accounted for as many variables as possible.