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What Makes a Good System

What makes a good system?

Systems are used all the time.  Sometimes they are developed through experience and sometimes we deliberately create a system to solve a goal.  Regardless of the direction that the system ultimately takes us, it is important to understand whether a system will last and achieve its desired objectives.

There are three parts to evaluate a system:

  • Simple – Is the system clear, direct, easy to follow and focused?
  • Sticky – What will make the system last and assure that it continues?
  • Self-regulating – Is there a way to monitor the system and its effectiveness and is this done automatically as part of the system?

To explore these, let us first look at a common, negative system.  Smoking, while a horrible habit and something that most would rather not do, is a very effective system.  It is incredibly simple to smoke.  You don’t need to read a manual every time you want to light up and you can even do it while doing other things, such as driving.  

It is incredibly addicting.  This makes for an extremely sticky system with pain and stress before and pleasure and relief coming after smoking.  

I never met a smoker that forgot to buy cigarettes or bring them with them wherever they went.  The pack tells them exactly how many they have left so that they can monitor how many they have and take appropriate steps to maintain an adequate supply.  This self-regulating system ensures they don’t “fall off” or suddenly realize they forgot to continue smoking.

How can you use these principles when developing your own positive system?

This information can be used to further your ability to utilize systems to achieve your goals or it can be used to show you that the current systems are too engrained in your life to change.  The choice is up to you.  

  1. When developing systems make sure they are extremely clear, direct and simple.  Only include necessary steps and don’t overcomplicate the system.
  2. For a system to last, it has to be sticky.  This could be a simple to do list that only gets crossed off when the task is completed, a habit of doing something when you first wake up at the same time everyday, a reaction to a trigger, or some other form of repeated action.  
  3. The self-regulating portion is important and often missed.  There is often a misconception that systematic thinking is rigid and strict.  The truth is that there needs to be some sort of leniency, flexibility and balance built into the system.  We also have to make sure that there are no unintended consequences that we missed when developing the system.  This includes feedback loops which can take form and grow to a point where the system is creating more harm than good.

Regardless of the system you utilize, make sure you address these three areas.  Without these three areas you could easily end up with an overcomplicated system that doesn’t last and causes more harm than good!