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How can ordinary people create extraordinary results?

This is the third installment in our series on developing and designing clear systems. Click here for part one, part twopart fourpart five and part six.

This week, I want to share a concept that will help you turn your current business frustrations into operational systems. It’s one small step for you and your team—but it will be one giant leap for your business.

Some days as a business owner, I felt completely consumed by my business. The only thing I could count on was a frustrating lack of control as I raced around putting out fires. On days like that, I found myself wishing I were like the members of the Apollo program—the mad scientist, the iron-jawed leader and the astronaut:

  • Robert Gilruth: NASA pioneer who persuaded President Kennedy to aim for the moon. He was the entrepreneur and visionary in the program.
  • Gene Kranz: Flight Director at Mission Control—the manager surrounded by banks of consoles that controlled every system on the Apollo rocket and lunar module.
  • Neil Armstrong: Commander of Apollo 11—the consummate technician who knew every detail so intimately he was able to avoid a crater and still land on the moon with only 20 seconds of fuel to spare.

Why do I draw out the roles these men played inside the Space Program? Because they mirror what the successful relationship between the Entrepreneur, Manager and Technician can look like.

As an owner, I had to be all three roles. I was the Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician—and I was struggling to keep up. I wanted to be someone else, but wishing I was one of my childhood heroes was part of what was getting in the way of growing my business and developing my leadership skills.

When I started working with an EMyth Coach, they asked me to think about myself. I worked on things like time management—seemingly simple, but I could see after one week all of the things that I shouldn’t have been doing. I spent too much time micromanaging my employees, and all the work I thought I was getting done was really a collection of half-thought-out strategies. When I stopped and looked at all the different roles I was filling, I realized something core to the EMyth Approach: My business was a reflection of me. That’s a deeply humbling reality all of the time, but especially when things aren’t going your way. In order to be bigger than your business, rather than being consumed by it, you have to be yourself. Be your best self, but be yourself anyway. That was a fact I had to learn. That’s why this series started with the idea that system engineering is the owner's responsibility—and control, not growth, is the first phase of your system development process.

Great businesses are not built by extraordinary people but by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But for ordinary people to do extraordinary things, a system—'a way of doing things'—is absolutely essential.

Michael E. Gerber, The EMyth Revisited

How can you create extraordinary results inside your business?

Once you’ve started to carve out strategic time for yourself, to work on your business as an Entrepreneur and not just in the business as a Technician, you need a way of thinking about building a business that does the work. This is the cycle for developing your business:

innovation quantification orchestration

  • Innovation is using creativity to solve problems in new ways, including the improvement of existing systems.
  • Quantification is using numbers to measure and evaluate the impact made by your innovations and tracking their performance over time.
  • Orchestration is the elimination of discretion in your business by documenting a system that works, training your team to run the system, implementing the system and creating a management culture where the system delivers consistently, predictably, and reliably—until innovation improves it.

Having a defined approach to develop your business—rather than being reactive and fighting fires—allows you to identify deep underlying themes in yourself and the business that are the source of most of your day-to-day frustrations. It’s a continuous circle because:

  • Innovation without quantification or orchestration is a whole bunch of great ideas that do nothing.
  • Quantification without innovation or orchestration is like counting sheep—pointless and it puts you to sleep.
  • Orchestration without innovation or quantification is running around with no place to go.

You need all three parts to create a business that works. And it’s a cycle because just as the world doesn’t stop turning, your business will keep evolving and your approach for developing your business needs to keep pace with the world around you.

You're now ready to dive into solving existing problems in your business with better systems. But let me also say that, if you’re just learning the process of thinking systemically about your business, don’t start with a big problem, like "We don't have a marketing strategy." Start with a small frustration that you can involve your team in and learn the process of solving frustrations systematically (something like, ‘The office is a mess and we’re surrounded by clutter").

Transforming Frustrations into System Solutions

As the leader of your business, it’s your job to think about the bigger picture. The critical thinking involved in this process gets you past superficial symptoms to understand the underlying causes and effects. Every area of your business is connected. And when you realize that you’re getting a repeated pattern of undesired results, you see it’s up to you to find the root cause. With these questions, you’ll evaluate your frustrations, determine the real source of the problem and then work to create a system solution.

  • What’s bothering me?
  • Who and/or what is contributing to the frustration and how?
  • How is my business structured so this undesirable pattern of events exists in the first place?
  • How much is this costing my business?
  • What result am I not getting?
  • What is the solution going to look like?
  • Does it make sense to address this now? If not, when?
  • What exactly does the system to produce that solution need to look like?
  • How exactly will the system be implemented?

Answering these questions will help you dig deeper into what’s happening in your business, but an EMyth Coach will help you really understand the process, get comfortable with how it works, train your team and implement it fully in your business. Like anything new, it can feel uncomfortable at first. I promise you it gets easier—and more rewarding—each time you use this technique.

Recognizing the real problem is the heart of the process.

This process gives ordinary people, like you and me, a way to create extraordinary results inside our businesses, and that’s an important accomplishment you shouldn’t underestimate.

Let’s just quickly review what we’ve learned. We started this series by learning about your responsibility as a systems engineer. Secondly, we decided on starting with a strategy of control before you focus on growth. Now we’ve added a process for systematically dealing with your frustrations based on the cycle for developing your business: Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration.

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 provide you with system solutions.

In the next article in this series, we’ll cover the basic properties of system design and why an Operations Manual is so important to your business.

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.