What entrepreneur or business owner doesn’t want to work less and make more? Count me in! Like you, I’m always looking for ways to improve my business process and my systems so that I can spend more time doing what I love, serving my customers and developing new products.
Sometime in November, I realized that something had to change. My business and my life were starting to turn into a whirlwind of activity without necessarily generating a whirlwind of profit. That was my signal to take a closer look into how I was spending my time and how I could turn some of my processes into systems.
Almost as if by magic, an envelope showed up at my doorstep from a publicist for the book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less by Sam Carpenter (@workthesystem). I have to admit that the first thing that crossed my mind was that this was a book about finding ways to get ahead of the corporate game. Instead, this is a book about how to get around the obstacles your business has acquired over time that keep it from making money and keep you chained to your desk.
Necessity is the Mother of Systems Thinking
Many of you will see too much of yourselves in Sam. Overworked, stressed, not enough family time and not enough money. The defining moment in Sam’s life was the night he knew he wouldn’t be able to make payroll. In that quiet moment of knowing and not knowing, he gave up his struggle and had an insight that would change everything. Sam realized that everything was really a system. And that systems actually work fairly well:
“ Overall the systems of this world work absurdly well : 99.9% of the time everything works just fine, and even the parts we consider to be imperfect are that way because we think these parts should be different from what they are.”
And on this fateful evening in 1999, Sam Carpenter embarked on a mission to understand, define and redefine the systems that were operating in his business. The next day, he went to work and enrolled his employees to jump on board. And, as they say, the rest is history.
What Small Business Owners and Managers Can Learn From Work the System
The key lesson in Work the System is to accept that you are living a system and the results you’re getting right now are an output of that system. If you like the results – do nothing. If you don’t like the results, stop and focus on the process and make adjustments that will improve efficiency and simply life easier.
Another wonderful and counter-intuitive lesson is that documenting your process actually frees up time and money. Because so many business owners started their business to get away from corporate bureaucracy, it seems insane to ask them to create a bureaucracy themselves. Documenting processes doesn’t have to be a morass of complexity. It’s simply a recipe for what works and the best and fastest way to do something. Carpenter points out that as long as you’re running your business by the seat of your pants, you’ll always be in the complexity of doing as if it were the first time. Once you’ve laid out the best process and documented it in a way that anyone can follow, you’ve freed yourself up to do other things and fix other areas of the company.
Your integrity drives everything. There is a subtle key to Sam Carpenter’s mistakes that he doesn’t say out loud, and yet is present throughout the book – integrity. When I say integrity, it doesn’t have as much to do with “honesty”, although that is part of it. When I say integrity, it’s the full meaning of the word – whole and complete; functioning properly. For example, when a machine is missing a part – it doesn’t work very well. When something has integrity, it is whole and complete – working properly. Sam’s company didn’t have integrity. There were parts that just weren’t working. Sam took the first step in restoring integrity when he realized that his company was a system and that everything he did created the results he experienced.
Sam Carpenter; Author, CEO, Apostle?
Maybe I’m going overboard by calling Sam Carpenter an apostle. But he would join a prestigious rank of systems evangelists that include the likes of Edward Deming, who taught the Japanese to improve their manufacturing and design processes using statistical process control. And in 1985, US manufacturers jumped aboard the systems and processes bandwagons.
Carpenter’s zeal and enthusiasm for the power of the system jump out from every page. The entire book is a story of Carpenter’s life, challenges, obstacles and epiphanies. Each chapter and each sentence is written in a way that yearns for you to get it, so that you, too can experience the joy and freedom that he’s created for himself.
Sam Carpenter is just like you. He’s a degreed engineer who got into business. He’s had his share of failure and success and now he wants to share what he’s learned.
Will Work the System Work?
If you’ve read eMyth, Four Hour Work Week and Built to Sell and you still haven’t created a system – you will find this book a great complement to what you’ve learned. I’m a fan of all these books and have gotten something out of each one. I haven’t fully systematized my business, but I get it and get the benefit of creating processes that free up my time and effort to work on my business.
If you’re currently spending each day treating each customer experience and each project as if it were unique – you need to read this book. You will see yourself in Sam and create a least a process or two that will free up your day.
If you don’t think you can do it because you don’t know how to create processes and procedures, don’t worry because there are actual examples in the back of the book that you can use.
At a time in our economy where you need to squeeze blood from a stone for every penny of profit, Work the System might just be your secret weapon for freedom and profitability.