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. (caite.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? .. caite.info and download the book for free with PDF and audio.
Few people think their problems are a result of system failure. Beyond the physical TV itself, consider the myriad organizations that put together the programming that appears on it. This book is not about feel-good, pie-in-the-sky promises. The young man on the receiving end of the jest was robust, clean-cut, and confdent. When I fnally came home, I would check to see if they were sleeping okay, and then stumble into my bedroom and climb into bed.
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. This just-barely-hanging-on predicament endured. The rise in income was always matched by increases in operating costs. The largest increases were in wages, health insurance, retirement, and other benefts to the TSR staff. Within three years, we moved to a larger offce space.
We stayed in that location for twelve years and then moved to an even larger space. We continued to grow, but the turmoil and cash fow problems increased.
I had no life outside the business, and any personal time went to my children. As the years passed, I learned the ropes and prided myself on being expert at every facet of the business, able to perform any function. Within moments, I could move from scheduling staff, to handling customer com- plaints, to solving telephone company problems. I could interview a job applicant for a TSR position one minute and in the next put together a plan for adding a computer system.
I could prepare payroll while I signed up a new account and then head to the bank to plead my case for yet another small loan. I did it all including being there as the single parent of my kids the task-juggling at home rivaled the task-juggling at the offce. What a feeling of power as I simultaneously solved multiple prob- lems.
I was a master of survival-juggling, a fre-killer extraordinaire! How heroic! But in my arrogance, and swept up in the endless fre-killing, I was spinning my wheels and headed for destruction. Centratel grew because of a booming local economy and my knack for foiling the reaper at the last minute.
Chapter 3: The Attack of the Moles 35 Through those years, I single-handedly fxed whatever needed to be fxed, smoothed out the rough spots, and kept the ball rolling no matter the day of the week or time of the day. The Numbers Are Gloomy Statistics show that of one hundred new business start-ups, only twenty will remain after fve years. Then, in the next fve years, four of those remaining twenty will still be functioning. In another fve years, three of those four will disappear, leaving one out of the original hundred.
Gauge your own situation and look ahead. Are you an employee of a small business? If so, the numbers are not on your side. Or do you own a small business? If so, there is hope because you have the power to direct it. These time wasters undermine efforts to create and sell a good product that has a viable market. And in personal life? The great news is that ineffciency is easy to correct if one can see the cause of it.
As the ten-year anniversary passed, my days spiraled downward into ever-deepening chaos. I leaped from one predicament to the next as crises multiplied. The days were crammed with cash fow crunches, chronic staff absenteeism, and innumerable customer complaints. The offce tempera- ture was too cool—or too warm. We would run out of critical offce sup- plies and not have the time to leave the offce to replace them.
Turnover among TSRs was incessant, and scheduling was haphazard, put together at the last moment. In year ten, we went through more than sixty new people—and my total number of staff was twelve! TSR trainees would 36 Work the System start work, stay for a week, and quit.
My employees were unhappy, and the same held true for our clients as they endured a still marginal quality of service. Making payroll was always a challenge: I was the heroic jack-of-all-trades, the master fre-killer who would work as long and as hard as necessary. The years drifted by. My teenagers would wait for me at home as I failed around at the offce late into the night. When I fnally came home, I would check to see if they were sleeping okay, and then stumble into my bedroom and climb into bed.
I would lie there exhausted with that deep, deep fatigue way down inside the chest.
Bills were not paid on time, both at Centratel and at home. Collec- tors called day and night. The people at the bank felt sorry for me as they marveled at both my endurance and my ineptitude in keeping the money straight.
For a while, my two teenagers shared the offce space with me because we could not afford a place to live. When I could, I slept alongside them on a cot. Then, after the kids had gone off to college, in one long stretch of seven months, I answered calls as the sole TSR on the midnight to 8: During those seven months, Monday through Friday of every week, I also worked in the daytime from 8: This meant each weekday my shift began at midnight and ended no sooner than 5: Weekends were a relief because I only had to work the midnight to 8: My workweek exceeded a hundred hours.
Of course, there was no social life. The Attack of the Moles 37 During those months I was sleeping just a few hours each night and never in a single stretch because, as the sole midnight TSR, I had to wake up each time a call came into the service. Throughout the shift, the medi- cal and veterinary emergency calls came in at a steady pace.
Lying on the foor with a pillow and blanket, there was the occasional straight hour of sleep. After my seven-month stretch of graveyard shifts, when I fell back to my normal eighty-hour workweeks, it was impossible to sleep through the night even when there was the opportunity.
For the body and the mind, few things are worse than long-term sleep deprivation, and eventually I succumbed to the stress. It was a depression and exhaustion that inhibited every thought and action. My performance became clumsy in the face of escalating problems. Things were getting worse by the day, and after ffteen years of accumulated trauma, the end was near.
The thought of having a traditional job sent shivers down my spine. After all those years of being on my own, working for someone else would be a nightmare for me and for my employer. It was horrible and the fre-killing got worse. I kept at it. My existence was like the Whac-A-Mole game in which little grinning-faced moles keep popping their heads up in any one of a dozen holes. I would whack one mole and two more would emerge. My hammer would respond in a furry and the mole heads would be rammed 38 Work the System back down into their tunnels, one after the other.
It was a beautiful perfor- mance, a remarkable demonstration of dexterity and power. If the player does not strike a mole within a certain time or with enough force, it will eventually sink back into its hole with no score. Although game play starts out slow enough for most people to hit all of the moles that rise, it gradually increases in speed, with each mole spending less time above the hole and with more moles outside of their holes at the same time.
After a designated time limit, the game ends, regardless of the skill of the player. The fnal score is based upon the number of moles the player struck. But despite the heroics, the mole whacking was distracting me from seeing what was necessary to fx my business and my life.
Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger Morrison and Jagger are arguably the best lead singers rock has ever produced: He wallowed in the haunting darkness and wondered about the great unknown beyond death.
He lived in chaos, too, awash in alcohol and drugs, abusing his physical and mental systems. He died at the age of twenty-seven after just Chapter 3: The Attack of the Moles 39 four years of performing and recording.
His too-short life was the antith- esis of systemization and order. Mick Jagger, however, has been hammering away for better than forty-fve years, ten times longer than did Morrison. He is as ft as any twenty-fve-year-old, eschewing drugs and alcohol.
Enormously talented, healthy, and wealthy, a connoisseur of antiques and art, he is a master of systemizing, tweaking, and maintaining. Is there something you do to your body that is making it less effcient? Are you excelling in system management in some areas while sabotaging yourself in others? But, of course, it was tenuous.
Everything depended on me, and if I let up for one moment, my world would come crashing down. It was just a matter of time. Then, on the heels of my seven-month double-shift epic, I hit a brick wall. In my arsenal of last-minute bailout strategies, there was no solution to the deathblow crisis looming just ahead—the inability to cover the next payroll. On payday, my staff would walk out when there were no pay- checks, instantly ending my business as our clients raced elsewhere to fnd another answering service to handle their calls.
In a single moment, Cen- tratel would close its doors and everything I had accomplished in the past decade and a half would be lost, not to mention that my staff of sixteen would be jobless and my three hundred loyal clients would be in crisis.
I was desperate—and for the frst time, angry—and the doomsday clock was ticking. Chapter 4: Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 41 DAWN The payroll was less than a week away when, yet again lying awake in bed late one night, exhausted, I stopped thinking about work details, business philosophies, elaborate theories, or some last-minute divine intervention. It was the end, and there was nothing left to examine or ruminate about, nothing left to salvage—except one small thing.
In a last gesture of raw defance, at least I could end things with some self-respect. As a fnal, last- gasp effort, I would either save myself or go down in a blinding fash. This would not end with a whimper. Since everything was lost anyway, why not fnd one last moment of control?
I lay there in the 3: But something was odd. I was at peace for the frst time in years. How could that be? Without coaxing, and for no apparent reason, two simple, pragmatic questions charged out of the blackness: What have I been doing wrong all these years? The certain end of Centratel opened my perception gates and gave me the freedom to con- sider anything.
No matter how outrageous, any new idea was an option because there was no further possible downside. I had a few more days to stretch into unknown territory and do some experimentation, because. Then, answers came. I underwent an enlightenment of sorts. It sounds corny, but in my mind, I rose up and out of the jumble that was my life; I was no longer an integral part of it.
It was—and is—nothing more than the sum of an assemblage of sequential systems: Instinctively, I knew the rest of my life operated in the same way: My thoughts raced at light speed as I marveled at the simple beauty of it. I understood that my previous vision of the world had been wrong. The world is not a chaotic jumble of people, objects, and events clanging together in disarray. The world is a place of order and logic, a place of predictability.
The world is a collection of logical systems! And the primary system called Centratel shared a commonality with all other primary systems in that it was the product of the sum of the myriad separate subsystems that composed it. The logic of it was crystal clear, exquisite. A line from an old rock song by The Fixx went round and round in my head as I lay there: One thing leads to another. I had taken the wrong stance because the mechanics had been invisible to me! All I did was kill fres, unaware that they were the products of invisible, dysfunctional subsystems.
These subsystems had lives of their own and were acting out their sequences without direction, producing results that were unpredictable at the least, and debilitating at the worst. My business was out of control because I had been coping with the random products of uncontrolled systems.
My life was chaos not because I was some kind of loser or unfor- tunate victim of circumstance but because many of the subsystems of my life were not being managed. Out of control, these ineffcient subsystems composed the dysfunctional primary systems of my life: Exhausted yet exhilarated, I lay in bed foating above it all, looking down on things, savoring the delicious new vision.
It was borderline mystical, a Chapter 4: Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 43 sort of near-death experience, but without the tunnel and bright light. For the frst time it was clear that my previous perception of reality had been murky and undefned. How does the saying go: From depths beyond my physical and mental despair, and liberated from my self-absorption, more questions surfaced, ones I had never con- sidered before: On its own, and no matter what, this earth keeps turning and life carries on in an overall structured and organized pattern, and.
The indomitable laws of nature ensure systems work perfectly according to their construction: On this earth, gravity works all the time, everywhere. Over here, one plus one equals two, and over there, one plus one also equals two! The laws of nature cause the mechanics of the world to be dependable and predictable, and the gift with which we humans have been blessed is the ability to get in the middle of it all and to manipulate it, to direct our lives to be what we want them to be, to use the laws of nature to our advantage.
And no single human, or group of humans, is in charge! Cycli- cally, methodically, and for whatever reason, this complex world moves along on its own, adjusting, balancing, and counterbalancing. And at the root of it all, and in the middle of it all, uncountable separate linear sys- tems are at work. Think about the systems of our lives and then do the numbers.
We wake, shower, dress, eat, go to work, and proceed through the day to return to our loved ones in the evening.
Then we watch TV, read, and go to bed early—or 44 Work the System stay up late. We go to sleep, and then we awake again the next morning. Everything works fne It will be thousands of items long as it includes contributing components such as the coffee maker that works every morning; the car that—despite all of its internal intricacies—oper- ates with the turn of a key and then the turn of the wheel; the offce we occupy; the complexities of the work we do; the paychecks we receive for doing that work.
Consider the process of sharing information back and forth with those around us: Each is a system, and Envision the system we call TV: By simply pushing a button when we want to watch it, this incredibly complex mechanism jumps to life every time! Beyond the physical TV itself, consider the myriad organizations that put together the programming that appears on it.
Then, switch gears and think about the lawn mower, the water that fows from the kitchen tap, the ubiquitous electricity that comes to our homes to give life to a host of devices, each a complex system of its own. We Are Mechanisms Three years ago, as I was charging down a city street on my mountain bike, a sixteen-year-old driver veered across my path.
I slammed into the side of her SUV and was launched over its roof, landing on the pavement on the other side. I was knocked unconscious, coming awake only as I was loaded into the ambulance. On the way to the hospital, the paramedic asked my name. I answered correctly. Then she asked who she could call to inform that I was going to the hospital. It was several hours before I could put the pieces together, to recall the details of my ride.
From this experience, a lesson was hammered home: Our minds and bodies are complex mechanisms. They are indescribably complex collections of subsystems, Chapter 4: Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 45 operating via countless sequential and cooperative protocols.
We should never take for granted our connection to the reality around us; never underestimate the tenuous grip we have on our worlds. We must handle our bodies and minds with care; we should be careful about upkeep and maintenance, yet challenge them so they stay strong. We must attend to them and never take them for granted. Contemplate the clothes we wear, the shopping we do, the work we perform.
Consider the gas pumped into our cars at gas stations. In some faraway place, sophisticated mechanisms extract oil from the ground. Then people transport it via high-tech ships, trucks, and pipelines to refneries where the oil is converted into gasoline via complex refning processes.
Next, truckers deliver the gasoline to an uncountable number of convenient locations so we can pump it into our cars whenever we feel like it. And this is just one of the millions of systems that touch our daily lives. And what about the human body? Consider the amazing complexity of chemicals, electric signals, and mechanics that make it work. For each of us, billions of cells contribute to who we are, while trillions of simulta- neous electrical signals execute without overt supervision as we progress through the day.
Consider the miracle of what you are doing this moment, viewing and translating the English language characters on this page. You are transfer- ring my thoughts to your mind, where you instantaneously interact with what I am saying, making immediate judgments, agreeing or disagreeing, line by line. Do these complex systems sometimes fail? Of course! So far, I have focused on human systems, which are just a fraction of the total systems at work in any given second.
Uncountable natural 46 Work the System systems add to the numbers and dwarf what man has created, and they all work perfectly according to their scripts. Consider that primary systems depend on subsystems and those subsystems depend on sub-subsystems branching outward and downward, further and further, to subprimal levels.
And see that the processes of the world—the systems—repeat them- selves over and over, as they incrementally create new forms and dissolve old ones. Stop for a moment and attempt to draw it all in. The countless systems that comprise life churn on and on while most of us remain oblivious to the mystery of it, to the sheer beauty of it.
The sun comes up and later goes down. Grass grows in the spring and lies dormant in the winter. The tides rise and fall. We go to bed at night to wake up in the morning. The toaster works! The car works! Love comes, love goes, and then it comes again.
We live, then we die, and another is born. Systems, systems, systems—everywhere! Yes, I realized, that presumption is wrong, because in any given life, on any given day, countless events and connections—systems—work perfectly. Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 47 ing the impeccability of it all. We hyperfocus on personal, mechanical, and geopolitical systems that are not to our liking and conclude that defciency is the default way of the world.
Swallowed up in this, we see perfection as an anomaly and imperfection as the norm. That conclusion is backward. Overall, the systems of this world work absurdly well: In truth, the world is percent perfect if we discount what we want.
I lay in bed in wired stupor, thinking about how this world relentlessly churns ahead within a framework of countless effcient systems, and since there is no human King of Everything, that there has to be an underlying cosmologic propensity toward effciency and order. Something out there prefers things to go smoothly.
This new understanding was the reverse of my previous vision of things in which I saw the world as a place of barely controlled mayhem, tenuously held together by its human masters.
I had visualized perfec- tion—a rare thing—as an occasional harmonious chord in a universe more comfortable in its cacophony. Find train tracks and stand nearby while a train slams by at full speed. Feel the overwhelming strength and inevitability of 48 Work the System it. As the enormous mass of the train surges, feel the invincibility. Why it behaves that way is the human mystery—the ultimate question— but it is not the issue at hand.
What matters here is this: Despite the com- mon assumption that chaos reigns, the truth is that the mechanics of the world work very, very well. Instead, confdent and deliberate, we can dig a bit deeper and, step-by- step, construct the lives we want.
We humans are inclined to disrupt things, and for this reason there have been and continue to be horrible problems in the world. The worst of it? In the last century, in fts of narcissistic insanity, tens of millions of people were slaughtered by Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussolini, and Pol Pot. These were human systems gone haywire.
And still the agony continues, at its most virulent in third- world countries. Then there is the self-generated personal pain of our own making, residing within our own thought processes. Add to this the self-inficted damage caused by the neglect and abuse of the body systems that we inhabit, not to mention no-fault setbacks such as accidents and genetic irregularities: Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 49 Large or small, cultural genocide or a missed appointment, the things that go wrong are due to component failures within systems.
When a sys- tem fails to produce what we want it to produce, something within the system is not as it could be. Something is gumming up the works. When there is trauma, it is most often short- lived. For most of us, real discomfort is a small slice of the pie, and when it happens, it is usually the result of self-inficted mental anguish and fear—negative constructs within our thinking, not overt external, physi- cal pain. Yes, again, of course there are the notable exceptions.
I am not a Pollyanna. Systems want to be effcient. Late that night, lying awake in bed, I realized the force is with you. Why is life in the West easier than life in the East? A part of the answer is that, in the Western world, there are far more safety and protective systems than in the East, therefore our lives are less in jeopardy.
A simple example: In the West, we wear seat belts in our cars 99 percent of the time. In the many times I have been to the rural Far East, I have seldom seen a driver or passenger buckle up. In most third-world countries, there are no enforceable seat belt laws. Are seat belts actually in the cars? Yes, they 50 Work the System usually lay buried in the seat cushions—but sometimes the driver has alto- gether removed them.
Another example: In much of the East there are few protections, and justice systems can be corrupt and impotent, causing person-to-person and governmental crimes to go unpunished. And the fip side? It is telling that the annoyance of the politically cor- rect is nowhere but in the West. This is a result of a culture trying too hard to regulate.
To the rural Asian, there is no PC thinking, as life is negotiated via just a few systems, systems having to do with survival. For a Westerner, it is a good thing to live for a while in a third-world household.
For you, one plus one also equals two. The natural mechanics of the world are reliable and can be trusted. And human-devised systems will also operate reliably if they are put together properly and then maintained.
If they are not put together correctly or they are not maintained, they will fail to produce the results we want. Few people think their problems are a result of system failure. Most see their troubles as isolated events, blaming fate, horoscopes, bad luck, karma, God, the devil, neighbors, competitors, family members, the weather, the president, Congress, liberals, conservatives, global warming, too much TV, lack of money, too much money, the educational system, or just a world gone bad.
And most see problems as overwhelming in num- ber: Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 51 I now foat through the day in fascination. Instead of wallowing in a hodgepodge of unpredictability and fre-killing, I see events and objects as part of one structured system or another. This real-time outside-and-slight- ly-elevated perspective has channeled peace and prosperity into my life and in the lives of those who depend on me. I call it semi-enlightenment. Negatives will sometimes worm their way into my day, most often due to my own failures.
Rather, there is a default propensity toward order and eff- ciency. Without question, I know ineffciency and its attending pain occur because of rare and isolated component problems within otherwise per- fect systems. However, the improvements in these rebuilt systems must be made permanent or the systems will slip back into dysfunction due to random outside infuence. In the workplace, permanence happens frst by creating written descriptions of how systems are to operate, and second by making sure responsible parties follow the steps described in the documentation.
Once systems are examined and fawed components are exposed and repaired tweaked , systems will produce the desired result. Creating new contributing systems and altogether eliminating dysfunctional systems will do the same. And since this is all mechanical, when the changes are per- formed and then locked in, improvement is both instant and permanent.
Now we are at the heart of the Work the System methodology. These lives we live are composed of countless linear systems, many of which are under our direct control.
These systems are the invisible threads that hold 52 Work the System the fabric of our lives together. You are not at the mercy of mysterious conspiring forces or of the swirling backwash of chaos. If it is in your power—and so much that affects you is in your power—you can fx things! Do what you can, walk away, and accept it—or ignore it.
Save your energy for efforts that will provide tangible positive results within your circle of infuence. That night in bed, yet another realization struck: My business needed at least one solid objective. From my new vantage point, I could see we had been operating without any pointed purpose. It is not concrete and directed but amor- phous and wishy-washy.
Not only had I never considered its individual components, Centratel had no direction! To com- pound the confusion, there was no vision for my personal life either. This was the birth of the Strategic Objective document. There was nothing philosophical about this new vantage point. It was mechanical and logical. I saw that the solution to my business problems did not lie in becoming more prof- cient at whacking mole heads—as in the Whac-A-Mole arcade and video games popular at that time—the solution was to fnd a way to eliminate the moles altogether.
I had to put aside the hammer and dig down into those tunnels to fnd out exactly where the moles hid. When I found them, I would ruthlessly strangle them right then and there. Their grinning, furry faces would not distract me. And while I was down there taking care of mole extermination, I would fnd a way to prevent any mole relatives from returning later.
Late that night, my perspective on life permanently shifted. Deep in my gut, I grasped that perfectly executing systems were at play everywhere and all the time. My business—and my whole being, for that matter—was the sum total of the systems that composed it.
Confdent, I would look down on these systems of my life and isolate them one at a time, viewing each as a separate, autonomous entity. Per a solid directional plan, one by one, and over whatever period of time it would take, I would disassemble and then rebuild each system so that each contributed to my stated goal. In addition to the reconstruction, I would add new systems and discard useless ones. It seemed logical: Creating effcient subsystems should cause the pri- mary system to be effcient too.
And to take this a step further, it seemed to me if the individual subsystems of my business and my life could be made more than effcient, if they were made potent and powerful, then both my business and my life would become potent and powerful. Who could argue with that logic?
I just needed to identify individual subsystems and then, one by one, optimize them. It was a vision that bared the simple mechanics of the world, mechan- 54 Work the System ics that had been cloaked by the dissonance of the day.
It was a viewpoint that I would hone, and in the big picture and in the smallest snapshots of my life, I would no longer specialize in killing fres, spinning my wheels in futile attempts to stop chaos. I would no longer manage the results of ineffcient systems. Instead, I would expend my energies on perfecting those systems—and the results would take care of themselves.
For a decade and a half, although the simple reality had been foat- ing right there in front of me, the mental turbulence of my fre-killing approach had relegated this simple earthshaking reality to invisibility: Life is about simple mechanics— the dispassionate mechanics of the systems that compose it. This new systems perspective was not just an interesting new concept; it was an electric, life-changing vision. Once the switch fipped in my head late that night, there was no going back.
I was a changed man. My thoughts raged on. Supported by indisputable logic, an entire strategy unfolded as I lay there that night.
I thought, if Centratel is an organism—like a human body, or a car, or a TV—smooth and effcient operation will depend on a multitude of simultaneously functioning systems that operate automatically.
To be sure, people would be watching things, but I would not be one of those peo- ple. Centratel would become a self-perpetuating organism. Further, this organism would be the highest-quality telephone answer- ing service in the United States. We would accomplish this in three steps.
Gun-to-the-Head Enlightenment 55 1. We would exactly defne the overall goals and strategies. Then, each of those subsystems would be broken down into even smaller contributing sub-subsystems, including receiv- ables software, customer complaint protocol, employee recruit- ment, equipment maintenance schedules, and so on. Once isolated and exposed, we would refne and perfect those sys- tems—one by one—so each would contribute percent toward overall goals and each would automatically execute every time.
We would document each system by creating a Working Procedure for it, thus making all the perfected systems permanent. Through all of this we would be patient as we improved things incrementally.
Why does a city stay in the same place without spontaneously moving to a new location? Why do we, in our lifetimes, continue to be ourselves? The reason is hard mechan- ical reality: They are dependable and predictable. On the other hand, human communication processes—organic pro- cesses—are the antithesis of physical substance. The execution of a given recurring communication protocol not only varies among the individuals performing the process but also, for any one person, with the time of day, the weather, or mood.
Uncontrolled, these organic processes are feathers in the wind. We do this with documentation. The outside world would con- tinue to challenge us with unexpected shake-ups, but if we constructed the new systems properly, the business would become rugged and adapt- able. The inevitable earthquakes would be reduced to tremors. Until this point, earthquakes had been earthquakes, and there had been too many of them.
If what I saw for the business was true—that it was a primary system composed of component subsystems, each of which could be brought to high effciency and strength—then it was logical this would be true for the other primary system that was in immediate crisis: The theory and process for fxing myself would be the same as it would be for fxing Centratel.
It applies to any life situation because it deals with fundamental cause and effect—the basic truth of how the world mechanically operates. Learning How to Sleep For any recurring problem, there is a path to sorting things out: Take the ineffcient system apart and fx the pieces one by one.
Earlier I discussed my problems with getting enough sleep. Sleep intertwines with numer- Chapter 4: What did I do via systems methodology to cure this problem? I envisioned sleep as an independent, primary system that is composed of subsystems. The vision led me to a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. This led me to the subsystems of yoga, more sensible exercise, and meditation. I would substantially reduce my intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. There were other systems to modify: I would adopt a more consistent system routine for preparing for sleep.
Another thing: Testing indicated my requirements for sleep were less than average—six hours was enough—and so I should avoid lying awake in bed, expecting to get eight or nine hours. Lying there waiting for sleep to arrive was stressful in itself.
Instead, I should get up and read, work, or even exercise. With the help of my regular doctor, I found my blood chemicals were out of balance. Those chemical imbalances affected my sleep pattern, and it was a simple matter to fx those subsystem imbalances with supplements.
I had to reduce my hours at the offce and that meant getting the company to run itself without me being there every minute.
Of course, that transformation was already underway, using the same Work the System thinking. I attacked the overall problem by isolating the primary sleep system and then breaking it down into subsystems that could be manipulated.
By taking an outside-and-slightly-elevated vantage point, I was able to tweak my sleep process to more and more effciency, one piece at a time.
It was pure mechanics. Is there a major problem you are coping with right now? Can you break it down into segments?
Can you modify the segments one at a time? Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all. Because of this presumption of chaotic complexity, unraveling was impossible. Any possibility of internal improvement is subverted by the assumption that tampering with things over here will upset things over there.
The notion that a but- terfy fapping its wings over the jungles of Brazil has an impact on the weather patterns over New Hampshire is an interesting concept, but in the real world it evokes a nonsensical and subtle paranoia. Chapter 5: Execution and Transformation 59 Now I understand that the reason I had felt helpless to fx my business and my personal life was because I had seen them as impenetrable entities.
I never contemplated the notion of a process that would dissect them into simple subsystems that I could optimize one at a time. Instead of fxing the faulty mechanisms, I had been caught up in attending to the recurring problems those hidden faulty mechanisms had produced. So the years had crawled by as I whacked the moles. It seemed there was no other option but to wallow in the middle of it and hope for some kind of magical, holistic solution: I could have spent my whole life like that!
But now I had the solution. I would disassemble Centratel, fx the pieces one by one, and put them back together again. If I did that, it seemed sen- sible that the fnished product would be superior.
We had to fnd the money to pay staff and keep them working so the repair process could begin. With newfound emotional energy, I convinced my credit card company to raise my credit limit a bit so some cash could be drawn. A friend gave me a loan. Offering a discount, I talked a client into paying for a year of answering service in advance. Several staff members agreed to delay cashing their paychecks.
We made it through the payroll crisis, and I immediately began to turn my attention to creating three sets of documents that would get Cen- tratel on track: First, I would create the Strategic Objective, which would defne us and set goals. Second, I would put together the General Operat- ing Principles, which would serve as our guidelines for making decisions. Third, we would write out our Working Procedures, which would exactly defne every recurring process of the business.
Then I explained this new vision to my staff, outlining what we would do next and how they were going to assume new management postures. Ten- tatively at frst, we began creating our Working Procedures: For examination and repair, we frst selected the most fawed system and then moved on to the next most fawed.
From the moment of my late-night epiphany, we were on a new path of system improvement and there was no turning back. Marching ahead without pause, we quickly began to see results as confusion diminished and cash fow came under control.
In the frst six months, my workweek dropped from a hundred hours to sixty. Then, in the next six months, it fell below forty. Much of our early success had to do with the perfection of our internal communication system. Every moment, each of us knew what was going on in other parts of the business, and each of us could make decisions without stumbling in semantics or bureaucracy. We made all critical systems, both human and mechanical, redundant. The frst year passed and we confdently hammered on.
Customer and staff complaints steadily declined, and chaos dissolved into serenity as we relentlessly performed the work of improving systems. Precisely targeting our efforts through our Strategic Objective and Principles documents, and then following up with Working Procedures, we tackled the obvious recurring protocols, gobbling up ineffciencies. Every- thing we did met the criteria of the new systems thinking. We perfected bookkeeping, operations, HR, vendor relations, customer service, quality control, and marketing.
Forging ahead relentlessly, we rebuilt and docu- mented several hundred existing systems, one by one. At the same time, we created new systems from scratch and discarded useless ones.
Through it all, there was some employee turnover. They were replaced by fresh faces who bought into the sys- tems game plan. Today, we attract and keep smart, loyal, goal-oriented people because of how we operate. Also, because of our strict systemized approach, we are expert at sizing up people in job interviews.
Of course, Chapter 5: The high wages we pay are a result of the higher service rates we are able to charge, as well as the supereffcient operation itself. As error rates plunged, the overall quality of our answering service dramatically improved, light years better than industry standards.
The growth of the business went into high gear; within two years of instituting our new paradigm, we bought out all three of our local answering service competitors and we bought fve nonlocal ones as well.
We absorbed both of our voice mail service competitors, too. In that two-year period, our TAS client base grew from three hundred to seven hundred. In refecting on those years of rebuilding, it took a long time to straighten things out.
We invested and sometimes inadvertently wasted time and money as we experimented with new concepts, tried to fnd the right man- agement people, and stumbled with the system documentation.
Our relationship with a third minor partner, for example, had an enor- mous negative impact. That partnership began in the middle of the rejuve- nation and included sending some of our call processing chores overseas, which ultimately resulted in a severe loss of clients. This, in turn, led to full-blown legalities. In the end, we were able to buy the partners out of the company based upon a settlement agreement. There was a lot to do because in addition to the rebuilding efforts and the litigation, we had a business to run.
But, obviously, there was enough energy to do what we had to do. It was a long fve years, but I recall them with nostalgia and satisfaction. Today, I spend just a couple of hours a week working on Centratel business. If we were to do this again without having to develop the process from scratch, it would take fewer than eighteen months to reach the lifestyle and income we now enjoy.
As with the business, I had to change course right away, and it was obvious what I must do.
I would handle my physical problems with the same systems methodology. I changed my viewpoint. What, exactly, was making me ill? In fact, my problems stemmed from undergoing too much external stress. I got outside and up, looked down, and saw my body as a collection of subsystems, many of which could be manipulated.
My physical being was not a jumble of random happenings to which I could only react; it was a system of sys- tems, and some of those systems were not performing adequately.
As previously mentioned, I modifed or eliminated certain stress- inducing systems in order to prevent stress events from occurring in the frst place. The biggest relief was in cutting back my offce hours through the systemizing of Centratel. Finally, to stop cre- ating stress internally, I took the cognitive approach to eliminate negative thoughts as they emerged spontaneously. I created a personal written plan. I wrote a simple one-page controlling document in which I described my goals and guide- lines—a personal Strategic Objective.
I also created a personal Chapter 5: Once things got better, I continued to perform stress-reducing action items on a regular basis.
Always working toward the ideal, but not always reaching it, this preventative maintenance is what I have to do to stay healthy. The mantra of the Work the System method is to isolate-fx-maintain. It is not enough to know what to do. One must take action. What good is knowledge unless something changes for the better because of it?
Stress-Reducing Action Items It started with a simple list. I wrote down fve or six actions that would reduce stress. I carried the note in my pocket for a few days, jotting down additional ideas as they came to mind. These items were not special in any way; most people would agree that any one of them would help eliminate stress. Exercise vigorously but not excessively at least four times a week. Eat good food. Drink lots of water.
Ingest less sugar and salt. Each of these organs is, in turn, a collection of tissues. 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.