Introduction to Sam Carpenter’s new book,  The Systems Mindset

You want control of your life.

Carpenter_Systems_Comps_R6.inddMost people don’t master this skill, and so they struggle.

In these pages I want to convince you that your life is not an endless stream of erratic occurrences. Rather, that it’s a finite collection of logical, individual systems that are constantly at work producing the ongoing results of your life. This elementary yet profound insight will arrive suddenly, at a specific moment in time, and then it will be with you always. I call this epiphany, “getting it.”

I want to show you exactly how to manage the systems – the machinery – of your life: at home, at work, with your health, and in your relationships.

There’s nothing mystical here. It will make complete sense, and it’s all rooted in how the simple mechanics of the world physically functions. It’s in the physics of it all – the reality of up and down and back and forth, of movement, of gravity, and of same-actions-leading-to-same-results. It’s about the nuts and bolts of our world that we can depend upon to operate the same way in every instance.

But it’s my bet you haven’t gone down this particular road before.

To take charge of your life, don’t adopt a feel-good blanket theory that promises to contrive the life conditions you desire. Instead, get rooted in the physical, to see and then direct your results-producing machinery so you can generate the life-conditions you desire.

And what about this machinery? Know that it’s working 24/7, creating your life’s results whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, and whether you manage it or not.

And this is not a matter of “you control the machinery or the machinery will control you.” It’s more this: “You control the machinery or the machinery will produce random results that, as you continually attempt to sort out the chaos, will make your life a struggle.”

The focus will be on what I call the Systems Mindset, the key stance in effectively managing everyday reality. I’ll describe how this posture naturally morphs into the concept of System Improvement.

It’s a good time to list some of my preferred synonyms for “system.” I like process, protocol, machine, machinery, mechanism, and mechanics. I’ll also point out here that some systems are visible (mechanical, touchable), while others are invisible (communication protocols, for instance).

As I said, there’s no mystery here, so let’s get down to it. If you really “get” the following five points, you’ll be on your way to managing the machinery of your life. The logic is so absurdly simple that nearly everyone overlooks it:

  1. In this moment, every single result and condition of your life has been preceded by a simple step-by-step linear system (or process, protocol or mechanism), and every single result and condition in your future will also be preceded by one of these simple step-by-step linear systems.
  2. To get the life results you want, you must assertively manage these processes. Since most of them are recurring, you can improve them in the here and now so that when they execute again in the future, they’ll produce optimal results.
  3. Your personal attributes will not deliver you what you want in your life. They can help of course, but they won’t be directly responsible for your success. What matters is the machinery you create and maintain – and that machinery doesn’t give a whit about your personal qualities.
  4. The world is not a mess! It’s an astonishingly organized place, with 99.9% of everything working just fine.
  5. Spiritual transcendence – amazement – lies in the mechanical details of the right here/right now.

And these points beg the question: If you could see the individual systems of your life from moment to moment, would you assertively work to manage them so they produce the personal control you want?

(As an aside, does pursuing personal control sound selfish? Then consider the opposite: Is it somehow altruistic to allow chaos to reign?)

In employing the Systems Mindset to seize control of your life, you’re not going to play mind games with yourself or violate somebody’s rights or take anything away from anyone. On the contrary, intensively attending to your systems and gaining life control will lift up those around you. Why? Because by your example—and by the sheer value you will cause—you’ll be opening up lines of life control for them, too.

Will your personality change? Yes, some. You’ll still be you, but your level of personal confidence will skyrocket and you will be considerably more upbeat. You’ll notice it right away and the people around you will notice it, too. They’ll wonder what’s up, as they watch your new vibrancy. Getting to this place takes little effort and it doesn’t take much time.

To gain this level of control, there’s no need for blind faith or some kind of guru-worship. And you don’t have to forsake your current beliefs or walk away from what is important to you.

The key to effectively managing your life doesn’t lie outside you, it’s inside, a straightforward construct that only requires a tweak in how you perceive your world. Make this elementary adjustment in how you see things and you will not only be able to determine your life’s results, you’ll watch each day unfold as a graceful, exhilarating dance. You’ll discover that the magic you’ve been seeking all along is in life-just-as-it-is.

In gaining firm control of things, will you become permanently happy? No, of course not: although the road bumps will decrease significantly, they will still materialize now and then. But for sure, the ones that appear will be easier to negotiate when you’re strong, resilient, and calm.

Your mounting personal potency will be a consequence of your new crystal clear understanding of how the machinery of life works.

Seventeen years ago, with the business I still own today, I had a flash of insight and then transformed my eighty hour workweeks to just two hours. And at the same time I moved from impoverishment to wealth. What else happened? I rejuvenated my physical self, transitioning from near death to the robust health I enjoy today. And what about my relationships? I went from zero personal connections to having welcoming friends all over the world.

I’ve moved from a chaotic, unpredictable existence to controlling the machinery of my life, and I want you to do the same.

Care to give it a shot?

Mindset is a guidebook, so I’ll approach the principles from different angles and there will be some repetition, just to embed the concepts. Yet within the first half dozen chapters you’ll realize that with your management, the machines of your life are going to come under your firm control and they’re going to produce the results you desire.

I’ve written Part One in a Q&A, conversational format, as if I was teaching a class, so the fundamentals occur as separate pods of information that will coalesce as you proceed. Part One is a system in itself: the fundamentals are presented in a linear format and they build upon each other. Be sure to work through the chapters in sequence.

Part Two is a collection of essays that enhance and bolster the precepts discussed in Part One. Its structure is more relaxed so, although I recommend you also read Part Two’s chapters in sequence, feel free to browse if that’s what works for you….

And there’s a slightly meditative bearing throughout. But navel gazing exasperates me, so you won’t find endless-loop psychobabble. This book would have been shorter if I had decided to deliver these precepts as “Sam’s Top Ten Tips for Getting What You Want.” (You can thank me now for not doing that to you.) But these pages are indeed a mental exercise that will lead to something profound—an internal getting-it-in-the-guts revelation that will change everything.

My business book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less precedes Mindset by seven years. The intended market for each is different (Work is for business owners; Mindset is for everyone else), but the message is precisely the same. Work has been revised and updated nine times through three editions, and so I’ve settled on certain words and turns of phrase that best help me explain the Methodology. I’ll use some of those words and phrases here in Mindset because they have served me well in that book as well as in my blogs and essays, in interviews, and in live presentations.

So what do people want? It’s better control over everyday happenings in order to produce freedom. Specifically, I’d say most us desire

  • lots of personal time,
  • plenty of money,
  • physical health,
  • emotional serenity,
  • solid relationships, and
  • the best for those around us.

I’ll be presumptuous and assume you agree.

There are two other key concepts that I’ll define for you now rather than expect you to absorb through page-by-page osmosis. Both are right-from-the-start important, and they’ll immediately make sense. Here they are:

The first is Point of Sale (POS). The term was coined in the retail industry. It describes the efficiency of getting things done in this moment, in this here and now. Generally speaking, it’s better to get the various wheels of your life rolling immediately and at maximum efficiency. And once you’ve set them on their way, whenever possible, it’s best to have the majority of them rolling ahead unattended by you. Negotiating your days via POS is a logical way to proceed, but it’s more profound than that because of the fact that now is all there is. The past is altogether gone and, although we certainly must focus on making the future what we want it to be, it remains conjecture. Operating in the present with an eye to the future is the ultimate acknowledgement of reality.

The second key concept is the formula, 1 => 2 => 3 => 4 = Result. I’ve touched on this already. Every result (aspect, condition or situation) of your life right now was preceded by a linear step-by-step process that executed over a period of time. So it logically follows that your future results will be determined by the systems that are executing in this moment. Internalize that fact deep down and then join the select few who spend their days inside the left-hand side of the equation, carefully managing the systems of their lives so those systems consistently produce the future results they want. (And where do most people spend their days? On the right-hand side of the equation, fire-killing, constantly trying to straighten out the random bad results that are the products of their unseen and therefore unmanaged systems.)

From your current first-floor living quarters, I’m going to urge you to descend the newly discovered stairway that leads down into the basement. I want you to go down there to see the machines that have been creating your life results back up there on the first floor. And so I’ll ask this question again: When you finally see your systems relentlessly working away down there—the undirected machinery that has been producing the random results upstairs where you live—will you take control of that machinery? Will you vigorously direct those machines to produce exactly what you want, or will you just turn your back and quietly trundle back upstairs and continue to let them run unattended down there in the basement, churning up the same old random unsatisfactory results?

Does this make sense so far? If so, soon you will be managing the machinery of your life.

For sure, this book isn’t Pollyanna-thinking, nor will I urge you to go into a feel-good, happy-trance. This is about hard, cold reality. Too many people don’t deal with raw life as it is! They’re doomed to plod through a fantasy world of how they think the world should be rather than dealing with how it really is. Facing reality head-on—whether or not it conforms to preconceived notions—is mandatory if life’s machinery is to be properly directed, adjusted, and maintained to produce desired results.

Travel through these pages with me and go beyond the influences of peer pressure, religious dogma, political incantation, family dictate, and/or any other assumptions you’ve internalized along the way. In our time together, temporarily set aside the menu. You can pick it up again later if that’s what you want to do, but for now, to accomplish this take-control transformation, go a layer deeper with me and rely one-hundred-percent on your own gut level common sense. Let’s go to the very core of things, to explore how-things-work.

And remember that no one out there is monitoring what you think or believe. This is because they’re too busy coping with their own personal challenges. You really do live in your own little world, and that’s a good thing! And for that matter, don’t take my word for any of this but Instead, just take the precepts I present and see if they fit your own experience. This is your life, and you get to decide what to do with it.

So in this moment ask yourself, “what is really going on in my world?” Then, ask that question consistently through our time together, and I promise you’ll acquire the Systems Mindset in which you’ll grasp the logical simple mechanics that propels your world. Then, after that, you’ll fill your days with constant and never-ending System Improvement. Build your life around System Improvement and get the life results you want: more time, money, freedom, and the best for those around you.

And there’s this: Despite popular opinion fueled by an unlimited supply of self-help gurus who declare that you must get your mind straight before you can expect any material gain, know that life doesn’t work that way. Your personal peace will arrive after you secure control of your mechanical world. You can’t meditate into bliss if your boss is haranguing you, the mortgage is late, you’re forty pounds overweight, and your lover just walked out. Let’s first fix the machines of your world so you’re resilient and powerful, able to get what you want in your life and adept at turning life’s earthquakes into road bumps. Once you start getting your world under control – and it won’t take long – trust that you’ll begin to feel a whole lot better about yourself and this world you inhabit.

And yes, I’m a passionate advocate of individual freedom and personal responsibility. I’ll get things done myself, thank you, without pointing fingers, expecting someone else to do me a favor, or by petitioning some governmental agency for help. And this positioning isn’t just a matter of personal pride, it’s about doing what works: no one is going to take you where you want to go – you’re going to have to travel there yourself. When you get the Systems Mindset and start to note the large number of people who aren’t taking charge of their worlds, expect to develop the same slightly mercenary stance.

Following is a glossary of words, terms, and concepts. It’s best to review these interpretations before proceeding.

99.9 percent of everything works fine: Look around! There is a pen­chant for efficiency in the world. The systems of the world want to work perfectly, and they do.

Circle of Influence: Stephen Covey made this concept popular. It refers to the areas of a life in which the individual can affect.

Closed system: A self-contained processing entity, easily discerned from its surroundings.

Control: To dominate; command. Manage.

Error of omission: A less-than-perfect situation that occurs because someone didn’t do something.

Fire-killing: Going backward to expend time and energy to repair a problem that should have never happened in the first place.

Getting it: The deep-down understanding that the world is a collection of separate systems and not a confused mishmash of happennings.

Linear: This is how systems execute, in a step-by-step progression over time. Within its context, a system is not chaotic. It’s logical, reliable, and easy to understand.

Machine: Sometimes visible, sometimes invisible; it is a system, protocol, or process that executes over time to create a result.

Management: The act of directing, handling, guiding, or controlling.

Menu or script: A belief system based on what seems sensible, feels good, or what peers believe (and overtly or covertly expect you to believe). It could be political, national, religious, family, or work-based. It feels comfortable and subtly (or not so subtly) promises safety.

One layer deeper: Below the surface of the happenings of our lives, it’s where we can go to manage the machinery that is creating the results of our individual existences. Spending time down there is how we create personal freedom, wealth, and health, but for most, its existence is masked by the very cacophony it’s unmanaged systems produce.

Outside and slightly elevated: The essential (and almost metaphysical) perspective. The view downward encompasses everything, including the observer.

Primary system: Composed of subsystems, an encapsulated entity with an ultimate purpose.

Recurring system: An enclosed process that executes over and over again.

System, subsystem (or process, protocol, mechanism, mechanics, machine): A self-contained linear framework of moving parts, visible or invisible, all contributing to the singular purpose of accomplishing a goal. Within the Systems Mindset context, we are especially interested in recurring sys­tems. The terms system and subsystem are interchangeable depending on context.

System improvement: The relentless search-and-repair effort of tooling a process closer and closer to perfection with a focus on maximizing the efficiencies of pro­cesses to prevent recurring problems, increase production and quality, and save time. It is the antithesis of fire-killing. [[AU: I would add fire-killing to this glossary.]]

Systems Mindset: The embedded vision of the world as an orderly collection of processes, not as a chaotic mass of sights, sounds and events. From this more accurate perspective, one creates and adjusts systems so desired results are produced. It’s a system in itself, the master regulatory machine for processing a life’s happenings.

Systems Mindset methodology: The mechanical process of establishing goals and then perfecting and maintaining the systems that will ensure the attainment of those goals.

Tweak, Tweaking: The antithesis of neglect. The assertive, dogmatic, boots-on-­the-ground work of making incremental subsystem enhancements that will ultimately result in a hyper-efficient primary system.

Workingman’s (or workingwoman’s!) philosophy: A set of beliefs stem­ming from the hard, cold, sometimes dirty realities of life’s job site. The pragmatic, formulaic conviction that a carefully composed blueprint that directs the careful assembly of high quality components will result in an excellent end-product.

Let’s begin!