Systems have a reputation.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, as I have, “Oh, I’m just not a systems person,” you might know what I mean.
Often, the way we talk about systems is tangled up in talk about software, procedures, rules, and a sort of legalistic structure for “this is how we do things here.”
When you say, “I’m not a systems person,” you’re likely expressing the kind of claustrophobic feeling that comes from being confined to a set of rules—even if they’re rules you yourself created!
When you say, “I am a systems person,” you might very well be expressing the relief that having clear instructions and a solid expectation of how a goal is accomplished can deliver. Systems are a way of easing anxiety for you.
I can easily find myself in both camps.
I might identify as a “systems person” in the morning and “not a systems person” by the afternoon.
And I’ve noticed that, for me, there’s a moral component to how I’m feeling about systems at any given time.
When I’m feeling like a systems person, I get the moral high ground of being someone who follows the rules and does things “the right way.” When I’m feeling like I’m NOT a systems person, I get the moral high ground of being a creative, think-outside-the-box kind of person.
Of course, it’s just as easy to get down on myself about either side of the moral equation too. When I’m feeling especially systems-oriented, I often feel I’m not as creative as I should be. When I’m feeling creative, I often beat myself up for not following the rules.
I have no idea if my moralizing about my waffling identity around systems is normal or not. But I suspect that I’m not alone.
I bring all this up because I think it’s easy get caught up in moralizing about the way we run our businesses. It’s easy to translate “this is how we do things” to “this is the right way” to “I’m good because I do things the right way” or “I’m bad because I don’t do things the right way.”
Morality, suffice to say, is also a system—it’s a cultural system for understanding what is good and what is bad, as well as what makes someone a good person and what makes someone a bad person. And like every paternalistic either/or system I can think of, moralizing tends to do more harm than good.
Maybe you don’t see your identity around systems and your business as a moral issue. I might be way off in left field here!
But, I gotta tell you, I hear a lot of confessions from business owners.
They confess that they have procedures but don’t follow them. They confess that they don’t have a marketing system. They confess that they’re so tied to their procedures that they can’t think strategically about whether what they’re doing is actually creating the results they want. They confess that they’re stuck in analysis paralysis because they’re looking for the best system for achieving their goal.
In other words, I hear confessions of perceived sins on either side of systems as a moral issue.
So I do know that this anxiety around systems is in the air. And if it’s in the air, then we’re all breathing it in and it’s affecting us in one way or another.
Systems, of course, don’t need to be a moral issue.
True systems thinking isn’t trying to find the “right way” to do things. Its aim isn’t to come up with a set of rules to follow.
And systems thinking certainly isn’t trying to discern whether you’re a good person or a bad person, a good business owner or a bad business owner.
Systems just are. And systems thinking is how we understand the systems around us so we can make informed decisions about what we’re going to do next and what impacts that decision might have.
Today, I have 3 more contributions to this month’s discussion about systems. Each one tackles a different aspect of this idea that “systems just are.”
Writer Mary Beth Huwe shares a beautiful definition for systems as a whole and how that applies to the way she approaches working with her clients.
Krysta Williams, an artist and systems support person for small businesses, shares how seeing businesses as systems has led her to a more holistic approach to business-building support.
And Amy Kuretsky, an acupuncturist and business coach balancing two businesses, shares how she created a care system for herself as an entrepreneur to make sure she has what she needs as her businesses see massive growth.
If you’d like to go deeper into systems thinking, I have a new program coming out soon called Think Systems: An Entrepreneur’s Guide To Systems Thinking. It will help you see the systems in and around your business, as well as teach you ways of working with them, so that you can save time, make better decisions, and worry less about your next steps.
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