Last week I wrote a big-ass post about how creating systems can make your microbusiness rock. However, I failed to mention a few problems and limitations related to systems creation and documentation.
Systems creation isn’t new. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith talked about the division of labor, specialization, and creating an efficient system for the manufacturing of goods. By giving 20 workers in a pin factory one specific job, the factory owner could make more pins than 20 craftspeople creating pins from beginning to end.
But a microbusiness isn’t a pin factory. We don’t make pins. We make creative content and products. We turn ideas into something tangible. Plus, it’s hard to systematize and document curiosity and synthesis, keys to creativity.
You can document the overall workflow, as in the example of the songwriter, but there are so many other factors that influence the idea generation and execution.
Bethany Dirksen has a system for selling paintings and tracking income/expenses, but I doubt she needs to quantify the overall process that results in her bold, original work. (Correct me if I’m wrong Bethany!)
Workflow? Sure. Document away. Overall creative process? Difficult bordering on futile.
This isn’t to say that creativity is only some mystical nymph-powered force. Creativity explodes when you’re already in the trenches, doing the work , going nose-to-nose with resistance, and gutting it with your bayonet.
The problem is laziness. What happens if you create a system, decide to slack off, and then let your system dictate not only how you work but what you work on?
You run the risk of getting stuck in a routine and just following a checklist.
Create system. Follow checklist. Repeat. Stop innovating. Die.
Here are some other problems worth mentioning:
- Some things must be done by you the ‘technician,’ the craftsperson. The creator cannot (and should not) remove themselves from the created. Can a writer hire someone else to do their writing? Unless you’re James Patterson, no.
- Systems creation can lead you to focus only on your tactics, not on your strategy. You can document all the tasks in the world, but if your strategy is crap, your tactics will at best keep you on the treadmill of futility.
- Systems and, especially the models in the E-Myth book, can emphasize quantity of output over quality .
- Factory, production-based work that follows a rigid system will usually result in a race to the bottom that creates cookie-cutter products. We don’t need more of the same-same junk. Competing on price will just give you low-priced Wal-Mart crap.
- Rigid adherence leads to stasis and death. Look at the record companies. They had excellent systems but refused to change them. Now they’re emaciated zombies hell bent on eating the brains of their former customers.
- Franchises are lame. Sometimes they’re good for the franchisee, and many people find comfort in having the same freaking restaurant in every town. On the intertubes, however, simply following someone else’s instructions without significant innovation or improvements will just give you what amounts to a franchise website.*
*Not saying you should wait until you have a “brilliant flash of insight” to start a site. That comes with effort, research, and courage. Lots of great sites and writers start out doing what are basically summaries of stuff they’ve read. I’m only saying that doing exactly what someone else is doing won’t work for you.
What systems creation isn’t
- A one-sized fits all solution. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.
- A rigid set of guidelines. A system should be fluid, changing to the needs of the individual and the (micro)organization.
- A magic solution that can fix all your problems. Those only exist in James Patterson stories.
Am I saying systems creation is a bad idea? Absolutely not. Creating and documenting some the core processes of your microbusiness will be instructive. This should lead to a better workflow, increased overall efficiency, and more time to work on creating amazing things.
Another systems creation example
Even simple jobs are worth documenting. Three months ago I documented the steps for a new WordPress + Thesis install and setup. This documentation included some simple design and formatting info. I had done Thesis setup a couple times before, and I could’ve followed the instructions from memory, but I had intended to sell the site and thought a user’s manual would be a nice selling point.
I haven’t sold the site yet, but my documentation efforts have paid off. Over the past week I’ve been building a Thesis + WordPress site for a client. Here are the benefits I experienced by documenting a simple process.
- Even though I could’ve followed the guidelines in my head, having a checklist is much, much faster. We’re talking Honda Prius vs. Tesla Roadster faster.
- Part of the package for my client includes documentation. Copy+ paste+ fill in the blanks baby!
- If I used subcontractors (I don’t), I could simply hand this job off to them.
- I saw a couple spots in my setup process that could be improved.
- Most of the design/layout tweaks use the same hooks and custom functions. Combining them into one place saves me from having to search.
Over to you
Can you see any other problems with systems thinking? If you’ve created systems for your microbusiness, have you run into any of these problems?
Photo credit: chainsawpanda