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CEO Strategies: Work the system before it works you

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Friday, August 01, 2008

SamCarpenter Sam Carpenter’s book describes the world as a collection of systems that can be fixed.

IN 2000, AT THE NADIR of his career — and possibly his life — Sam Carpenter found himself depressed, medicated, logging 100-hour workweeks and just days away from missing a payroll for his Bend telephone answering service, Centratel.

But then he had a midnight epiphany — literally.

“I looked at my business and realized I could not fix this big amorphous mass unless I could see it in pieces,” says Carpenter. “That night, for the first time, I saw it in pieces.”

Eight years later, Carpenter’s company generates more than $2 million annually and his 30 employees never miss a paycheck. Carpenter himself is healthy — he works just two hours a week — and he’s making more money in a month than he used to make all year.

The 58-year-old shares his secrets in his recent book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More. (Find out more at www.workthesystem.com.)

To him, the world is full of linear systems, and if you can see the world — or your business — as a collection of systems, then you can isolate the dysfunctional ones, fix them, and put them back into the mix.

“What people have to get is that their business is not a big holistic mass,” he says. “You have to look at it in a non-holistic way. Take it apart; fix the pieces that need fixing. If all the pieces are functioning perfectly, the end result is very good.”

Carpenter says small businesses need three essential components for success: a strategic objective; a list of general operating procedures; and a collection of working rules that outline how a particular system, say a sales presentation, is to work.

If one of those systems is malfunctioning, identify it, repair it and move on.

Carpenter also recommends paying close attention to the details of your life, but only those you can control.

“The things you can’t control,” he says, “just walk away.”

And, of course, always take a systems-based approach to business.

“Focus on one piece at a time,” Carpenter says, “because if you can focus on one piece, you sure as heck can fix one piece.”     


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