Business (and Life) Success via a Simple Mindset Tweak

In books on the subject of achieving business success there are two classic approaches:

  1. Do certain physical things – follow the recommended tips – and life will be swell
  2. Perform certain brain-teaser routines to manipulate one’s self, and one’s staff, into more productivity

The Work the System methodology takes a profoundly different stance. It goes deeper, calling for a simple “tweak” in the leader’s perspective. The subsequent necessary actions come naturally.

In my small business I worked 80-100 hours a week for 15 years, with an income just barely enough to support my two kids and me (I was a single custodial parent for 15 years). When the new vision finally came to me at fifty years of age, back in the year 2000, I immediately turned things around. I now work 2 hours a week while my personal income is dozens of times what it was back then. My original business, a specialized telecom business with approximately 2,000 competitors nationwide, is #1 in the industry by a variety of statistics including a beyond-category profit margin. I’ve had it for 30 years now.

Work the System’s simple premise addresses the following reality: Most people, including the typical corporate manager or small business owner, sees the world as a complex mass of sights, sounds, and events in which one must work long, stressed hours. And, there are almost always concurrent cash flow problems. There is no time or money to do R&D, coddle customers, or otherwise do the creative tasks necessary for growth. An entire life can be spent like this, killing fires, adding Band-Aid after Band-Aid, performing tedious recurring routines, and scrounging operating funds.

What is the foundational reason for business mediocrity and failure? The leader isn’t seeing the mechanisms that are producing the bad results.  If a leader is blind to the mechanics, he or she won’t be able to adjust those mechanics in order to climb out of the morass. This is important: The leader’s hectic fire-killing methodology is NOT the foundational problem: It’s only a SYMPTOM of the leader’s lack of understanding of real-world mechanics.

And what is the truth of the world’s mechanics? That life is not a confused mish-mash of sights, sounds and events but instead is an orderly collection of separate processes. Once we internally grasp this system-separateness, each individual system makes perfect sense and is easy to understand, and therefore easy to adjust. Here’s something else about how the things of the world work: Every system in our lives executes step-by-step, in a linear fashion, over time. And, this too: In this moment of time, every condition of our lives was preceded by a process. So, it makes sense to spend THIS day, THIS moment in time, attending to our processes: Today, we must live inside our systems if we are to create the future results we desire.

The  Work the System  methodology goes “one layer deeper.” requiring only a simple change in mindset – an “outside and slightly elevated” vantage point – a mindset that sees clearly sees the separate systems of the world. Once one “gets” the new perspective, subsequent correct actions are obvious. The WTS mindset is absurdly logical and self-evident as it paves the way to incredible efficiency at work and in personal life. The added bonus is a relaxed, positive state of mind in which one feels a true sense of control over events and outcomes. The WTS methodology is not hocus-pocus, mystical, esoteric, or faith-based. It’s about simple, believable mechanics. There is no need for a list of tips, or for motivational-gimmicks.

Again (for emphasis), once the vision is acquired – the ability to perceive, moment-to-moment, the myriad of separate systems in one’s world – the next steps are obvious. (The first third of my book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, is geared to help the reader “get” the new mindset. the last two thirds of the book provide structure.) 

The heart of the mindset: Our individual lives are not inherently chaotic and they don’t have to be at the mercy outside influences. And despite the media’s never-ending dooms-day diatribes, the world itself is NOT going to Hell. Get THIS: The world is a collection of individual linear systems, most of which operate at 99.9% efficiency…and each one produces some kind of a result. Every result and situation in our lives is the end result of an underlying system. Consider a tree, a cat, a business,  a marriage,  a car, a house, or the human body. All of these “primary systems” are in existence due to the sub-systems that work together to form that particular entity. For example, the human body is an incredibly complex arrangement of billions of cells and trillions of electrical signals executing every second. Subsystems include neuromuscular, structural; cardiovascular, etc. There’s the liver, the stomach, the heart, the  brain…countless components! And it all works near-flawlessly as systems interact, adjust, and maintain themselves without overt outside guidance from the owner. (Yes, of course there are malfunctions in the human primary system – and in any primary system – but compared to the overall operating mechanism, these flaws are a tiny, tiny fraction of  the overall impeccability…).  So, inductive reasoning points to the following simple conclusion: The world as a whole is 99.9% flawless in its operation despite our tendency to focus on the relatively few malfunctions.

Just because our lives get caught up with imperfection doesn’t mean imperfection is the way of the world. We humans tend to major in minors…

At work, how does one fix what is inefficient? Break down the workplace into separate linear systems – how the phone is answered, how the bank deposit is made, how a sales presentation is performed. For each system, in a simple 1-2-3 step format, create documentation describing the execution of that process. Get the staff to “climb on board” this system-improvement quest (more on that in a minute). Then, with your coworkers, brainstorm improvements and then, in the documentation, improve the sequence of steps until they are perfect. Reinsert the perfected system into the operation. As a matter of policy, everyone in the organization will execute each perfected system in the same exact sequence every single time – yet everyone understands that if a system can be further improved, that adjustment will be made instantly. When problems occur, that problem is a gift because it indicates that a further system improvement can be made.

This is called “working the system.” The heart of the new perspective? Focus on the systems that create the results, not on shuffling around the bad results that occur due to unseen and therefore unmanaged systems. Spend your day working on system improvement and the great results will take care of themselves.

Does this sounds regimented? It is regimented but the release valve is in giving your people instant and generous autonomy to “tweak” systems to higher efficiency. It’s a corporate culture centered around system improvement, not fire-killing. The staff creates and adjusts business systems all day long. That’s what they DO. Managers and front line staff constantly “work their systems,” relentlessly improving processes to create desired results, rather than dealing with the bad results of unmanaged systems. Getting everyone to climb on board is a simple matter: Once everything is in place, you and your people make more money and have more time, the work environment is serene, and there is a powerful sense of pride throughout the organization.

It’s a new way to see life; a new way to live.

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Note: Centratel CEO and international business consultant Sam Carpenter has written extensively on the concepts of system improvement and the systems mindset. Centratel’s Medical Answering Service assists hundreds of clinics 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.

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