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Thinking INSIDE the Box

by Sam Carpenter


Boxes. Let’s consider what’s going on inside.

I am not one to challenge the status quo just because it’s the status quo. I’m not a drone, either. But most times I find the status quo is correct as-is, and I attribute this to simple cause-and-effect: Whatever a particular accepted status quo happens to be, it’s probably that way because that’s what has worked best in the past. Through trial and error, over some period of time, the status quo usually gets to be an accurate response to reality.

One could say that the status quo is the result of a kind of a random, free-market social tweaking.

I can hear the howls of dissension. My retort is that for some people, fighting the status quo IS the status quo. Many of us just prefer to be contrarian.

Of course the accepted way of doing things can be wrong sometimes. But, not usually.

In any case, once one acquires the Systems Mindset, decisions are not made in knee-jerk accordance with commonly held beliefs…or with their opposites. The thinking process is more detached and mechanical than that. Got a problem? Sometimes solutions can be radically different from the status quo, but most times, just a small reiteration of what’s already there is all that’s necessary. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, etc.

New beginnings are sometimes necessary, but full scale start-overs too often result in the carnage of unintended consequences. The problem system–whether it’s a marriage or a career or a government–whispers quietly, please don’t discard me. Just get inside and tweak me a bit.

Your business is stalled or floundering? If you truly have a market for your product or service, don’t quit! See your business as the collection of separate systems that it is. Take things apart. Then decipher what inefficiencies you have in operations, production, marketing and management and then focus on fixing those particular systems. Most of your business is probably just fine. It’s the multiple small tweaks here and there that will make all the difference.

Don’t plunge into a divorce. Instead, drop the emotional theatrics, isolate the mechanical sore-spot, and then manipulate the internal mechanics of that sore spot to reach resolution. Financial problems, personal or governmental? Challenging the laws of physics by deliberately spending more money than one has is flashy but ridiculous. Doing some serious cost-cutting is the less exciting yet rational approach. Depressed? Rather than scoring anti-depressants from the doctor, stop drinking (because, face it: alcohol is a depressant). Do I need to say this is not rocket science?

So, problems? There’s a good chance the box you’re in doesn’t need replacement. It just requires some internal adjusting. Of course, thinking-outside-the-box is a good thing and is also exactly consistent with the systems mindset approach, but as you float outside-and-slightly-above your world, examining the problems down there, consider that maybe your situation is not really so bad after all and that the simple solution lies right there, inside the box.

Photo by Genelet via flickr used under a creative Commons License.


3 Responses… Read Them Below or Add One

  1. Good article, and to the point. I was born in 1963, so as a small child I watched the older kids in the late 1960s-70s want to ‘have a revolution’, etc., etc. I was a bit confused, at 5 or 6 I couldn’t really see what was so terrible…

    Anyway, it didn’t much matter, a decade later the older kids were yuppies drinking Perrier and driving BMWs. I guess the status quo wasn’t so bad, after all. From all that, I’ve learned to be very skeptical of folks who want to tear everything up. It makes me suspect they don’t really appreciate what they’re dealing with. It took a lot more work to get to where things are than they have any idea.

    There’s a ‘classic’ article from the computer biz that you may well find interesting in this regard, by Joel Spolsky:

    Things You Should Never Do, Part 1

    “Netscape 6.0 is finally going into its first public beta. There never was a version 5.0. The last major release, version 4.0, was released almost three years ago. Three years is an awfully long time in the Internet world. During this time, Netscape sat by, helplessly, as their market share plummeted.

    It’s a bit smarmy of me to criticize them for waiting so long between releases. They didn’t do it on purpose, now, did they? Well, yes. They did. They did it by making the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make:

    They decided to rewrite the code from scratch.

    Netscape wasn’t the first company to make this mistake…”

    He goes on to discuss how it’s hard to read code & so to appreciate everything the old version does, thus it turns out being a lot harder than expected to start over building a whole new system.

    • Sam Carpenter says:

      Gordon. Awesome! From the joeonsoftware article, I found this particularly pointed:
      “We’re programmers. Programmers are, in their hearts, architects, and the first thing they want to do when they get to a site is to bulldoze the place flat and build something grand. We’re not excited by incremental renovation: tinkering, improving, planting flower beds. There’s a subtle reason that programmers always want to throw away the code and start over. The reason is that they think the old code is a mess. And here is the interesting observation: they are probably wrong. The reason that they think the old code is a mess is because of a cardinal, fundamental law of programming: It’s harder to read code than to write it.”

  2. Donna Kozik says:

    Excellent piece and so congruent (naturally) with the “Work the System” process.

    Have you connected with Roger James Hamilton and his “Wealth Dynamics” work? I think it would be a good match, especially with those who identify themselves as “Mechanics” through his assessment. (I’m a Mechanic and I treat your “Work the System” book like a business bible.)

    P.S. In fact, I just ordered a hard-back copy of your book for easier highlighting, dog-earring and implementing!

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