A new business is a new system, Part III

Peach / Prunus persica / ??(????)
Photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (????)

To be successful a business needs to contain certain qualities. (In place of business, you could substitute any system you want to create that has to interact with other systems.)

In living systems terms, these qualities would be called sub-systems, or in the terms of Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, these would be called the essential patterns.

I’m no huge expert about creating successful new businesses yet, so I’m not saying I have any definitive list of what exactly all these elements are. But I think it’s a really interesting way of thinking about how you create something successful–that is, something that successfully interacts with the existing systems.

successful business. A new system that interacts with the previously existing social systems, so as to channel results that the owner of the system considers valuable, in a continuous fashion. These results could be: financial wealth; more free time; the opportunity to interact with certain types of people in certain ways; a certain kind of fame desired in a certain context. They could also be results for other people, e.g., Kiva.org. It is also a key component that the operating of the system enjoyably creates circumstances for the operator that he or she desires. (If the operator is miserable or bored, then the business is not successful, even if it produces the desired results.)

The system must also be able to adapt to change. (“Systems must adapt themselves, must find new responses. They must deviate from their established patterns; they must seek responses that will bring them back into harmony with their environment.” [Molly Young Brown])

An animal needs a digestive system, a respiratory system, a nervous system, and so on. Some systems focus more on internal operations, and some focus on external operations. An animal that only eats coconuts, where there are no coconuts, is in bad shape.

A luxury jewelry store in the wrong neighborhood is in bad shape as well.

These qualities of systems are important to entrepreneurship, to understanding how to create success.

Systems in a business have been well defined–marketing, sales, operations, etc., and can be studied and understood.

The system must contain all parts to run

If one of these systems is missing, or is out of balance, the entire system will not run, will not work. You could have a great brain, wonderful lungs, and a fantastic nervous system, but without a digestive system, it’s all over quite quickly.

So this means that it’s the correct combination of the parts that is important.

It means that you could have a very wonderful system–a lovely business model, a fantastic idea, a terrific lot of potential–but, because one piece is missing, nothing ever happens. Importantly here, you only see results when all the parts are working.

Another aspect of this is, it’s more important to have all of the parts working okay, and working together, than any one part being totally perfect. There is a tendency to focus on the parts we enjoy doing, or feel good at. But the only way we’re going to see the system work, is if we get it all going.

So many–so very many–wonderful ideas, are never born, because they are missing one component. (It could be the ignorance of the producer–they don’t know they need to understand marketing, or accounting. Or, it could quite easily be one limiting belief–they don’t really believe it’s possible, and that sabotages the operation.)

And it’s really important, because we see the results of our work when it all comes together, and ripens. But when it doesn’t, it’s so easy to feel that it was meaningless, or never could have amounted to anything, where really, it could have just been this one little thing that was missing. (Or seven–but the point is, if we understood this, we could have a different attitude about it.)

I think these are some of the ideas, mental models, we would have if we lived in a culture that really fostered creativity and innovation–particularly fostered us creating just those things we would like to create. (And I think the lack of those things that I see in this culture, and the long, drawn out way I find myself having to elaborate all of these ideas–are indicators of just how far we are, in some ways, from living in this culture now.)

Build the right system, for you

It’s also critical that we are building the right system (see the definition of successful business, above), because sometimes it is just so exciting to anything–maybe we just have so much pent up creative energy–that we start madly building something that will not serve us.

Something that nobody told me before I started doing business, is that it’s totally easy to build a business that consumes you, takes up all your life, and gives you nothing back.

And what I have found is, once the thing is running, it takes on a life of its own. Rather like a living thing, actually. It gains momentum. It begins to act to defend and protect itself (see the Molly Young brown quote about negative feedback loops, in the previous post.)

It’s also possible to build a system that works, and starts to give you what you want. I know, because mine is. Lately, I have begun to look at what I do, and observe:

  1. What parts of what I do give me joy and satisfaction?
  2. What parts of what I do seem boring, or tedious, or just not right-for-me?

And then, I realized, it is quite possible to change the definition of what I do (modify system), such that I do more and more of the first bit, and less and less of the second.

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