My first book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, written for and PDF formats. EPUB is a format Sam Carpenter, a telecommunications professional and multiple business owner, has a background. In Work the System Summary, Sam Carpenter introduces readers to a completely new vision of the way a company functions. It's mechanical. Telecommunications expert and successful entrepreneur Sam. Carpenter is President and. CEO of Centratel. (soundofheaven.info), the number one telephone.
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To receive your free eBook of Sam Carpenter's book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, go back to the Home page . Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less is in its third edition, has helped tens of thousands of business owners and. So I'd like to welcome to the call Sam Carpenter. Sam: Thank How would you describe Work the System to someone who's new to this concept? .. soundofheaven.info and download the book for free with PDF and audio.
These systems will stand apart from each other, starkly visible and sharply defned. We wake, shower, dress, eat, go to work, and proceed through the day to return to our loved ones in the evening. Strategic objective: Our minds and bodies are complex mechanisms. Not too long ago, my life was just like his. What good is knowledge unless something changes for the better because of it?
Critical Documentation 8. Swallowing the Horse Pill 89 9. We Are Project Engineers Your Working Procedures part three: Further Considerations Good Enough Errors of Omission Quiet Courage Point-of-Sale Thinking Extraordinary Systems Operated by Great People Consistency and Cold Coffee Grease for the Wheels Prime Time The Traffc Circles of Pakistan System Improvement as a Way of Life appendixes A.
I work all the systems in my control— professional, fnancial, social, biological, and mechanical. You have your own systems. Do you see them? Do you control them? Your life is composed of systems that are yours to control—or not control. Be assured that you will fnd nothing deceitful or unsavory in these pages.
Nor does the Work the System methodology have anything to do with esoteric theory, politics, or religion. It is about com- mon sense and simple mechanics. Life is serious business, and whether you know it or not—or whether you like it or not—your personal systems are the threads of the fabric of your life.
Together, your personal systems add up to you. And if you are like most people, you negotiate your days without seeing your systems as the singular entities they are, some working well and some not so well. In the complexity that is your life, what if you could distinctly see each of these systems? What if you could reach in and pluck a not-so-perfect system out of that complexity, make it perfect, and then reinsert it? What if you could perform this process with every system that composes your life?
Work the System will cause a modifcation in the way you see your world. In this view, we are victims of unpleasant circumstance and have a chance at peace only if we face and then disarm the psychic monsters planted in our minds long ago. The second approach maintains that the thoughts we feed ourselves today are what matter most, and the events of the past are just that—in the past—and gone forever unless we insist on giving them new life by swirl- ing them back into the present moment.
I see the cognitive approach as more practical than the Freudian, because it frees an individual to seize control of the immediate thought process rather than wallowing in negativity from years gone by. I believe that what we do today will determine our tomorrow, and blaming the past, or the world, or someone else is a debilitating way to travel through this precious one-time event called life.
Without question, blue-blooded, old-school psychologists who see endless dour complexity in the human condition will deride the simplicity of the Work the System message.
I thank them in advance for their oblique compliment. This is an elementary, dispassionate, drop-the-load dispatch that describes lives as Preface: No PhD necessary.
So take the title of this book at exact literal face value, understand- ing you will be working your systems. In these pages, I challenge you to improve and manage them, to dissect and refne them one by one until each is perfect. Manage the systems of your life and move toward inner serenity, prosperity, and the best for those around you. Seventeen hundred riders pedaled an average of seventy-fve miles each day through remote eastern Oregon.
At night we camped in ad hoc tent cities planted at various locations along the route: Seldom did we have cellular telephone coverage.
That was just fne as we, en masse, divorced ourselves from the damn things for this seven-day break from the regular world. At dusk on the last night of the tour, as my friend Steve and I were casually walking through the surrounding sea of tents, we encountered a group of guys in their thirties sitting around drinking beer, being boister- ous.
We overheard them laughing, waging bets about how many voice mail messages one of their group members would have the next day when he was back within cell phone range and able to check his messages. Clearly, back in the real world these guys worked together in an offce. One pre- dicted the total messages would be , another, The young man on the receiving end of the jest was robust, clean-cut, and confdent. He smiled at the fawning. It was obvious this man was important in his work.
He was well respected, a leader, and most probably a high earner—a suc- cess. People depended on him. For twenty-four years I have been general manager and CEO of a small business. Centratel is proftable, has twenty-fve employees, and has a solid, loyal client base.
Many depend on me, too. Andi, my COO, had left a general and benign update because she knew I would be interested in getting caught up on things when I was able to pick up my messages again. She reported that all was well in the offce and she hoped I had had a fun week away from things.
That was it. During the week, without a hitch and without an ounce of input from me, the business had functioned perfectly while it continued to churn out thousands of dollars in profts. Who knows what that voice mail—inundated young man does for a living, but I tell you this: Yes, all those voice mail messages attest to his status and importance, but in the bigger picture, he is a slave to his job.
And the people who depend on him are slaves to his presence. In his absence, because he fails to set up business systems that keep producing while he is gone, things come to a standstill in the same way water accumulates behind a dam. People and circum- stances change with time. Not too long ago, my life was just like his. In the past thirty years, the lure of instant gratifcation has gripped a large chunk of our population.
The gratifcation of the moment is a distraction from thoughtful contemplation of the reasons why events happen as they do. Yes, Work the System is a throwback of sorts, back to an age when there was thoughtful preparation with no expectation of immediate payback.
But having said that, know that an investment in the Work the System strat- egy will show quick tangible benefts. Maybe not tomorrow, but certainly within a few weeks. For ffteen years it foundered, my personal life a refection of its chaos.
However, over the last few years, as I applied the protocols that are described here, my work- week became a fraction of what it was as my income increased twentyfold. Moreover, my life away from work is smooth and easy now, with plenty of extra time to do the things I have always wanted to do.
In the morning I awake serene, looking forward to yet another day of quiet, steady improve- ment on all fronts. In the course of a week, I spend far more time reading, writing, going to the movies, climbing mountains, and riding bicycles than working. My life is in control. The nature of the telephone-answering service business, with its mul- titude of interacting systems, both human and otherwise, made Centratel the perfect closed-system laboratory for developing the Work the System methodology.
It is logical and convenient to use my business as the explan- atory platform for these chaos-to-order processes. And things can get too dry and theoretical without real-life examples, so describing the method within the framework of Centratel adds some life to the party.
The strategies described here are not just for the small business owner; they are also for those who work in a management capacity for a business owned by someone else. There are lessons for those born with a silver spoon and for the self-made wealthy, too.
We will be dealing with reality, and reality works in the same way for everyone, everywhere, all the time, so when I offer a personal business illustration, read between the lines and fnd your own application—professional or personal. We are the managers of our lives, and the foundational protocols described here are universal.
The principles of the Work the System method are simple, but it is not enough to memorize or understand them. They must be internalized, deep down. There is a difference between learning something new and undergoing a visceral epiphany.
For this reason, in part one some repetition will occur as I approach the concepts from different angles. Trust that the epiphany will come soon. A qualifer: I fall down on the job now and then. My hypereffcient systems keep things moving forward no matter what. The same will hold for you too, should you buy into the method and choose to take frm control of your life.
You are the cream of the crop and the heart of our success. Also to freelancers Sarah Max and Linda Chestney, for preliminary editing. Thank you to my father, Tom Carpenter, retired English teacher, who insisted I become profcient with the written word despite my strident resistance. And Linda Carpenter, for your incredible patience and invariably on-target suggestions. Thank you, daughter Jennifer, for confrming that a penchant for liv- ing on the edge is indeed a genetic trait.
To the men and women of our military, thank you for your sacrifce. Your song is not sung enough. For each of us, it is everything we have ever wanted in a home. I sit at the dining room table in front of my laptop. Outside the win- dow, the quiet of the late afternoon is tangible. The lawn is lush green and is the launching pad for a half dozen huge ponderosa pines towering above the house.
The weather is warm—another perfect, cloud- less day in Central Oregon. Yesterday was like that and tomorrow will be the same. Linda sits at the table next to me, and we chat. For ffteen years, my business experience was a chaotic morass of endless work, fre-killing, debt, health problems, and bad relationships.
Over the past few years, my life has moved from tumult to focused calm. Nine years ago, at a single point in time, I experienced an unexpected 2 Work the System shift in perception that began the transformation of my existence. The numbers are good: Compared to just a few years ago, my workweek is two hours instead of a hundred, and my earnings in a month far exceed what I used to make in a year.
As for the subjective? Much of the time, as my day slides by, I feel like an athlete in the zone: Since seizing upon this deeper reality, I have been able to channel my efforts to get what I want from life.
Did I have to work hard? Yes, for a short while there was some hard work. But in comparison to the nightmare of my previous life, the effort was not much and I was happy to do it, especially as the results began to roll in. How I did this—and how you can do the same—is the grist of this book.
I direct Work the System to those who have the following chronic inter- nal dialogue: I will bulldoze my way through these tasks, and as usual, they will be completed just in time—but the results will be of marginal quality, and my body and mind will continue to be stretched to the breaking point.
There is too much chaos around me, too little control, and never enough money—things are far from what they should be. Not a lot of fash, no frills, and no advanced college degree. The Simplest Solution 3 reality, and I exhibit a knee-jerk suspicion of unsupportable theory.
I have a single, limited time-span life, and I treasure this life gift. My life is managed now, planned and maintained. Work or play, it gets my full attention. I wake up almost every day alert, strong, and happy. What about you? How do you describe your typical day? Is it an amorphous, complex jumble of happenings, or is it a relaxed and ordered sequence of events? Is it chaotic, or is it under control? Do you have enough money? Do you spend enough time with friends and family?
Through the day—and through your life—are you in an endless race around a circular track, or are you climbing slowly and steadily toward a mountaintop? Are you getting what you want? If not, could it be a personal management problem? Keep this mechanical and—equally important—keep it simple. And take heart. The Work the System method is almost silly in its simplicity but noth- ing less than profound in its capacity to transform. Here, as I begin to discuss recognizable events and scenarios, habits, goals, successes, failures, and plain old common sense, you will relate to the Work the System methodol- ogy because it is believable.
It is about simple mechanical improvements that will combine to transform your existence. Yet what I describe in these pages is not apparent to the casual observer. This book is not about feel-good, pie-in-the-sky promises. Here there are no new-think premises nor is there pseudo-intellectual blathering. You 4 Work the System will not be asked to write down tedious lists, memorize odd platitudes, repeat affrmations, make daily journal entries, publicize your newfound direction to your friends and family, or worst of all, wait to see if yet another mysterious theory will make things better.
But if you think sheer energy, clever thinking, and unbounded enthu- siasm are enough to secure the freedom and income you want, think a bit further. Certain structures—certain systems—must be in place before these important attributes can take you where you want to go. Freedom and wealth occur after the mechanics are in place. So is there something you must do, some work that you must per- form? Yes, with the Work the System method, you will produce some writ- ten documentation. And, if you manage people, you will teach them your new vision.
The Work the System method asks you to channel these same allotments of time and energy toward incremental step-by-step building efforts that lead to free- dom, prosperity, and peace.
And think again about racing around an endless circle versus a steady upward climb toward a goal. Effort is required either way, but know it is the climbing you want. Instead of expending precious time and energy on getting-nowhere, churning tedium which is the hardest and most frus- trating work of all , you will expend that same time and energy in a step- by-step steady climb that will provide a geometric return on investment.
The system- based protocols discussed here are quietly used in large, successful busi- nesses and organizations everywhere, but they are not often present in small businesses. And the simple crux of the Work the System method? The Simplest Solution 5 ing outcomes; doing that is a distraction. Hence, the title of this book: Work the System. We have perfected driv- ing a car, fxing breakfast, and attending to a repeated minor challenge at work.
Why are we expert in these small processes? Because they are simple, yes, but mostly because at some point we consciously paid close attention to those processes; we analyzed and adjusted them so we could do them with little effort, almost without thinking.
But for many people, there is no deliberate effort to isolate and study the sequential workings of more complex wide-angle processes like careers and relationships. Some of us just churn along without direction, wasting time and energy revisit- ing the same problems over and over again. In order to tackle the more involved challenges of our lives—the chal- lenges that have stymied us because of their complexities—the Work the System methodology expands the perceptive, investigative, and analytical skills we already possess.
There is nothing new here, just a new approach. You are an observer looking down on things, examining the comings and goings 6 Work the System of the day as if they are tangible, physical objects. Things are simple and understandable.
Wherever you look, the machinations of the world make sense: Step-by-step, one thing leads to another as the systems around you continuously execute. You constantly work on your systems. You make them better, one by one. Over time, complexity and confusion decrease to be replaced by order, calm, and rock-solid self-confdence. I founded and continue to oversee a nonproft orga- nization that assists earthquake victims in northeast Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir see kashmirfamily.
Through my business, Cen- tratel centratel. Now my overall life role is as a project engineer: Today I am working with my crew to build Introduction: The Simplest Solution 7 something tangible out of the design I created on the drafting table just yesterday. My persona is relaxed, with a slight smile on my face just under the surface of my focused comportment.
Again, metaphorically, I pull the levers and push the buttons of the unfolding day. You may think our lives have unfathomable complexity, way beyond human comprehension.
I tend to think that way myself when I am relaxed and daydream- ing. But for now, here in the material world where you must navigate moment to moment, put all that aside and go with the case for separation and simple mechanics. Understand that fxing an entire scattered conglomeration of a life in one fell swoop is impossible.
Fixing anything of complexity requires pro- ceeding one step at a time, one component at a time—a decidedly non- holistic approach. There will be plenty of time for that. First, here are four general points about how the Work the System pro- cess will impact you personally.
You will undergo an elementary yet fundamental shift in per- spective. This will come to you as a stark awakening in a moment of time rather than over a long, drawn-out learning experience. After it happens, moment-to-moment throughout your day, you will dispassionately observe the human and mechanical systems that comprise your world. These systems will stand apart from each other, starkly visible and sharply defned. There will be no turning back.
So point two is a warning of sorts. You will not be swallowing unsupportable theories of reality. This is because there is nothing new here. Plenty enough reality exists without having to delve into esoteric, unsup- portable, feel-good theory. Deep down you will know the truth of the Work the System method because it makes logical sense and it feels correct. You have nothing to sell. Instead, should they ask, you will explain what Work the System is about, and they will be intrigued with what you have to say.
There is some heavy lifting. Yes, you will undergo an exciting change of perspective, but that is not enough. At the beginning of the process there is some heavy lifting as you create documenta- tion. It will Introduction: The Simplest Solution 9 probably be the best investment of time and effort you will ever make. Separation, dissection, and repair of systems: The satisfy- ing process of exposing, analyzing, and then perfecting personal, work, and relationship systems.
This effort includes creating new systems from scratch as well as eliminating those that are unnec- essary or are holding you back.
Creating written goals, principles, and pro- cesses that are guidelines for action and decision making. This is the one-time heavy lifting. Ongoing maintenance of systems: Greasing the wheels.
This is easy because the positive tangible results of the Work the System method are motivating. The examples will remind you that the essence of the method is to view your life from a new perspective. Because all of the following terms appear in part one, I advise you to review them carefully now, particularly because I defne these words and terms as they apply to the Work the System method.
There is a pen- chant for effciency in the world; systems want to work perfectly, and most of them do. One does not have to show up in order to earn money. Error of omission: It is the cause of the majority of prob- lems in the world and in personal lives. General operating principles: See chapter Job or profession: One has to show up in order to earn money.
For our purposes, this is how most systems execute themselves, in a stepped progression. Yes, there are always minor external and internal variables that prompt physicists to construe that systems are, strictly speaking, nonlinear.
But here in the real world, we are stream- lining things so events can be understood and manipulated. A linear system is not chaotic; within its context it is logical, reliable, simple to understand, and simple to improve. Off-the-street people: Depending on the situation, off-the-street workers can be novices or professionals. Outside and slightly elevated: The essential perspective of the Work the System methodology is external and above. The view downward also encompasses the viewer.
Objectively, we see ourselves below, as sepa- rate and distinct, which is the opposite of the common vantage point in which the viewer is integral to the workings of his or her day. The Simplest Solution 11 additional energy.
The enormous energy required for this tiny increment of improvement is in itself imperfection because that energy could have been put to much better use elsewhere. Primary system, or system of systems: Composed of subsystems; a whole, encapsulated entity with an ultimate purpose; an organism unto itself, such as a personal life, business, job, car, or relationship.
Project engineer: A process that happens over and over again. Strategic objective: The frst of three primary Work the System docu- ments. It is an essential instrument for a business and for a personal life.
System improvement: The heart of the method. It is the day-to-day mind-set of a manager, the prime responsibility of an organizational leader. System management: A focus on maximizing the effciencies of systems in order to prevent recurring problems, to increase production, and to garner more personal time. It tackles a problem by considering the root cause of it and therefore is the opposite of fre-killing.
System, subsystem: Within the Work the System context, we are interested in recurring systems. Note that the terms system and subsystem are interchangeable depending on context. The opposite of neglect. The assertive, boots-on-the-ground mechanics of making incremental system improvements that ulti- mately produce hypereffcient primary systems. A set of beliefs stem- ming from the hard, cold, sometimes dirty realities of the job site; the view that a carefully composed blueprint directs the assembly of individual pieces into a superb end product.
Working procedures: The third of the three primary Work the System controlling documents. These are instructions that describe how the individual systems of the company or the job are to operate. They are end products of the system-improvement process. Written working procedures are not necessary for personal life. Work the System methodology: The mechanical process of establish- ing goals and then perfecting the systems that will help attain those goals.
Work the System mind-set: The crystal clear internal understanding of the mechanical way the things of this world operate. Typically arriving as an epiphany in a moment of time, this viewpoint makes it easy to isolate systems for examination and modifcation.
They contend that one should relax and go with the fow, stay loose, and not worry so much about details, and that seeking more and more control can only mean one is devolving into a nervous control freak. Confdent in the truth of it, we are eager to proclaim that the states of our lives—and of the world—are not good. We exhort that people are too uptight, too concerned with tiny details.
Allow me to retort. Is it diffcult to determine what we can and cannot control? My generation emphasized a great and useful truth: It was a chaotic, unsettled household. At seventeen, I was on the streets of the Haight district in San Fran- cisco. It was , the Summer of Love, when I discovered an intriguing escape from the not-so-perfect family situation back home. Well, maybe not that much sex. Far out, I thought. Afterward, I continued to fruitlessly seek a better state of mind, and two more years wafted by in a blur of pot and whatever other sub- stance was handy.
I tried college but dropped out my second year, distraught in my loneliness and with my vision of a world gone mad. In , during a Washington, D. Literally, as the caustic gas engulfed us, I met the woman who was to be my wife and the mother of my two children. Within weeks, with my new love in tow, I revisited the now dangerous street life of San Francisco.
We lived on those streets for two months and then returned to upstate New York. Chapter 1: I ranted that too many selfsh people were controlling things, selfsh people who were conspiring to ruin my life. Of course, I was a beacon of equanimity. In truth, I was a pain to everyone around me while my life was a series of dead-end jobs and feeting relationships with unhappy people not unlike myself.
Profoundly unhappy, I was a narcissistic complainer, haunted by self-imposed psychic hooligans. In the middle of all this, I married my tear-gas love. Not surprisingly, my bride was equally frustrated with the unfairness of life. Then, after six years of wallowing in this fog-existence, the chains suddenly fell off one August morning in Hung over and depressed yet again, I sat at the kitchen table in the dumpy apartment I shared with my wife.
I was earning minimum wage as a seasonal worker at a recre- ational campsite, collecting garbage and cleaning public restrooms. I was late for work that morning, but nevertheless I sat there immobile, looking inward. Until now, my point of view has been wrong. No longer will I try to change the world by whining about it and fghting it. There is very little outside myself I can control, so I will stop agonizing over those things.
I will arrange to go back to school this fall to learn something that can be used to create a future. From now on there will be no more complaining, no more blaming. But unlike my preoccupations back then, what I write about here has nothing to do with politics, esoteric theory, or right or wrong. I put my head down, worked hard through the winter, and graduated the 18 Work the System next summer with a technical degree.
I had made a stand. I was improving my life—and the lives of the two people who were depend- ing on me—by expending my energy only on details that I could control.
The fog in my head had lifted due to an absurdly simple adjustment in my thinking process. In this ignorance, I would carry some very heavy baggage for another twenty-fve years. Her thin, handsome, ponytailed boyfriend is dancing, too. They share a blissful peace-joy ecstasy, and anyone who sees that photo would, at least for a moment, want to be one of those two young people. The image is a declaration of pure bliss with the clear message that unrestrained freedom and happiness are attainable, and the path to that place requires no more than a carefree and unrestrained comportment, hip music, and an unlimited supply of drugs.
Stay loose. Go with the fow. Back to the real world. The photo is an enticement for a state of mind that exists only for brief moments. Its message is a sham. But many of us who evolved from that era think it should be that way, and so Chapter 1: We bask in wealth the world has never known but wonder why our lives are chaotic and why we are unsatisfed.
We obsess about our yearning states of mind as we grope for personal peace. Throw in the other legal and illegal mood-altering drugs and it is safe to say that each day, 98 percent of us ingest at least one mood-altering substance in our endless search for better states of mind.
Of course, many of us are multi-substance users, for instance, consuming caffeine in the morning and alcohol at night. One substance counters the negative effects of the other in the classic, endless loop of Western chemical mood adjustment. The Price to Be Paid Abusing personal systems too often means introducing foreign substances into the miraculous near-perfect system that is the body.
Perceiving themselves to be unhappy, people complicate their already fawed thinking process by contaminating themselves.
The ice-cold reality? One plus one always equals two, and with the same utter reliability, a drunken night out on the town equals days of subpar physical and mental performance as the human body works overtime to repair itself from the chemical assault. So we fnger-point and complain and wonder at our dissatisfaction. Personal excuses, generalizations about the alleged dire state of the world, and under-the- radar as well as overt attempts to change the people around us are ineffec- tual to the point of paralysis.
These preoccupations are distractions from the personal actions we could take that would produce what we want in our individual lives: And pursuing personal peace, prosperity, and control are noble goals because the sure way to realize them is to contribute to the people around us. What about the generally accepted notion that someone who seeks frm control is an unpleasant personality, someone who needs to loosen up?
With some rare exceptions, I submit that this ubiquitous assumption is wrong. Despite the almost visceral societal belief to the contrary, there is a direct connection between happi- ness and the amount of control we attain. Happiness is not found in the control we have over others. The solution to getting what we want and making a contribution is not in complaining about the world condition or ingesting the perfect drug.
The thinking process is a linear system, and my contention, as illus- trated in the dancing girl photo, is that many of us make a fundamental error in executing that process.
In years past, I was hardly able to infuence and control my own comings and goings due to whatever psychological funk was swallowing me up in the moment. My circle of infuence felt like it was maybe two feet in diameter. This impact gives me enormous satisfaction as the wheels of progress keep turning due to my previous input, not because of my immediate presence.
Take a moment to use your imagination and describe your own circle. How large is it? Is it just six inches in diameter? If it is, when you look down, is the six-inch circle hidden underneath your feet? If the tiny circle was even twelve inches in diamerter, you could barely balance on it.
Do you spend all your available energy and attention just trying not to fall off? Wherever you are, whatever the size of your circle of infuence, focus on making changes inside of it, not outside. Instead, spend that time and energy on the things you can affect, things within your circle. Do that, and your circle will expand. If the Woodstock meadow-dancing photo had instead been a docu- mentary movie, the hours and days surrounding that dance would tell a different story.
The truth of Woodstock? The nonstop music was good, but few bands played their best due to the confusion and pervasive drug ingestion. Yes, it was peaceful, but after that frst glorious day, it was cold and wet, and we sat in the mud shivering, drenched, hungry, and thirsty. We had jumped out- side the everyday world, but in our T-shirts, jeans, and little else, we were unprepared as the chilly torrent hammered down.
It was no contest as soft theory met bare-knuckled hard reality. With the inevitability of a wave washing into shore, the enthusiasm faded as the flth that comes with neglected crowds began to accumulate. After two days of this, as a general paranoia swept through the wet, shiv- ering, drug-addled horde, my friend John and I got out of there.
We left before Jimi Hendrix had taken the stage. It was that bad. As we headed home in my beat-up wreck of a car, listening to the radio, we were reminded of Vietnam, racial unrest, and political devious- ness.
And beyond those negatives, we both worked graveyard shifts in a paper mill, and as we drove north, exhausted and depressed, any joy we experienced at Woodstock was within a narrow sliver in time.
John was eighteen years old; I was nineteen. We were college-dropout party guys and proud of our chaotic lifestyles. We never thought of the relationship between our self-absorbed, uncontrolled lives and our unhap- piness. They were not immune to down times, but in their willingness to conform to the reality of the world, they were more in control and, yes, happier.
Control Is a Good Thing 23 The lure of dancing in the meadow is an invitation to illusionary bliss. Truth is, orderliness and attention to detail are the roots of peace. Consider the indisputable reverse logic: In any setting, the opposite of peace—disorder—always leads to desperation. The outcome is never a pretty sight. Too many of us are paralyzed in the static snapshot of how we think things should be instead of working with the mechanics of the world as it is.
It whispers there is chaos all around, that systems and organization are bad, and that Big Brother is right there behind the curtain, steering things in the wrong direction. This thread of paranoia leaves too many of us obsessing about things that are out of our control, and the obsessing distracts us from taking the actions that would truly make us free! As we focus on the events outside ourselves that we cannot control, we overlook the imperfect aspects of our own lives that we can control.
More endemic and less dramatic, small ineffciencies will take us to the same dark place. Life carries on whether we like it or not, and this churning fow is at our command only if we pay close atten- tion to the details. This requires forethought, organization, and rational thinking, and that means well-attended systems. The way of the world is mechanical! One system that worked well was the system that delivered the music.
The technicians were adept and the equipment functioned adequately. The musicians showed up, which meant the transportation system worked—the entertainers were delivered by helicopter. What systems did not work? Outside of the above, you name it: The ticketing system failed, with all the surrounding fences coming down early in the process—a disaster for the promoters who sponsored the event. The sanitation and medical systems were overwhelmed and borderline dysfunctional.
If overt police protection had been required, it would have been mayhem because there was little more than a tiny contingent of informal private security guards.
Of course, from a personal systems perspective, few in the audience were physically prepared, even in a rudimentary way. To compound things, drug use was hampering rational thinking.
Everyone was in the middle of everything, and chaos was a breadth away, held back by no more than the luck of the draw. One day of peace and music? Two days? Well, the drugs helped maintain a certain calmness, but things were stretched. Three days? It was an exodus out of there! If there had been four days?
For those diehards who might have remained, it would have been a sordid, nasty affair. It was the love and goodwill of the people that made the festival work. I never miss an opportunity to watch the event on TV in real time. The next time you watch a launch, consider the precision of the count- down, which relies on thousands of simultaneous and automatic moni- toring processes, all overseen by engineers and technicians. The launch executes, and tens of thousands of active systems, both on the craft and on the ground, execute independently and in concert, each a precision entity unto itself.
As of the publication date of this book, there have been fights, two of which were spectacularly horrible failures. Yet, considering the incred- ible complexity of the endeavor, and acknowledging the human penchant for error, one could legitimately wonder why there have not been more catastrophes than this. Like countless minor failures of the past, these tragedies provide space shuttle engineers with information they can use to prevent future prob- lems.
As time moves on, the chances of minor and major failure decrease steadily as the space shuttle system is tweaked ever closer to perfection.
As you watch the next liftoff—the keynote celebration of human poten- tial, and a potent, visceral illustration of the beauty of the countless systems that comprise our existences—consider the following question while you marvel at the miracle: Could space shuttle system improvements—most of which are based on advancements in science, engineering, and mathematics, but many of which are based on previous failure—be the result of an outside and slightly elevated vantage point?
Look, you stupid bastard. Black Knight John Cleese: Yes I have! It applies directly to your own most important system-of-systems: Why did this system of systems begin to prosper in year sixteen? Yes, focused attention, terrifc staff, targeted marketing, and a consistently high-quality product went a long way, but they were not the cause of the turnaround. Instead, these were the by-products of the cause.
The root cause of the turnaround was the discovery and application of the principle that management must focus on improving systems, not in performing the work or in repeatedly snuffng out brushfres.
In short, quality products or Chapter 2: A System of Systems 27 services, a stable staff, and proftability are the result of the quality systems that produce them, not the reverse. Centratel is a high-tech, national telephone answering service. Clients include medical and veterinary clinics, funeral homes, property management companies, HVAC operations, high-tech frms, and the like. At Centratel, up to twelve TSRs depending on call traffc sit at work- stations and feld one call after another, with the incoming calls arriving randomly from any one of approximately nine hundred accounts.
Some- times when traffc is heavy, calls come in like machine-gun fre. One call will be from a nervous husband whose wife is on the way to the hospital to have a baby; the next call from the panicked owner of a horse that has colic; the next from an apartment tenant who has accidentally locked her- self out of her apartment.
You get the idea. Our TSRs take messages, record them in a database, and then deliver them in a variety of ways including pager, cell phone, voice mailbox, e-mail, or fax. It is an unbelievably complex enterprise, with multitudes of human and mechanical systems working simultaneously.
Caller, client, and TSR communication is constant and nearly always time sensitive. At Centratel, each of our accounts provides unique and exact instructions on how to handle callers and process messages. As they were then, answering services are now: This all- the-time activity engenders another interesting challenge: It can be a tough way to earn a living, a major personal challenge for those who work the after-hours schedules.
Our more senior TSRs have worked themselves into traditional daytime shifts, but new people must earn their stripes, enduring the tougher schedules until they can move into better slots that open due to staff attrition and company expansion.
In any case, the pay and benefts are very good at Centratel, close to double industry averages. In , the total number of TAS businesses in the United States was more than twenty thousand, most of which were small mom-and-pop operations. Now, survivors are larger—but perhaps only two thousand total—and as a percentage of the overall population, the number of TAS clients has also decreased consider- ably. Cell phones, pagers, voice mail, the Internet, and telephone company switching options have cut deeply into the industry.
Nevertheless, plenty of businesses still require a real-live human being to process their incoming calls, and the market will not be disappearing any time soon. More than two decades ago, I contemplated entering the TAS busi- ness for three reasons and these reasons are still good general consider- ations for anyone going into business. First, it intrigued me that it was all about people and communication. Second, revenues would be passive. If managed properly, I would not have to be physically present in order to receive income.
I was young and new to business, but it seemed to me that making money without having to show up to do the work would beat being a doctor, attorney, teacher, psychologist, working man, or any number of occupations where a specifc individual is the centerpiece of the endeavor. Third, revenues would be recurring—clients would continuously use our services and pay us over and over again. With clients paying monthly, generating new income would not be a full-time, daily challenge.
I rea- soned that if the product was superior and our clients were happy, the money would constantly fow. Chapter 2: There were seven employees, clients, and square feet of offce space.
Now the owner of a business, I changed the name of the company to refect the changing times, and—per my arrogant cockiness in those days—announced to anyone who would listen that we would someday be the highest-quality telephone answering service in the United States.
Despite my bravado, I had no idea how we would achieve such a goal. Events did not unfold as anticipated. The business was a disorganized nightmare, and my personal life, what there was of it, devolved into sham- bles. Within a year, I went through a divorce and then proceeded to do my best to bring up my two children as a single, custodial parent.
Although always on the brink of disaster, Centratel grew in volume— but profts never increased. For a decade and a half, I endured moment-to-moment turmoil, work- ing long, long hours—often in excess of a hundred hours a week—always just scratching by fnancially. I got sick from the pressure but powered on anyway. The only thing that would stop me would be if I dropped over unconscious from stress and sheer fatigue and after ffteen years of relent- less pressure, this became more than a possibility.
Then, as previously mentioned, I had an unforeseen insight and began to apply the Work the System principles to my business and my personal life. An earthmoving event, the new vision deeply affected me, subtly yet profoundly changing the way I perceived the world. With this new out- look, all aspects of my life improved as the turbulence subsided. It became a different world at Centratel and at home. Now I had a second set of professional eyes, and with 30 Work the System his stock purchase, a fnancial boost.
The next few chapters describe the odyssey in detail.
As you read, think of parallels in your own life. We achieve the desired effect by the mere existence of it. It was impos- sible to track these sleight-of-hand excursions, and the closest we could get to managing the problem was to walk around a corner and fnd a staff member covertly closing a non-Centratel window upon our approach.
So we installed special software that tracks and logs Internet activ- ity. The software solved the problem instantly and completely.
Have we ever tracked down bad behavior with it? Yes, when we frst installed the software without announcing what we had done, the usual suspects emerged. Did we say anything to them? Did they? Have we had subsequent abuses? We carefully check the logs each month, but there is never a problem. In our culture, other examples of preventative systems include drug testing, the police, and laws. The systems are intended to halt problems before they occur. Think of preventative systems in your personal life: As you go through your day, think of systems you can implement that will prevent problems down the line.
A System of Systems 31 What steps do you take to protect your child or your pet or your household belongings? What processes does the federal government maintain in order to keep conficts from occurring? They are so cute!
Guy Fleegman Sam Rockwell: When clients called in, the TSRs read the written messages back to them. It was the mids when, for much of the business world, word processing and computer database management were little more than future concepts. During the day, two TSRs handled calls; after hours, one. From the beginning and for ffteen subsequent years, I managed all aspects of the operation myself. From the frst day of ownership, it was a madhouse because most of our clients had taken advantage of the fat-rate arrangement and used our TSRs as their full-time telephone reception- ists.
Our staff were overwhelmed with call traffc and so the quality of call handling was abysmal. At frst, because I had no understanding of the internal mechanics of the answering service business, all I could do was watch and wonder.
The Attack of the Moles 33 thing else including supporting myself and my two children. The busi- ness had been mine for only two months and disaster was already at hand.
Standing by without taking action would be a quick ticket to failure, so with my staff, and my eight- and ten-year-olds depending on me, I had to do something immediately. Here, my brashness would be useful. It was a fortunate irony that the business was in terrible shape when I bought it—some positive aspects lay hidden. After just a few weeks the major problems were obvious even to me, someone with zero knowledge of the industry.
It was clear I must immediately correct the most glaring ineffciency: The fortunate part was that our service rates were extremely low—we could raise them signifcantly and still remain competitive. I informed our clients by letter that service rates were going up and we would start charging for the actual call traffc we handled for their individual accounts. I told them a large price hike was the only choice if we were to stay in business. So we dropped the fat-rate billing plan and began counting message slips, billing each account for actual messages processed by TSRs.
The decrease in incoming call traffc allowed our TSRs to spend more time on each call, and because they were less rushed, the quality of service improved—the frst of many incremental quality improvements that were to accumulate over the years ahead. As a sidelight, and to illustrate just how low our service rates had been, even with the percent increase, our prices remained lower than our much larger local TAS competitor. The huge increase in income was terrifc, but equipment had to be upgraded and wages raised.
So even with the additional cash boost, the company was still not proftable. We raised rates again in six months and then again six months after that. One year later we did it again. Nonetheless, we continued to struggle.
And tissues are cellular organizations. Cells may be the building blocks of life, but they themselves are a system of atoms. Atoms, too, are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. We can move to quantum level or talk about the universe and the whole history of time , but you probably got the drill by now! Now, due to the enormous amounts of time evolution, the blind watchmaker , had to organize everything around, it did a hell of a good job! And many things, including you, now work like a clockwork.
But, so do some Western societies — and these were created by men! News flash: The reason why they work better than your life is because hosts of people have organized them better. Or, as Carpenter says: And there are few reasons why your body, the American justice system, or the Israeli start-up community , is better organized than your workweek!
First of all, they are aware of their complexity, and they are subdivided into many subsystems. By documenting its strategic objectives, general operating principles, and, finally, its working procedures. Once this is done and people start following them, we come to a full circle regarding the original system. Sure, there are some exceptions , but just think how worse life would have been in the absence of proper documentation detailing the stages of a process! We need guidelines!
And you should take your life as seriously as you would in the case of an earthquake! On a daily basis! So, put everything down in writing! Identify the best-working procedure in any subsystem of your company or life, for that matter and write a step-by-step manual. May it be as precise as possible so that even new employees are able to understand it and implement it in a simple manner.
Adorn the manual with a general operating principles sheet. Finally — or, better yet, primarily — think of your strategic objectives. These are the most important.
They are the story, the tradition around which your company is built. Everything Is Mechanical and Fixable 2. Work the System: Document Everything 3. The same is true for your company, your life, and, at least for the time being, your body. First, work out — and then work the systems of your company, your life, everything else.