Sketch Your System, Break Your Loop

Sometimes we struggle to make a change, finally get it done, and just a short time later find ourselves back where we started again.

I've seen these loops over and over again.

It makes me think of a quote that has become famous in process engineering circles:

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

The quote was inspired by – and often misattributed to – W.E. Deming, the man considered the father of quality management.

Deming's insight was that when a factory produces a faulty part it is because the system to make the part is broken.

There's no other blame to go around — just fix the system.

What can this teach us?

Life and work is just a factory: we have inputs, systems, and results.

The systems are perfect for the results they get.

So if we keep getting bad results it's time to diagnose the system.

Here's a system I discovered about my own health:

  1. I got sick of being unfit and decide to focus on my health.
  2. I began an aggressive program of running and weight lifting.
  3. I got injured because my plan was too aggressive
  4. I became frustrated that I was injured and got depressed.
  5. I recovered my injuries and returned to Step 1.

This process whipped me back and forth for years.

I never noticed how obvious it was until I wrote it down.

Once sketched out, it was clear that the highest leverage point was to remove step 3.

Today I'm healthier than I have been in a long time because I focus on never getting injured.

Do you have a loop that keeps producing broken results?

Consider drawing it out: inputs, systems, and results.

Use your drawing to see where it's broken, and then break the loop.

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