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How to run your business like NASA going to the moon

This is the first installment in our series on developing and designing clear systems in your business. Click here for part two, part threepart four, part five and part six.

I remember watching the moon landings on a black-and-white television as a kid and being fascinated by the idea. And now, years later, I’m still excited by big rockets and the notion of space travel. I apologize up-front if space isn’t your thing—but stay with me—because building rockets and flying to the moon is a strong testament to the value of systems. And though it might not seem like there’s much in common between your business and mission control, the systems you use can have just as much of an impact as the systems NASA used to land on the moon—exactly 50 years ago this past July.

Systems in your business can do anything—they can give you the freedom to pursue your astronaut dreams, or simply ease the frustrations that come with managing your finances.

In this series, I’ll help shift your perspective so you can gain more control over your organization, create a blueprint for developing your business sustainably, and ultimately build a business that doesn’t rely on you.

To start, I want to introduce you to six ideas that will change the way you think. We’ll cover each of these ideas in turn over the course of the series:

  1. You are a systems engineer, whether you’re aware of it or not. (This is where we’re starting today.)
  2. Ignoring this truth will create a business that’s out of control. We call this The Growth Paradox.
  3. The solution is to recognize that developing your business and building systems are not separate activities, they're one and the same.
  4. You can’t fly to the moon (and make it home safely) without a working Operations Manual.
  5. Identifying the key systems you need to succeed is the strategic work of your business.
  6. You can’t shortcut this the process of developing your business, but you can model success and follow a blueprint that works.

Business owners often seek out EMyth Coaches because they believe they want systems. The truth, however, is their business is already built around systems. It’s just that some of those systems aren’t producing the results they want. Everything that happens in your business is the by-product of a system that you’ve created—with or without awareness—and it will likely continue to produce the same result, day-in-day-out, even if that result is actually damaging your business.

Your systems, like your business, are a reflection of your skills, life experience and personality. Do you think Gene Kranz (the Apollo Flight Director) had a different approach to system design than Steve Jobs? You bet—and it’s not just because one managed Houston’s Mission Control and the other built computers. They thought differently, had different values, different skills and they built their management teams within different organizational cultures. So, when you think about the business you run and the type of leader you are, start by asking: what sort of system engineer am I?

  • Who drives the systems in your business? What skills do they have and how much supervision do they need?
  • Do you quantify the intended results of your systems and measure their effectiveness?
  • Do you have a culture where each day you go to work eliminating weaknesses and improving your results?
  • Do you consider risk in your business and have contingency plans in place?

The answers to these questions will help you understand the way you think, design, implement and test your business systems. If you’re not the one driving the systems in your business, then why not? If you aren’t quantifying the intended results, then how do you know how effective your systems really are? As the leader of your business, you’re also its lead systems engineer. You’re Mission Control—and it’s your job to map the way to the moon. Or, in this case, lead your business in accomplishing your vision.

The kind of systems you gravitate toward will reflect your strengths and weaknesses as the entrepreneur and driving force in your business. And while you may have the best system you can think of, it may not necessarily be the best system for the job. What’s undeniably true is that everything that happens in your business is the by-product of a system that you’ve created—with or without awareness—and it will likely continue to produce the same result, day-in-day-out, even if that result is actually damaging your business.

The entrepreneur in you wants to be building long-term value instead of managing the next problem on your list. You want to focus on the future and you also have to manage today’s systems. You have to balance the tension with wanting everything to have its place, and making sure that everything is in its place, and the sum of that is a finely-tuned system called ‘your business’.

Let’s look at a simpler business than flying rockets to the moon or building computers: cooking a simple hamburger.

Unlike most small business owners before him—and since—Ray Kroc went to work on his business, not in it. He began to think about his business like an engineer working on a pre-production prototype of a mass-producible product. He began to reengineer McDonald's decades before the word and the process came into fashion.

The EMyth Revisited—Michael E. Gerber

Remember this: You are the systems engineer in your business, whether you’ve known that all along or not. Not paying attention to systems will lead to a business that's out of control and leave you feeling overwhelmed because your business is too reliant on you.

If this article inspired you to think differently about systems in your business, let me know. I’ll reply directly to your comments and make space in the rest of this series to go deeper and give you some system solutions.

In the next article in this series, I'll dive further into what gives you control over your business and why this is the real driver of growth.

Nick Lawler

Written by Nick Lawler

Nick is an EMyth Coach. He was the Chef/Proprietor of a hotel, restaurant and events business in the UK for twelve years before becoming an EMyth Coach. His articles focus on making the transition from technician to business owner.