March 17, 2010 defines a system as “an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole” or, as it pertains to computers, “a working combination of hardware, software, and data communications devices.” These are both good definitions. They both capture the essence, in a succinct way, of the word. But I would like to add my own definition as it pertains to business and particularly, business success:

System: (n) [sis-tuhm] A series of interlinking parts, processes and people designed to work together to advance a stated goal.

In a for-profit business, the goal must be to make money for the shareholders. If, along the way, you accomplish other important goals (help the environment, increase employee prosperity, promote your community) then it is all well and good; however, these must follow the goal of making money. The business system, then, must work in such a fashion to increase shareholder profits.

Any time you have a business, no matter the size, you have a system. If your business is profitable, and it will continue making money in the near future, you have a system that works. But you don’t have a perfect system. I don’t have a perfect system. Nobody, not even McDonalds, with their system wizardry, is perfect. Perfection, in fact, is the enemy of the good. A business system that will survive not just in the near future, but indefinitely, is desired–and the only way to accomplish this to constantly correct it. Change it. Modify it. Help it along. Analyze it. Question it. Ask your people their opinion on it. Think about it. To rephrase a commonly-held business belief: if a business isn’t changing, it’s dying.

The paradoxical thing about a good system is that change is built into it. A good system, for example, is outlined by our Constitution–it not only laid out the beliefs held by our founding fathers on the proper governance of a country, but change was also built in. It allowed for constitutional amendment. It allowed for the fact that it wasn’t perfect; in fact, it wasn’t designed to be perfect. Business systems are no different. You must build an amendment provision into your system.

Competition changes. The law changes. Employees and vendors and customers change. Your entire business environment can and will change. Build a system that works for your customers, for your business. And then change it.


2 Responses to “Definition”

  1. Nick Says:

    Interesting look at businesses as systems. Just like a complex machine, they can be thought of in terms of efficiency, complexity, and robustness. It seems so simple, but before reading this I hadn’t thought of a business as a system intended to turn time into money. It seems to fit alongside a machine too, that if you push it too hard to produce more units of money per unit of time than it can handle, it’ll fall apart without investments in increased efficiency and reliability.

  2. Anna Kelley Says:

    I hadn’t thought about the idea that a good system has change built in. That applies to so many areas of life: house design, relationships, etc., as well as money-making systems.

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