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Simple systems are better than optimized systems to start

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.  

Simple systems are better than optimized systems to start

Scott Miker

Systems are my life. At work I oversee the operations of a multi-million dollar company that repairs medical equipment. There is a ton of complexity and I was hired to systematize the processes in order to scale the business.

In my personal life systems are always constantly present. I am constantly curious about the structures and patterns in life and work hard to create systems and habits that drive me towards success and happiness.

Because of this, I see many different types of systems. I see systems that have to be complicated. I see some systems that are simple. I see systems that seem to work well but have adverse side effects. I see systems that work well and don’t have any side effects.

One of the patterns that I have noticed is that simple systems are the best when we are first creating them. It may seem impossible to cut out complexity, but the more we do the more likely we will be able to implement a system that works.

In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, the author says, “I prefer simplicity whenever I’m choosing a system to use. People can follow simple systems better than complicated ones. I’ll give you some examples of that in later chapters about fitness and diet. The most optimized diet plan or fitness plan will also be the most complicated. But few people have enough willpower in reserve to follow complicated plans.”

When you first create systems, it is best to keep them as simple and straightforward as possible. But as those systems begin to get developed they will naturally allow for more complexity.

If we start with an instantly complex system, it is more likely that we won’t continue with the system. The complexity becomes a barrier to keep doing it.

Adams goes on to say, “Simple systems are probably the best way to achieve success. Once you have success, optimizing begins to have more value. Successful people and successful businesses have the luxury of being able to optimize toward perfection over time. Start-ups often do better by slapping together something that is 80 percent good and seeing how the public responds. There’s time to improve things later if the market cares about the product.”

I notice this idea of starting with simple systems with employees. If we hire a new staff member and want them to learn the systems we utilize, it is much more likely that they will succeed if we can make it as simple as possible. The more complexity we dump on them at the beginning, the more likely they will grow frustrated and confused.

Sometimes, however, we don’t have the option of the simple plan. In these instances we should still shoot for simplification. We can use certain tools to accomplish this.

For example, we developed a system at work to account for complexity but it does so in a simple manner.

We have a standard customer form that outlines their preferences in certain areas. They can now choose between different options and give us instruction that is unique to them. Clicking one button while on any order can quickly and easily access this form for a technician.

Now we can account for special instructions and customer unique preferences. Instead of having to run around and tell everyone to memorize every customer’s preferences, we simply have a step in the process where they have to review the document.

This simplifies the complex. We make a standard, easy step in the process that allows us to create all sorts of possible options.

The reality is that this isn’t a new concept. Even using a digital calendar to keep track of all our appointments does this. The calendar system is a simple, easy way to keep all of the complicated details straight without having to try and memorize everything.

So even when complexity is necessary, we can find systems that help simplify. We can then make it more likely that we will be successful using the system by working to incorporate elements that help manage the complicated details.

Adams goes on to say, “If you can’t tell whether a simple plan or a complicated one will be best, choose the simple one. If it’s a coin toss, you might as well do whatever is easiest.”