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Work the System

Work the System is a book that I read years ago and keep referring back to over time. While it’s better known as the book on business systemization, it’s much more than that.

Most business owners and managers are told to systemize – to standardize and streamline their team and processes to a uniform and replicable level to achieve better business results. And most people who read Work the System start out with it that way – then realize that there’s much more to it. Work the System is really a manifesto and guide for how you can view the world through a lens of systems and mechanics, and how to operate in that world.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Carpenter in-person last year, and he is every bit as passionate about systems as the book suggests. We did a quick interview as well:

Work the System: The Book

So what’s in the book?

There’s the business systems and implementation side of it, which is what most people start reading the book for.

It covers how to write your strategic objective, your general operating principles and your standard operating procedures (SOPs). In truth, this stuff isn’t really all that complicated and is laid out in very clear detail in the book.

There’s also the systems mindset side, which is the real meat of the book. This is about the big ideas around mindsets, beliefs and principles for really understanding how the world is comprised of systems and how you can see it from that perspective as well.

Here are some choice ideas from the book:

  • Most people go through life putting out fires without seeing the cause of those fires. This is the idea of “death by a thousand papercuts”. Most people live in a reactive mode, dealing with emergencies as they arise, and never addressing the root causes of those emergencies. If we just step back and analyze a little, we can locate the cause and correct it.
  • The world is 99.99% perfect already. This is the idea that the world is inherently mechanical and systematic – and will continue on with or without you. In fact, most of the “big problems” of today are human problems – even if we mess it all up, the Earth and reality will continue on without humanity.
  • Most of human history has been about careful preparation with no immediate payback. This is the idea that immediate gratification is very-much a modern-day phenomenon. I don’t agree with this 100% (there are warnings against wasting time by watching quail fighting in Meditations), but the barriers to instant gratification are definitely much lower today.
  • To change something in your life, change the systems and watch the effects trickle down. This is a huge mindset shift and part of the reason that I no longer set goals in the traditional sense. Instead of goals, think about what the system in each area of your life is, and work to tweak that system to have it produce a beneficial result in that area of your life. The goal isn’t to lose 10kg, it’s to build a training and nutrition system that will result in 10kg lost and keep you that way. The goal isn’t to make $100,000, it’s to develop a system that results in that income.

In Closing

Sam Carpenter is the real deal – he lives and breathes systems.

Viewing the world through a lens of systems isn’t the only way to see how things work, but it is definitely a useful one for drawing ideas and inspiration from – and is probably one perspective that most people have never considered.

If you’re a business owner and you don’t know how to build systems – this book will show you how.

If you want to put some more order and structure into the way your life looks – this book will show you how.

And the best part – it’s available for free at https://www.workthesystem.com/ or you can buy a copy on Amazon.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Aaron: thanks for the kudos. Your comment re instant gratification is right-on. I have modified that portion of my book to better reflect your point, that the drive for instant gratification is nothing new: it’s just easier to achieve nowadays. The improvement will appear in the next printing. Thanks!

  2. I bought the book after watching your interview with Sam. I then signed up for the group coaching with the Work The System consultants. I have only scratched the surface in systemitizing my family’s hotel business, but already, the results are dramatic! Thanks Aaron.

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