Federal express measures how fast every package gets from every shipper to every receiver. McDonalds measures how fast every customer receives their Big Mac and Coke. Disney measures how long
every guest stands in each line at Disneyland. And most small businesses don’t know if they were profitable until just before April 15th, proclaimed National IRS Day. Are they lazy? Nope. Stupid? Rarely. Can’t use computers? Maybe, but it shouldn’t matter. They have no system.

Fritjof Capra wrote that a system is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of its parts. Without a system, the individual players act randomly, coming into contact with one another by chance, and reactively responding to each other. The companies mentioned above are able to measure their businesses only because they have a repeating, dependable system in place. FedEx loses packages. McDonald’s employees are often uninspired, plodding sullenly through their task serving 38-second french fries. Of 40-ish total rides, the average Disneyland rider manages 10 per day, due to obscenely long lines. All, in some eyes, have a bad system. But they have a system against which they can measure, allowing them to make positive change.

In the absence of a system, you could only make component-level changes and hope for the best. You could use your gut to understand an employee’s performance and replace or promote on that measure. But the success of your change could again be measured only on gut feel. It is therefore better to make a system sooner and changes later. Measure first and change second. And, of course, have a system for measurement and a system for change. Do not be afraid of mistakes. And do not be afraid of change.

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