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The makings of a good system

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.  

The makings of a good system

Scott Miker

Systems are made up of interconnecting elements that all work harmoniously towards a goal. This isn’t to say that every element is perfect on it’s own. It is just that as a full unit the system runs and operates as designed.

People judge systems, not based on their quality as a system, but in how the system impacts them. They see the various factors, outliers, side effects, etc. and then form an opinion of the system.

For example. From a systems standpoint, smoking cigarettes is a strong system. This isn’t due to the benefits of smoking for the person, only from the stance of the system being very strong.

So when you are evaluating systems it is better to view them under different criteria. We don’t judge them based on their benefit, which is different. We simply evaluate the strength of the system and the likelihood that the system will continue forward.

When designing systems I use three criteria to judge the system. I want to create a system that is simple, sticky and self-regulating.

Simplicity is obvious. The simpler the system the more likely it will function as designed. The more layers of complexity that get added, the more likely the system takes on a mind of its own instead of the intended purpose of the system.

The next criteria, sticky, refers to how likely the system is to remain. Is there an inherent element that grabs what it needs and makes sure it keeps going? Stickiness could be anything from a habit to an addiction or from a pleasure gained from the system to a law dictating we adhere to the system.

The third is self-regulating. This is similar to stickiness. But think of driving on a road. If you drive a straight line you will likely hit the end of the road and have to turn onto another street or turn around. But if you are driving around in a circle there isn’t really an end of the road. So you will keep going and going and there isn’t a stopping point that will prevent the system from continuing.

So let’s go back to smoking. Yes smoking is bad for you. But as a system it is very simple. Nobody needs to go to night classes to learn to smoke. Smoking is sticky. It is incredibly addicting. Smoking is self-regulating. I don’t know of any smokers that ran out of cigarettes and forgot to buy more, ultimately ending the system. When a smoker gets low on cigarettes they see that and it prompts them to buy another pack (or carton).

From a systems standpoint, smoking represents a very strong system. The three criteria are met and the system keeps going and going. Yes you can stop the system but these three criteria mean that it won’t be easy to quit.

Designing systems in life is a great way to create the life you desire. But you have to understand what goes into a strong system so you can create systems that remain. Creating a system that provides a great benefit is not enough. You need to make sure the system is designed to be stable. In other words, learn to separate out the purpose and benefits of the system from the structure of the system to determine if the system will sustain over time or will fold as soon as the perfect environment evaporates.