EDIT: Here’s the interview I prepared this outline for: Mixergy (you need to watch it)
Topic: [do this] and [get that]: Implement and refine systems so that you can work less, focus on whats important and earn exponentially more. Sam used systems to go from working gruelling 100 hour weeks, to working 2 hours per week and earning 20x more.
After story: The Oregon based cycling story with the important young man and his voicemail in comparison to Sam’s lack of voicemail… “all those voice mail messages attest to his status and importance, but in the bigger picture, he is a slave to his job. And the people who depend on him are slaves to his presence.”
Back story: Centratel struggled for survival for 15 years and existed at the brink of disaster. During this time Sam worked 100 hour weeks and attempted to control all aspects of operation himself. It got so bad that Sam would take calls by himself from midnight to 8AM, he and his kids moved into the office because he couldn’t afford rent, employees checks bounced, and the bills were ALWAYS late. In the 16th year everything changed: “The root cause of the turnaround was the discovery and application of the principle that management must focus on improving systems, not in performing the work or in repeatedly snuffing out brushfires. In short, quality products or services, a stable staff, and profitability are the result of the quality systems that produce them, not the reverse.” Centratel is now a high-tech, national telephone answering service whose yearly revenues are approaching $3 million. Sam now works less than 2 hours a week and earns 20x more than he did when he worked 100 hours a week… explain the importance of systems in a company that deals with human to human interaction 24/7/365 and that the calls are usually emergencies and therefore are that much more likely to produce complications in communication.The Book’s Mantra: “First, I would create the Strategic Objective, which would define us and set goals. Second, I would put together the General Operating Principles, which would serve as our guidelines for making decisions. Third, we would write out our Working Procedures, which would exactly define every recurring process of the business….. the mantra of the Work the System method is to isolate-fix-maintain. It is not enough to know what to do. One must take action.”

[Think like a project engineer and recognize that everything is a system.]

  1. Tactic 1: Become a “project engineer” with an outside and slightly elevated perspective (OASE):
    1. The opposite of common vantage point (below the situation and partially blinded by the weight of the problem), OASE allows managers to view problems separately and distinctly which makes you able to conquer the problem mechanically.
    2. Illustrative story: Story of Sam’s job as a new-service facilitator and his transition to “project engineer” at an electric company. (a metaphor of sub-systems and systems)
    3. (or)Story of the manager who lost his job, and you are a troubleshooter who comes in and serves as a technician to the metaphorical machine that represents the systems found in the managers department.
    4. (or) toilet paper analogy
  2. Tactic: Define & Create a Strategic Objective (Dec. of Independence):
    1. Create a single page document (a guidebook) that defines overall goals, describes methodology, and prescribes positive actions for both major and minor decisions.
    2. Illustrative story: Describe Centratel’s Strategic Objective “We are the highest-quality telephone answering service in the United States,” the text that follows, and it’s effect.
  3. Tactic: Draft General Operating Principles (Constitution)
    1. This document expands upon the Strategic Objective and is a collection of foundational guidelines for making decisions. Centratel’s document contains 30 principles that are tried-and-true, sensible, and simple to understand and remember.
    2. Illustrative story: Explain Centratel’s Principle #8 “… just a few services implemented in superb fashion.” It mandated that Centratel stop selling cell-phones as an add-on service, because they couldn’t depend on the quality of the cell provider’s customer service. This gave Centratel better quality control and better results.
    3. (or) Explain Principle #30 “We strive for a social climate that is serious and quit yet pleasant, serene, light and friendly.”
  4. Tactic: Draft Working Procedures (Code of law)
    1. This is the blue-collar philosophy of sub-systems on an operational level. You first analyse a system individually, document it as is, find the cause of any recurring problem or inefficiency, devise a system improvement, create a documented Working Procedure prototype, then test the new procedure in action, tweak it to perfection, and have employees follow it exactly.
    2. Illustrative story: Paying bills used to take 14 hours. Then he created a system that cut it down.
    3. The “Deposit Procedure” which provided management staff with exact directions for processing the dozens of client payments that come in the mail each day. The first deposit procedure contained 53 steps…
    4. (or) The Working Procedure that TSR used to process incoming calls…
  5. Tactic: Tweaking the system:
    1. If you find any improvement in your system, make sure to document it so the system will continue to run well.
    2. Illustrative story: A disaster for an Apple cart vendor is the cart tipping over and all the apples falling out. This is the initial fix of the system. The cart no longer tips over, but apples still fall out. That’s a more manageable and quickly solvable problem. It’s also a problem that can be completely eliminated through system documentation. Eventually, you can improve the “cart” (system) so that it can hold more apples and you can sell more product.
    3. (or) any tweaking that occurred to the stories listed in the Working Procedure section.
  6. Tactic: Focus on what you can control and stop living for the instant success:
    1. Focusing on things you can’t control only causes stress, complaining, discontent and produces minimal results at best. Instead, focus on changing what you have direct control over, recognize that you are taking the small steps to get to the big win and improve those processes relentlessly.
    2. Illustrative story: Sam’s young life as a hippie “love child” who blamed “the system”: He describes himself as a narcissistic complainer who blamed everyone else for his current situation. After years of being discontent for earning minimum wage at a series of unfulfilling jobs, he decided to go back to school and learn something that could be used to create a fulfilling future.
    3. (or the positive) A NASA space shuttle launch: It takes tens of thousands of systems operating perfectly, each system is a result of an engineer perfecting what they can control, in order for the launch to be a success. “there have been 125 flights, 2 of which were spectacularly horrible failures. Yet, considering the incredible complexity of the endeavor, and acknowledging the human penchant for error, one could legitimately wonder why there have not been more catastrophes than this.”
  1. Tactic: Off-the-street people (OTSP):
    1. The people who will “do the work.” The OTSP  can be novices or professionals but because of thorough documentation and systems strategies, they don’t necessarily need specific experience in a given field in order to perform superbly.
    2. Illustrative story: The story of the consistently good tasting kiosk coffee and how systems force any employees to create a consistent product.
    3. (or) Breaking the rules and job security. You can now fire employees and replace them more logically. The bad employees aren’t buying in and it’s because they aren’t following the system. Time to hire someone who will. Systems cut make the new employees profitable almost immediately, instead of wasting company resources on extensive training.
  2. Tactic: Focus first on fixing those systems (of those that matter) that are most flawed and therefore performing poorest.
    1. Illustrative story: Much of Centratel’s early success came from improving the system of internal communication. Once this system was improved, employees now knew what was going on in other parts of the business, which allowed each of them to make decisions without stumbling in semantics or bureaucracy.
    2. (or) A huge problem for Centratel was the time and effort it took to pay monthly bills. The process didn’t increase revenue, so the time it took was negatively effecting the bottom line. It required 14 hours of Sam’s time monthly because he did the process alone and manually. After trail and error, Sam discovered that he could have 90% of monthly bills paid automatically in QuickBooks.
  1. Tactic: Stop multitasking
    1. and looking for a sudden hand-of-God to create revenue growth. This mindset causes you to stress that you can’t grow revenue so instead you focus on the now and simply attempt to cure symptoms (the problem now) instead of the disease (the system) which unnecessarily increases complexity and clouds thinking. Too often, a belief that you can’t effect growth immediately is used an excuse for inaction. Instead, focus on one specific task that produces a tangible result and improve it completely and relentlessly.
    2. Illustrative story: The whack a mole story. Stop just hitting them on the head and waiting for them to come back up. Completely eradicate the problem and create systems that prevent them from coming back up. “Addressing the problem, and then taking this second step to fix the cause of the problem, distinguishes the people who are in control from the people who are not in control—the successful from the unsuccessful.”
  1. Tactic: systems work perfectly enough at a certain point and the law of diminishing returns.
    1. Create systems that function 98% optimally, the remaining 2% are so difficult to attain that it isn’t fiscally wise to attempt to improve them to that level.
    2. The story of Ben and John and their survey project…
  1. Tactic: Biological Prime Time (BPT). Only work in the few hours of the day when you’re at maximum effectiveness. People function at maximum effectiveness just a few hours per twenty-four-hour day.
    1. Use those hours to perform mission critical tasks. IF you are a morning person, protect that time. Same goes for those who function best at night. Also, use this time to create your initial Work The System documentation.
    2. John could perhaps expound on how he uses his BPT
Great Quotes:

“the almost visceral societal belief to the contrary, there is a direct connection between happiness and the amount of control we attain…. Happiness is not found in the control we have over others. It’s found in the control we have over the moment-to-moment trajectory of our own lives, and more exactly—here we get to the root of things—the control of the personal systems that are ours to adjust and maintain.”Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 20). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.“Is there something you do to your body that is making it less efficient? Are you excelling in system management in some areas while sabotaging yourself in others?”Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 39). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

“ 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 efficiency and strength—then it was logical this would be true for the other primary system
that was in immediate crisis: my physical and mental self.”

Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 56). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

“The focus must be on the proactive management of systems, not on coping with random system results.”

Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 70). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

“Addressing the problem, and then taking this second step to fix the cause of the problem, distinguishes the people who are in control from the people who are not in control—the successful from the unsuccessful.”

Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 73). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

“What’s the most important difference between the manager of a large successful business and the manager of a small struggling business? The first manages systems; the second copes with bad results.”

Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 76). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

make the various systems consciously visible. Second, one at a time, bring them to the foreground for examination. Third, adjust them. Fourth, document them. Fifth, maintain them.

Carpenter, Sam (2009-05-01). Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less (p. 81). Greenleaf Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Separate but applicable quotes:

“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. 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 no action at all.” —Norman Vincent Peale

“A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awake!”  — Duke Leto Atreides (Jürgen Prochnow) from the movie Dune (Universal, 1984)

“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” —Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) from the movie The Departed (Warner Bros., 2006)