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Are there systems that keep you where you are in life?

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.  

Are there systems that keep you where you are in life?

Scott Miker

Systems are everywhere and I often say that everything is a system.  Once you start studying systems thinking it is hard not to see the patterns and structures in place all over.

Many times we are a part of the system and never even realize it.  We go through the motions and assume we have complete freedom, but in reality we are completely unaware that the system has great influence over us.

I’m currently reading a book called Springboard, Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS.  Author G. Richard Shell talks about the structures around success.  His concepts mirror many systems thinkers as he talks about personal success in terms of mental models, structures, patterns and events.

At one point he addresses a system from the perspective of a car salesman, Robert Chambers.  He says, “What Chambers saw that day upset him on two levels.  The sheer injustice of it, of course, turned his stomach.  But he also saw what his systems-engineer mind considered a ‘system failure.’  The process that poor and working-class people were using to buy an essential item for their lives – cars – was broken.  The high-interest car loans they bought kept them in debt; they missed more days at work when their older cars broke down; and they paid more for car repairs and gas than people with newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles.  The dealerships prospered; the poor stayed poor.”

Many people seeing that same situation would immediately point to linear elements to prove their point or confirm their beliefs.  They would say that the person buying the car has the decision and made a poor decision.  They would say that the particular dealership in question is just one of the evil ones.  They would say this is just one example and plenty of people drive these older, used cars for years.  They would say new cars are too expensive and the person should save up and buy a nicer used car, etc.

But looking at the full system, Chambers had a revelation.  He saw the full system and saw that he, as a car salesman, was a major part of the system.  In essence he saw that the system failure would continue unless someone created a new system.

Shell goes on to describe what happened, “His anger and insight gave birth to an idea.  He decided he would try to create a new system for people in rural New Hampshire to buy cars.  He founded a nonprofit organization soon to be called More Than Wheels.  It took Chambers a year of hard work to line up the banks, donors, and foundation support to get his group up and running.  The centerpiece of his concept was simplicity itself; he coupled the new-car-buying process for qualified rural customers with a low-cost bank load and personal financial counseling.”

This is a great example of how using systems thinking can drastically change lives.  By seeing the full system, Chambers was able to design a new system, one that would change the process in a way that ultimately changed the outcome for a large number of people. 

What systems are in your life that you could change?  It doesn’t have to be such an enormous task as creating a whole new system for selling cars.  Since everything is a system, you simply have to look for areas of your life that you want to improve.

Then you can start slowly designing the systems to take you towards success.  Rather than remaining a part of a system that gives you exactly what you have, you can utilize a system that gives you what you want instead.