Systems and athletics

Professional athletes spend much of their time training and practicing. Whether it is running, or lifting weights, or watching videos, or practicing plays, far more time is spent honing their skills than actually performing in competition. Their goal is to automatize the actions necessary for success. Their goal is to take consistent actions.

Consistent actions lead to consistent results, whether in athletics or in business. An athlete achieves this consistency through practice. A business achieves this consistency through systems.

Systems provide specific steps for completing a particular task. Just as a pitcher knows that a particular arm movement will produce a particular result, a business knows that a particular action will produce a particular result. When a business owner identifies the desired result and the actions that produce that result, he can more consistently achieve his goals.

Much of the work of a professional athlete is boring and routine. Away from the roaring crowds, his life is filled with monotony. He must exercise, watch his diet, and get sufficient rest. All aspects of his life are geared toward the achievement of the results he desires.

The same is true of a successful business–all of its parts must mesh and work together. This is the role of systems. They provide integration and cohesiveness. And like the training undertaken by an athlete, the process of developing systems and procedures might seem boring and routine. But the results are well worth the effort.

Don’t just do something, stand there

Sometimes it is easy to get so wrapped up in running our small business that we can’t see the big picture. We get bogged down in the daily grind of meeting customers, managing employees, making widgets, and paying the bills.

While these are necessary activities, they are examples of working in our business rather than on our business. They don’t help us plan, organize, or build our business. And when we don’t spend time doing these things, tomorrow will be no different from today.

Sometimes it’s best to stop doing and survey the scenery. Sometimes we need to not do something, but just stand there. (I don’t mean this literally.) Sometimes we need to step away from the daily activities of our business.

Setting goals may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us identify where we want to go. Planning may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us identify how we will get there. Developing systems may seem like a waste of time, but it helps us implement our plan. All of these help us build a better business.

If we set goals then we know where we are going. If we plan our actions then we know how we will get there. If we develop systems our actions become more efficient and we are more likely to achieve the desired results.

Sometimes it’s best to step back and look around. Sometimes it’s best to don’t do something, but just stand there.

In lieu of shoes

One Christmas my wife wanted a pair of expensive athletic shoes for a gift. I was unable to find the shoes, even on the internet. So, in lieu of shoes my gift to her was a curio cabinet to house her pig collection. (You are probably thinking– A pig collection? But she has some neat pigs– fat pigs, skinny pigs, pigs made out of rock, short pigs, tall pigs, and even a piggy clock.)

Over the years I’ve built numerous pieces of furniture. While some were rather challenging, I thought that a curio cabinet would not be my most difficult project. Boy was I wrong.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a much more demanding project than I had imagined. Despite careful planning, there were many details that had initially escaped me. Despite carefully measuring, I found myself making wrong cuts and drilling holes in the wrong places. With each piece of wasted wood my frustration grew. But I persevered and eventually completed the cabinet.

So it often is with our small business. Despite careful planning, we often find ourselves confronted with situations that we did not anticipate. Despite careful execution, we often find ourselves with less than desirable results. And we find ourselves with a similar choice—throw our hands up in despair or learn from our mistakes and move forward. Or perhaps more importantly, we can learn from the success of others and avoid the mistakes all together.

Fortunately, with our business we can learn from others. We can avoid biting off more than we can chew. We can avoid putting ourselves in difficult situations. We can prevent many of the mistakes and frustrations that might result when we choose a course of action, in lieu of shoes.

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