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Some systems are easier to change than other

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.  

Some systems are easier to change than other

Scott Miker

When we start using the systems and habits approach to improvement and we start to build new structures and adjust existing structures, we will likely find that some are easier to change than others.

Not all systems elements are created equal. If we want to build a habit where we read every day that might be easy for some but hard for others. If we want to start exercising some will instantly be able to keep going with the new behaviors and others will struggle to consistently take action.

This is normal. Everyone is different and each situation will be unique. There will be many patterns that you notice, systematically, but that doesn’t mean that everything suddenly becomes easy.

I notice this often as my role as the main systems designer at my company. Some processes are easy to adjust and others are incredibly difficult. Ignoring this fact will often lead to failure because we don’t properly adjust to the existing factors.

In Systems Thinking: A Guide to Managing In a Changing Environment, author Robert Wright says, “To comprehend organizational systems and how to design them, a manager needs to be acquainted with the conditions that influence their configurations and operation. The designer is guided thereby to be aware of what influences can be changed, what influences cannot be changed and must be therefore reflected in the organizational design, and those conditions that impose inviolable organizational imperatives. Stated another way, those who will build organizations must know what influences they can change, what conditions they must live with, and those elements essential to survival of the unit designed.”

We are all the designer of systems in our own life. Therefore we have to think like an operational manager to understand the factors around the systems. We have to be able to evaluate the landscape where we hope to have system success.

One way to do this is to focus initially on low hanging fruit. This is the idea that some items are much easier to do than others so we start with the easiest and work towards the hardest elements. This allows us to build up a structure and gain momentum before we try to change drastic elements.

The reason is simple. There is less risk to attack low hanging fruit.

I see this in my daughter’s tee ball team. Games are structured to allow 6 pitches from a coach and if the player doesn’t hit any pitches they then grab the tee.

The children playing all want to get a big hit. You can see some swinging for the fences at each at-bat. Sometimes they even lose control of their swing and spin around before finally catching their momentum (or falling to the ground).

They want to crush the ball. They want it to go further than any other player. But this desire causes many of the experienced players to miss and ultimately need a tee.

Our advice is always the same. Don’t try to crush the ball. Just try to make contact. Once they have this skill down, then they can work to add more power to their swing and drive the ball further and further.

Instead of thinking “homerun or bust” they should be thinking about just making contact with the bat and ball. If they do this consistently they start to build the muscle reactions that need to align for them to hit the ball. Then they can build on those muscular movements to become a better hitter over time.

While this may seem elementary, how many of us try to reach for the stars in our own personal goal setting? Instead of just trying to make contact with the ball we shoot for the stars.

If we are using systems thinking we should learn to identify the various conditions around the system and learn to attack change in a coordinated way that helps to start slowly and build momentum that will ultimately lead to great success.