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Take the good with the bad

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.  

Take the good with the bad

Scott Miker

There is a saying that we need to take the good with the bad.  Sometimes that is reversed and we say to take the bad with the good.  The idea is that we have to understand that there is good and bad in everything and we can’t always separate out the good from the bad.

This aligns perfectly with systems thinking.  In systems thinking we break away from seeing simple linear relationships to see the full, complex system.  We see the various elements and how they all interconnect and interrelate. 

This allows us to get a more accurate picture of what is going on.  We don’t just focus on the part that is good or bad or the part that relates to our current situation.  We see the full system.

Because every system has good and bad contained within it, we can’t get too caught up in always trying to avoid the bad and embrace the good. 

If we look at the various systems around our health, we can see that what tastes good often times is not going to be best for our body in the future.  Eating what we love now might turn into a weight management problem later.

Eating something that might not make us completely happy now might actually help us get in the habit of eating more nutritious foods.  Doing this might be a way to embrace the bad to eventually obtain the good.

So if we truly want systematic improvement we have to dig a little deeper into the system.  We have to start understanding the various elements and how we can change in order to reach our goals.

We can start to identify areas of the system that we can leverage in order to gain what we want.

At work I deal with a lot of complexity.  Running the operations of a repair company fixing medical equipment often means we have a ton of information that always changing.  We have to have a way to get all of this changing information to the repair technician.

We can’t just send an email and hope they remember because they would get bombarded with emails and only remember a small number of them.

We can’t just tell our customers and manufacturer partners that we aren’t going to change.  We can’t develop a rigid system and then tell everyone else to be flexible to accommodate us.

So we have to develop a system that is flexible and can allow for all of these variations to happen without causing major slowdowns, which would hurt our efficiency and profitability. 

What we use is a simple way to incorporate this flexibility into the process of repairing equipment. 

We keep an excel file with all of the customer-specific information and have a way in our ERP system to click a button and immediately see this information for the customer of the unit we are working on.  The file is segmented so that the tech can go right to the type of equipment they are repairing to see the information that is related to their repair.

This gives us great flexibility (a good thing) but it also means that our techs have to adjust their process and their habits around repairing equipment (a bad thing).  But once they do, then we can use this tool to account for all sorts of variables that come at us.

While many techs initially pushed back regarding looking at this customer file because they said it was too difficult to remember and do each time, we kept emphasizing the importance.  They were only seeing the aspect of the system they were closest to and determined it was bad, despite management seeing the positives around this process change. 

Now that they check this document through habit, we eliminated the negative elements as much as possible while maximizing the value. 

The system still has positive and negatives.  We still have limitations in the information we can put on this document and expect our technicians to review before repairing a piece of equipment, but we gain the ability to add an element of flexibility into the system that was previously not available. 

By identifying our goals and then using systems thinking we can start to create the types of systems that give us the maximum benefit.  We can measure the pros and cons in a better way and make decisions that help us reach our goals.  Our choices are never between perfect options and horrible options so being able to see the system and the interconnected parts helps us make sense of our options that too often seem like a bunch of bad options to choose from.  Then we can tweak the system to best help us reach our goals.