(Adapted from the book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making more and Working Less, Third Edition, by Sam Carpenter)
Some years ago I participated in Cycle Oregon, a weeklong bicycle tour. It was early September, and two thousand of us pedaled an average of seventy-five miles each day through remote eastern Oregon. At night we camped in ad hoc tent cities planted at various locations along the route— rural high school football fields, small town parks, and wheat fields. Seldom did we have cell telephone coverage. That was just fine as we, en masse, divorced ourselves from the damn things for this seven-day break from the regular world.
At dusk on the last night of the tour, as my friend Steve and I were casually walking through the surrounding sea of tents, we encountered a group of twenty-something young men sitting around drinking beer, being boisterous. We overheard them laughing, waging bets about how many voice mail messages one of them would have the next day when he was back within cell phone range and able to check his messages. Clearly, back in the real world these guys worked together in an office. One predicted the total messages would be 150, another, 250. The young man on the receiving end of the jest was robust and confident. He smiled at the fawning. It was obvious this man was important in his workplace. He was well respected, a leader, and most probably a high earner—a success. People depended on him.
For thirty-three years I have been owner, general manager, and CEO of a small telecom business in Bend, Oregon. Centratel is profitable and has forty-five employees and a solid, loyal client base. The part I play is important; in my world I’m also a leader and high earner. Many people depend on me, too. When I checked my voice mail the next day as I began the long drive home, there was just one message. Andi, my COO, had left an update because she knew I would want to get caught up on things when I was again able to pick up my messages. She reported that all was well in the office, and she hoped I had had a fun week away from things. “Drive home safely,” she said. That was it. She didn’t need to address the obvious: during the week, without an ounce of input from me, and without a hitch, the business had functioned superbly as it churned out tens of thousands of dollars of profits. It didn’t matter that I was absent.
Does part of this narrative strike close to home? Are you in the belly-of-the-beast, with nearly everything depending on YOU?
How does a business owner break loose from the personal tyranny of “having to show up, of escaping from the belly-of-the-beast? It’s a simple thing, but it requires a fundamental perspective shift, a change in the most basic understanding of “how things work.” It’s an in-the-guts, visceral grasp that life is a collection of systems, each of which produces a specific result. If the business owner can see life this way, real-time, then work-emphasis will be on adjusting internal systems so each produces the desired result. This is not how most people live. Almost everyone spends their time fire-killing the bad results of their unseen and therefore unmanaged systems. Escaping really is this simple….
Note: Centratel CEO and international business consultant Sam Carpenter has written extensively on the concepts of system improvement and the systems mindset. Centratel’s HVAC Answering Service assists hundreds of heating, ventilation and air conditioning businesses during and after-hours, throughout the United States and is, by a variety of statistics, the highest quality answering service available among the approximately 1,500 services nationwide.