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Discussion Forum > Work the System

I recently stumbled upon the book "Work the System". The author offers it as a free pdf at

I find it very good. The system mindset seems to make sense to the way I think. I'm wondering if anyone here has read it and thought about how his system thesis might apply to time management?
May 12, 2017 at 7:56 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
Thanks Tommy! I downloaded the audiobook.
May 13, 2017 at 1:18 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
I downloaded the audio book -- actually I think I ended up with The Systems Mindset book, not Work The System, but the Mindset book is supposed to be a more focused version of the Work book, so maybe it doesn't matter.

I listened the first quarter of the book or so while driving home from work yesterday. I am intrigued by the premise, but it seems like he's taking a long time to elucidate it. He keeps going into sidebars like the problems of digital devices and television for disrupting focus. Useful sidebars, but they are sidebars nonetheless.

I also keep getting the sense that Goldratt's works run circles around this book. Especially The Choice, and the last several chapters of The Goal, where the story goes into some depth about finding the underlying cause-and-effect relationships in the world around us. It's a very similar concept -- all based on systems thinking -- but Goldratt goes a lot deeper than the parts I've heard in the Mindset book so far.

Maybe the first book, Work the System, goes into similar depth.
May 13, 2017 at 15:24 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Listened to the second quarter while driving around today. He got more into the "crux of the matter" (his words): the understanding that the stuff in our lives is the natural result of the "system machinery" running under the hood, or as he likes to say, "in the basement". All the phenomena on the surface are the natural and inevitable result of the workings of those hidden systems. The key to making positive change is to adjust the working of the machinery, but most of us spend time dealing with the phenomena directly, not even examining (and often not even aware of) the underlying machinery that is generating all those phenomena.

He then goes on to give examples, such as emotional conflicts. He says the emotions are the results of the underlying machinery, and are not a motive force unto their own.

So far he hasn't given any practical guidance on HOW to "adjust the machinery", but he promises to get to that in future chapters.
May 13, 2017 at 20:31 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Also, he puts a lot of emphasis on the idea that "99.9% of the machinery is working just fine". It's doing exactly what it should be doing.

My takeaway from his emphasis here is that the machinery has a lot of its own momentum, or even stronger, it's own motive force. And we can leverage that motive force by pointing the machinery in the right direction.
May 13, 2017 at 20:35 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
My feeling is still that Goldratt gets more to the heart of the matter: not simply that these systems exist, but that they always follow certain logical laws, laws of cause and effect, necessary conditions, sufficient causes, bottlenecks and constraints, statistical variation, sequential dependency, etc. By understanding those laws we can find fast ways to make breakthrough improvements in the overall system. This Mindset book hasn't touched on anything like that yet -- it's spent the whole first half just trying to convince the reader that these underlying systems exist.
May 13, 2017 at 20:39 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
By the way, another good book on systems thinking is Scott Adams' << How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life >>

Among other things, he makes a strong case that focusing on improving your systems is much more likely to give you the results you want than an approach that focuses on setting and achieving goals.

And Scott Adams is fun and easy reading. :-)

(He's the author of the Dilbert comic strip.)
May 13, 2017 at 20:48 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
One of the observations someone has made of self-help books is that the first half of the book explains the problem and how all the solutions up to that point have not fully addressed the problem. The second half of the book actually gets to the new thinking, or whatever the new complete solution is. So for any new self-help book, focus on the last half or last third for the new information you are really after.

Mark's books do not fit this paradigm :)
May 15, 2017 at 19:01 | Unregistered CommenterMike Brown
I've been a massive fan of Sam Carpenter's "Work The System". I struggled with it until I tried not to make it the 'be all and end all' for Time Management.

I initially thought that if everything is a set of steps, just mechanics, then surely I can manage my life using a set of working procedures (these are at the core of Work The System). Having tried this a few times, I got myself into a pickle and gave up on that premise.

I've resigned myself to the fact that working procedures aren't there for that. They should be *triggered* to execute discrete tasks. Once I’d come to this realisation, a whole new world opened up for me.

I have a working procedure, for example, for when I set up a meeting (basic example). It ensures I've invited the right people, book a room, add a conference number, add supporting documentation to the invite etc. The working procedure is triggered by my tasklist (using Personal Kanban as it happens).

I have LOTS of working procedures now. They are triggered either by calendar reminders or more frequently by my Kanban board. Once the working procedure is complete, I go back to the Kanban board to select my next task.

A working procedure keeps me on track with a task for sure, but more importantly, I am consistent. Where meetings are concerned, there is *never* a meeting that 5 minutes before we wonder whether we have a room or "what's the conference number?" or "shouldn't we have invited John?"

I feel I have the balance right between doing the right things (via my Personal Kanban) and doing things consistently the right – and continuously improving – way (via my Working Procedures). In addition, I have working procedures which, when triggered, have me clean up my Personal Kanban and make it operational.

Once you ‘get the systems mindset’ it’s difficult to shake it. I’ve given up trying to shake it and I decided to use it to my advantage!
May 20, 2017 at 23:09 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Gooch
I gave up on the Mindset book somewhere around chapter 25 or 30. These were supposed to be the hands-on practical chapters, but they just weren't that useful, and kept going off on quasi-philosophical preachy tangents.

Simon Gooch, the things you took away from the other book, sounds like the kind of stuff I took away from The Checklist Manifesto and from Mark's emphasis on crafting effective systems that he discusses in Do It Tomorrow and many other places. That's good and useful stuff!

But that doesn't seem to realize the full promise of the System books. I was expecting good practical guidance on how to figure out how the "underlying machinery" actually works, some real tangible examples. He never delivered on that. Or maybe he did discuss it in the final chapters, but I lost patience along the way.

I found Goldratt's material is far more illuminating. He gives great examples, starting in The Goal, especially about 2/3 of the way through, in the chapters after Alex Rogo's promotion when they are discussing how he should go about learning his new job as head of the division. There's a lengthy discussion of the Period Table of Elements as scientific example of discovering the underlying order of things, and how the same methods can be applied to running a factory (for example). In the next book, It's Not Luck, there is example after example, and a whole methodology laid out (esp. the "current reality tree") to uncover the cause-and-effect relationships governing any situation, so you can find the best leverage points for driving change. Fantastic stuff -- life-changing in many ways. I feel like the Goldratt books deliver on the promise of the Carpenter books. Goldratt's Theory of Constraints is a very deep well if you are willing to spend some time with it.

Your mileage may vary, of course!
May 21, 2017 at 3:26 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphim

I've always had problem with The Goal and the Theory of Constraints, but it wasn't until I read Taleb's "Antifragile" that I realised what it was. The systems they produce are not antifragile.

Over to you to tell me how wrong I am!
May 21, 2017 at 10:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I agree. The system mindset is helpful. I find even the process of thinking through a Working Procedure is of great value. I'm often amazed at how I benefit from intentionally looking at the steps needed.

I too am beginning to form working procedures for more and more things. Then when needed they are there and it goes as planned!
May 22, 2017 at 6:15 | Unregistered CommenterTommy
I read Sam Carpenter's "Work the System" some time ago. The bottom line I remember from it is: create as many working procedures as you can, follow them strictly, but don't hesitate to adapt them as soon as you detect that they are not optimal. This sounded to me as a repackaging of some Lean principles (without ever mentioning Lean however): SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures): standardising work to eliminate variability (not sure about the exact terminology any more), and a focus on continuous improvement (Kaizen).

But I also remember that the book was quite a long read with way too much personal history in order to come the the (rather simple) point.

The Goldratt books are lying around at home waiting to be read since a few years. I really must get around to them!
May 23, 2017 at 14:32 | Registered CommenterMarc (from Brussels)
Mark Forster:
<< I've always had problem with The Goal and the Theory of Constraints, but it wasn't until I read Taleb's "Antifragile" that I realised what it was. The systems they produce are not antifragile. >>

All I can really say is, that hasn't been my experience with TOC at all. This article explains it better than I could. Your mileage may vary. :-)

I'm beginning to think the best overall introduction to TOC might be The Choice, rather than The Goal. It's shorter and more to the point, and makes it much clearer how these concepts are fundamental / universal and not just limited to factory operations.
May 25, 2017 at 20:33 | Registered CommenterSeraphim