Your Relentless System Improvement

It is good to root out weaknesses in advance

I’m writing this post because the one I published last week had some problems. Last Wednesday, the day after I emailed Choose the Red Pill to my subscriber list, I read through it and found several grammatical errors and some clumsy paragraphs. Also, I thought it was too complex as well as a bit melodramatic at the end. Bypassing my standard protocol of relentless system improvement, I had put the post together at the last minute and sent it out too fast.

I deemed the piece ready-for-public-consumption simply because I wanted it to be. Deluding myself, I violated my own rules about system improvement.  (For a definition of system improvement, see page 11 in my book, Work the System.)

This failure inspires me to discuss a half-dozen points about the system improvement process. Here, I will discuss my weekly Work the System blog posts, and a little bit about Centratel, but the points I make apply to any work or personal context in which there are recurring tasks to be executed. Be imaginative. Especially think about your business or job.

I already covered the first point: Root out and acknowledge failure. Don’t muddle reality by conjuring up some dubious silver lining. Bury the ego and face facts: If you screwed up, you screwed up.

Point two: Remember exactly what the task is and what is to be done with it: For example, this blog post is an individual system with a purpose. It is a singular, enclosed entity designed to deliver a message and to entertain. Improvement is what I do to it. (Hence, “system improvement.”)

A third point: Use failures as red flags so action can be taken to prevent the failures from happening again. In fact, assertively seek out failures. Your job is to find weaknesses in your systems and then to fix them.

My cycle of writing a typical 1,000 word post is one week long. On Wednesday or Thursday I spend just a half-hour writing the rough draft. Then, over the next five or six days I spend an additional eight to ten hours tweaking it until it’s ready to post on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. I’m relentless in this phase, performing this read-through editing in thirty to forty separate sessions. Between each session, I clear my head by doing some other activity so each read-through is from a different mental perspective. Even then, I’m not done: After the piece is posted and delivered, and over the next few weeks, I’ll go back four to six separate times to further polish it.  Point four: Repeatedly execute the system from scratch, each time looking for weaknesses. Thus, 5% of time is spent in creation of the raw product and 95% of time is spent perfecting it. This is working the system!

For any of us, the repetition of various systems is no problem. It’s what we do. We have tasks to execute and so we execute them. But too many people leave it at that, only to fire-kill through work, relationships and life, blindly negotiating the same old problems over and over again. They don’t analyze the source of recurring problems and thus don’t take steps to stop them from happening again.

It’s a good time to say it: System improvement is the opposite of fire-killing.

My process for writing a blog post is a perfect analogy for how I spend my working hours at Centratel. My time is invested in relentless system improvement and I seldom do the “work.” Point five: For the leader, most work is either delegated or automated. At Centratel, I pay the bills, conduct staff meetings and occasionally go back and forth with my management staff on special issues. That’s it, for a total work-time at Centratel of less than two hours per week.

Point six: To arrive at the mental positioning in which every working system is constantly under personal mental review, one must “get” the systems mindset. This is moment-to-moment vigilance in which every work-event is recognized as part of an individual linear system. Once this perspective is hard-wired in the head, one can’t resist reaching into dysfunctional systems in order to make improvements.

So, my weekly blog post is an individual system entity and I fine-tune it over and over until it is as good as I can get it. On my website, today, the Red Pill post is now as good as I can make it for right now, and way better than what it was when I first published it last week. (Go here to read the newest version.) And what I know for sure is that over the next few weeks it will get even better because I’ll read through it several more times in order to root out further weaknesses. I’ll do the same with this post. This writing process mirrors the pattern my staff and I follow in every aspect of the operation of Centratel. Moment-to-moment, each working system is under review. It’s never-ending. That’s why Centratel is fluid, efficient and highly profitable. It’s also why the inevitable problems that arise are road bumps and not earthquakes.

Going “one layer deeper,” the system improvement mentality is an assertively pro-active positioning whereby desired outcomes are achieved by intensely managing the components that produce those outcomes.

In your own life, can you think of important systems that could be perfected via the unrelenting system improvement protocol I describe here? Do you see the stark difference between,  a) mindless task execution, and, b) studying and adjusting the components of a task as it’s executed? Do you see that the system improvement mindset is radically different from the conventional take-it-as-it-comes stance?

This brings us to point seven: Which do you choose: a life of fire-killing or a life of system improvement?

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Photo by Nigel Blake via flickr used under a creative Commons License.