Be Aware of the Larger System

Whenever I take on a project, one of the first things I do is look at the system.  If I know the system I’m in, I can produce more effective results.  To figure out the system, I try to map out the context, flows of work, key events, and who does what.  

With or Against the System
Once I have a map of the system, I have a bird’s-eye view of how to get leverage.  I can then either try to get results by working with the system or against the system.  I’ve found that working with the system is way more effective and it’s the difference that makes the difference.  In Influence Without Authority (2nd Edition) , Allan Cohen and David Bradford write about being aware of the larger system to produce more effective results.

Anticipate the Resistance
One of the best ways to set yourself up for a glide path is to know where the most friction will be and address it.  Cohen and Bradford share an example of how salespeople anticipate and respond to potential resistance from the larger system:

Salespeople anticipate that resistance to what they are selling might be coming from other parts of the organization.  If that turns out to be true, they help the “purchaser” plan the arguments or approaches to other key players such as the client’s boss, the finance department, sister divisions, and so on.

Know the System Effects

The system is interconnected.  If you’re going to change the system, know the potential impact.  Cohen and Bradford write:

Organizations are interconnected systems, and a change in one part can have a positive – or negative – impact on another.  Thus, in addition to understanding the nature of your client’s core activities, it is also wise ahead of time to know how your change effort, product, or service will affect other areas.  Even a small change can have unanticipated negative consequences.  Know the system’s effects ahead of time, not after blundering in.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Map out the system.
  • Anticipate the resistance.
  • Know the potential impact of changes in the system.

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Posted in: Book Nuggets, Leadership

5 Comments on "Be Aware of the Larger System"

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  1. Discovering Your Sources of Insight | John Chow dot Com | December 14, 2008
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  1. Vered - MomGrind says:

    J.D., you are way more efficient than I will ever be.

  2. JD says:

    Hey Vered –

    Thank you. I learned a lot the hard way.