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Lifestyle Productivity

A Few Networking Techniques

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute.”

Robert Kiyosaki (Author)

Part of great networking is getting people to like us. We determine who we like based on how we feel about them. How we feel about people is determined by our amygdala, the emotional part of our brain. The techniques I’m going to discuss in this post are designed with the human amygdala in mind. They’re proven to lower threat responses as well as raise feelings of safety. In my last post, The Fundamentals of Networking, I discussed some of the principles and attitudes that I use when going about expanding my network. This post will have more actionable and applicable knowledge in terms of networking effectively. This post is more tactics, last post was more strategy. If you’ve read my posts on studying, then you know that I believe if we know the principles then the tactics don’t matter too much. However, having the knowledge of some go-to tactics along with the knowledge of the principles sets us up nicely to be a high performer.

Networking properly is all about being able to influence the experience that others have of us. There are so many ways to go about this, but I’m just covering a few here.

Influencing the Experience

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

We can only intentionally influence what we understand. So we can’t “trick” people into believing that we’re a certain kind of person that we’re not, we can only “trick” them into seeing more of ourselves. If we learn more about things we don’t know, or if we develop ourselves in a diverse fashion, we can influence people’s opinions on a deeper and broader level.

There are a few things we can control once we understand them. We can start with body language.

Body Language

There have been numerous studies on communication and they’ve found that most human communication is nonverbal, about 93% of it in fact. 7% is focused on the actual words, which in my opinion, is the hardest part so that works out nicely.

Most of these nonverbal communication happens with our body language. For a large portion of human history, our survival depended on our abilities to be able to quickly pick up on what others are feeling. When we were hunted like the prey animal we are, we had to find ways to communicate faster and more efficiently than talking. It’s easier and quicker to know that something is dangerous by looking at someone’s face rather than waiting for them to tell us. We’ve evolved to pick up on, even the slightest, adjustments because we’ve needed it to survive for so long. This is why body language is such a huge portion of our communication.

Much of our body language is dictated by our amygdala. This is the emotional part of our brain and this part of our brain is almost too honest. If we can understand the language that our bodies use to express what’s going on in our emotional brain, then we can influence the experience that others have of us fairly easily. It’s so much easier to adjust your posture to communicate a message than say the perfect combination of words. As we know, most of the time people don’t react to what we say, but how we say it anyway.

I recommend checking out the book What Every Body is Saying by ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro. He talks about all the different things we do with our bodies and what they mean. A few of the ideas that I use almost every day are these:

  • Our feet are the most honest part of our body. The direction they are pointing can give us an insight into what the person is genuinely feeling. For example, if someone wants to leave a conversation but they are being polite their feet will be pointing towards a way out or away from us. There are some exceptions, but this is typically the case. This knowledge helps us see what people really feel as well as control our bodies for the messages they could be giving off.
  • Paying attention to pacifying behaviors – these are motions that people do to calm themselves down when they’re feeling anxious. This could be taping a leg, playing with their hair, fidgeting extra, and many other things. Notice when people are trying to calm themselves down and we can do what we can to help them out.
  • When people are nervous or feel powerless their body will take up less physical space and move quickly. They will do things to make themselves feel smaller. A primitive attempt at hiding from a predator. On the other hand, people who are feeling confident and powerful will take up more space and move slower.
  • People love seeing the palms of our hands. Showing our palms lets people subconsciously know that we’re not hiding anything and our intentions are pure. Conversely, hiding our hands makes people feel nervous and conceals our intentions.

There are so many other body language behaviors that we do and Navarro does a fantastic job in explaining each of these behaviors in his book. He even includes pictures to really drive the point home. One thing I have to mention about body language is that these movements have to be taken into consideration with the person’s baseline state. Maybe someone has a habit where they love to tap their leg and it doesn’t mean that they’re feeling anxious. We have to get a baseline when we first meet people before we start trying to interpret their body language. It’s much easier to understand people we know well than strangers off the street. Everyone is a little different and we have to keep that in mind or we’ll end up making some terrible assumptions.

Compassion & Verification

Once we understand what people are feeling, then we can use our compassion to guide our actions that verify their feelings. People need to be heard in the hearts and minds of others and providing this for people is invaluable and highly effective with connecting.

There have been numerous studies that have found that children who don’t receive compassion and verification develop much slower than children who do. They also have a tougher time creating and sustaining relationships. They develop hormonal imbalances and behavioral issues as well. While the developmental problems aren’t the same if an adult doesn’t receive compassion and verification, the need is still there. People seek compassion and verification constantly and use it as a way of staying sane. We use other people as a gauge to determine if what we see and think is “real.”

Because of this, I’m constantly giving people affirmations and letting them know that they are heard, understood, and empathized with (if appropriate). All it takes is saying “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” in response to whatever they are saying.

Repeating what other people mean to say in conversations keeps everyone on the same page, is great for preventing arguments from spiraling out of control, and most importantly ensures that people feel heard and understood.

Great Conversations

Most, but not all, networking happens in conversation. In my post, The Significance of Speech, I talk about how humans live at least half of their existence in the world of conversation. Understanding how to navigate this world is, not only crucial to networking, it’s crucial to living a life by design.

If we’re meeting someone for the first time and we aren’t familiar with them we’re most likely going to have to deal with small talk. I used to hate small talk, and I still kind of do, but it’s part of the game and it can be used to our benefit if we can do it intentionally.

Let’s get into why we even use small talk in the first place — it’s a way to gauge other people’s social skills, like a dance. When we’re in the small talk moment with someone, we’re testing to see if this person meshes with our interpretation of the world and they with us.

If we want to expand our network, we need to be able to show people that we’re worth engaging with relatively quickly.

A couple of tips I love to use when making small talk are these, I got them from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator, Chris Voss. If there’s anyone that can understand navigating a conversation, it’s this guy.

  • Ask Calibrated Questions – asking what or how questions. Questions that start with the words “how” or “what”. They make people feel needed and they are more likely to cooperate when they feel like they have to provide information. Asking why questions (Why did you do this? Why did you do that?) makes people feel defensive, so avoid using them if possible.
  • Mirror Them – just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying, if appropriate. This will bate them into talking more.

I didn’t think these small techniques would work, but they do. They work because they were designed with the amygdala in mind. We are attempting to communicate with the emotional part of the brain directly because people have less control over it. If we can get to the amygdala, everything else will follow.

Once we’ve proven ourselves, we have to keep the show going. Here are a few ways to never run out of things to say:

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions – if we hit the right topic we can get someone going off for hours. This is optimal because people love sharing with others and providing a space for people to do that is invaluable.
  • Make a Complimentary Cold Read – this is another great place to use “It seems like….” or “It looks like…”
  • Bring up something that this situation reminds you of – this is a great way to spark something up when we have those moments of awkward silence.
  • Put it on them – flip the script and let them be the one’s to talk, I love mirroring to do this

In conversations, be sure to let people know your goals and intentions if they like you they’ll tap their network to give you opportunities. People love connecting and sharing intentions gives people an opportunity to connect in different ways. Remember networking is also about connecting ideas or opportunities to people, not just people to people.

This is exactly how referral businesses work. Bob hires Joe to do a job. Joe does amazing and Bob remembers this later and mentions to her friend Sarah who also needs Jow’s services. Since Bob knows that Joe is trying to get more business, they are subconsciously looking for opportunities if they come up. Connecting people with opportunities. If we can build up a group of people who know who we are, then we start to develop a reputation.

Another fantastic great way to keep a conversation going is to become genuinely interested in others. Everyone is interesting if we ask the right questions. Genuinely wanting to discover someone, learning how and why they do certain things will develop natural curiosity.

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories, or at least their interpretation of their lives and how it’s impacted their thinking and decision making. Asking the next question is always easy when I’m coming from that place. It also gives me access to deeper connections with people because I ask questions that people don’t typically get asked. Although small talk has its place, I try to stay away from it and use genuine curiosity is my vehicle of choice.

Be Mindful of Criticism

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

I stole this idea from Carnegie’s book, but it’s also self-evident if you’ve had close relationships and something that I’m mindful of when talking to people, especially my students. People are already criticizing themselves. Criticizing them turns them off and damages our reputation with them. I find having compassion for others is a great way to hold your tongue. If I feel the urge to criticize someone, I try to keep in mind that they are doing exactly what I would do if I was in their situation. I try not to critique unless it’s warranted. People, more often than not, try to do the best they can with what they have at their disposal.

When networking we have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with emotional creatures, not logical ones. Paying attention to people’s feelings is a sure-fire way to connect. Being seen and heard in the hearts and minds of others is as necessary to us as food and water. When we pay attention to other’s emotions, then we’re able to see and hear them in our hearts and minds, which inevitably comes with a bit of compassion.

Now, I don’t want to say that all criticism is dangerous for networking. Sometimes it’s welcomed, even necessary. If someone is obviously having trouble, a gentle critique that helps a situation is likely to bring someone close to you. Solving other people’s problems is like a fast track to connection, especially if they don’t end up feeling like a fool.

Criticisms are only valid when a solution is offered in its place.

Any idiot can tear down a building. No one has ever erected a statue for a critic.

Empathy & Narcissism

The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James (1842 – 1910)

We all naturally have empathy but when we’re not using it to connect and understand other people, it fuels our narcissism. However, honing in on that empathy gives us a serious edge, especially in networking.

We’re all narcissistic on some level, some people further along on the spectrum than others. We needed to be if we wanted to survive infancy, our survival depended on us needing attention from others and those feelings never leave us as we get older. We need a certain level of narcissism to thrive, but it’s important to be able to get a handle on it too.

Human beings are inherently narcissistic but it’s not a bad thing. Narcissism is part of our human nature like how dogs go on walks, people think about themselves. Narcissism has a bad connotation, but it’s in our nature to think highly of ourselves and need admiration.

Seeing narcissism as part of our biological survival tool kit is much healthier than seeing it as a mental illness. Now some people do have a narcissistic personality disorder and that is a mental illness, but narcissism, in general, is a very human quality.

Getting upset at people for being narcissistic is like getting upset at a rock for being hard.

Keeping our narcissism in mind gives us a few advantages in conversation. We can make things all about them, especially in the beginning. This is a great way to get people to like us.

People love to feel important and according to Dr. John Dewey, people’s deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” If we can make people feel important, they will love us. The easiest way to do this is to give them a compliment, a genuine compliment.

The best compliments are on things that they are working really hard to improve.

For example, I work extremely hard on my blog and providing value to my students. A compliment like “Chris, your writing has absolutely changed how I see education” would mean way more to me than “Chris, I love your style.” Yeah, I put in some effort in my wardrobe, but I put at least 10x that in my writing so I’ll respond to the first compliment more positively and be more likely to believe it to be authentic. We can use our empathy to discover what other people really care to improve.

If we can make people feel sincerely important, then we can make them fall for us. However, what makes people feel important tells us a lot about their character. Be mindful of what kind of people you are complimenting. I recommend connecting with people who have similar values to you. For example, there are people who pretend they are invalid to force sympathy and feel important. If you are someone who values self-reliance and responsibility, it probably isn’t worth the effort to put the moves on this person because they probably won’t add value to your network. Yes, I am saying that some people are not worth connecting with from a networking perspective.

I brought this up earlier, but another great appeal to narcissism is to use the mirroring technique from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator Chris Voss. Just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying if it fits with the situation. This will bate people into diving deeper into the thought their already having while feeling accepted and heard. In his Masterclass, he talked about how he taught a guy the mirroring technique and he used it to get everyone to like him on his cruise ship. Mirroring makes people think we’re more interesting than we actually are.

We’re just showing people what they like, themselves.

Names are the Sweetest Sounds

In Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, he found that across cultures and languages people love to hear their names. No surprise, people are inherently narcissistic. When we hear our names, we feel recognized.

The sweetest word in any language is our own names.

My cousin Brian is one of the sweetest and caring people I know. He often gives his money and attention to those who are less fortunate. He told me about a homeless person who said one of the hardest things about being homeless is never hearing your name. The guy said he felt almost like less of a person because of it. So Brian makes an effort to get to know some homeless people’s names so they can hear it.

Hearing our names is a privilege, but it also makes us really happy.

One thing notable tidbit is that most people, especially in high-performing circles, know that saying names makes people like you so doing it too much or with bad taste could come off like brown-nosing. Be tasteful with your techniques, don’t come off like Andy Bernard from The Office.

Talk In Terms of Their Interests

One of the most impactful ideas I’ve ever read came from the book The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh. In order to communicate clearly and effectively, we have to meet them at their level of conversation regardless of who they are. It is our job to communicate in a way that others understand. Expecting people to conform to their listening to our preferred way of communicating is a losing strategy and will breed a ton of disappointment.

This is huge when it comes to dealing with my students. If I start using language they don’t easily understand, I’ll lose them and they’re more likely to dig their heels into the ground. People are also more open to new ideas when they can recognize something familiar in them. Whenever I’m talking to my students, I’m constantly looking for points of connection and similarity between what they know and what I am trying to teach them.

Being able to conform to all these different forms of communication makes us a better communicator but also more diverse and interesting to others. As time goes on, I start to see the beauty in those new topics too and they start to become like my interests.


There are a ton of other networking techniques out there. These are just a few to get started, like a jumping-off point. Networking is all about understanding that people are more alike than different and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Networking is all about connecting. Connecting people to people, people to ideas, people to opportunities.

Removing obstacles to that connection and doing what we can to make it easier.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

The Fundamentals of Networking

“If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Before I get into this, I just want to mention that there’s so much information on networking out there and I could write volumes of books on this topic, but this post will just be a few of the things I keep in mind when I’m networking.

What is networking?

Our network is who we are connected to and networking is building access to connect with people. Some people say success is about knowing the right people (and while that is true) it’s also about being accepted and liked by the right people.

Everyone’s heard the saying “you are the sum of the 5 people you hang around with the most” and for a lot of people this is not a reassuring statement. If we want to get to a different place, be a different kind of person, be someone who lives their life by design, then we need to be able to grow our network.

There are a ton of books out there on networking, but one that is worth mentioning is the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I highly recommend reading this book if you want solid and practical knowledge of networking. When I first read it I thought it was terribly self-explanatory, but reading the book is worthwhile because the “obviously simple” claims he made are backed up by science and research. Plus, it really is beneficial to write down seemingly obvious things, most of the world’s greatest wisdom is cultivated through people writing down what is obvious.

The TL;DR is don’t be a jerk, but I’ll go over a few of those ideas in this post and the next.

When we’re networking, it’s easy to feel nervous or intimidated, especially if we want to level up our network. It’s tough to put ourselves out there in hopes of being accepted. It’s scary to approach people with more money, education, and power than us, but that’s when I find it useful to keep The Cosmic Perspective in mind. I originally heard about this idea from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass on scientific thinking and communication, but I’ve also heard about it from reading about astronauts too. The idea is that we are made of the same elements as the giant planets and stars.

We are special, not because we are unique, but because we are the same.

Some astronauts say that when they see Earth from space for the first time, they have a realization that they belong in this universe just as much as the planets, the sun, and everything else that’s here. That is the cosmic perspective — seeing ourselves as beings that belong here, just like all the other beings in the cosmos. Seeing things from this perspective can give us the confidence to talk to anyone on this planet because they are just like us. The things that intimidate us are illusions and likely a result of thinking too small.

We belong here just as much as the planets and stars do, and in that realization, we can find confidence and peace in ourselves.

Attitude: How You Play The Game

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it matters how you play the game.”

Jordan Peterson (1962 – )

Let’s say we’re part of a soccer team and we have to play a game against another team. Let’s say that you’re way better than your other teammates and you could single-handedly beat the other team without much help. If we were playing just one game of soccer, that would be a winning strategy.

But if we’re playing a tournament of games, then we’ll have to change how we play. We’ll probably want to pass the ball and make sure that our team members are focused because we’ll need them to move on in the tournament. We’ll want to act in a way that ensures our teammates like us and have our backs.

How we play games changes if we have to play a tournament of games.

Our life is like the ultimate tournament of tournaments of games and the best way to play games of this nature is to play to win the tournament, not the game. The idea is to play so you can continue to advance, and sometimes that may look like losing a game, but other times it usually means acting fair and kind.

Networking is the game of games. You want to play in a way that gets you invited to play more. The most successful kids are not the ones who win every game, but are the ones who are invited to play the most games.

We’ve all heard the phrase winning isn’t everything, but when it comes to networking, it is. We just need to redefine what winning is for networking purposes. In networking, the person who is most invited to “play” wins. Play in the adult world can mean a plethora of different things ranging from, but not limited to, business, romance, platonic, or political relationships.

When I’m making new connections, I try to give value and demonstrate appreciation. People love useful people and love being appreciated even more! But I do this more importantly because it can trigger reciprocity. If I’m useful and appreciative of them, then they will want to be of me.

It’s all about getting to be invited to play more.

Getting the last word in, proving a point, or satiating a selfish desire is never worth not being invited to play.

Act in a way that makes people want to connect with you more. I’ve found that being compassionate, considerate, and competent will usually get you through the door. However, there is something else to keep in mind.

Playing Fair is a Biological Phenomenon

Part of being invited to play often is playing fair when we are invited to play. There are a few reasons for this — so people will enjoy playing with us, but also so they know that we’re a predictable playmate. People love predictable, especially when we’re thinking about the future.

But what is playing fair?

In order to answer this question, we have to look to Jaak Panksepp and his revolutionary experiment regarding fair play in rats.

Panksepp set up an experiment where he had two rats to play with each other, one rat was about 10% bigger than the other rat. Naturally, as we see with children, the bigger rat wins time and time again.

But here’s where it gets interesting, when the rats want to play again the smaller rat has to ask the big rat for permission to play. If the bigger rat says yes, then they play again. But if the smaller rat loses more than 66% of the time (roughly), then it won’t want to play anymore. The fascinating part is the bigger rat knows this and will let the smaller rat win enough to keep it in the game.

This weird little experiment shows that there is a biological basis for playing fair. It’s not like the rats told each other their feelings. This experiment demonstrates that there are neurons that specifically track if we’re playing a fair game.

People are the same way, sometimes they need to win. They need to feel like they’re playing a game they can win. This is how we “play fair” with networking – sometimes you let the smaller rat win, whatever it takes to get invited to play again. Even if that means losing every once in a while.

The networking game is more of a series of games, and as we know, when we’re thinking of multiple iterations in the future, our strategy has to change. If we were only playing games once, then lying and cheating would probably be the best winning strategy. But when we have to win a series, we have to keep in mind that we have to be a good sport and that might mean losing this game for the sake of the connection. With this, I don’t mean obviously throw the game. We have to be a formidable opponent otherwise it’s no fun.

Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a war, not a battle. Look towards the long term and act accordingly.

Reputation

We can’t talk about networking without talking about reputation. Reputation is different things to different people, but I believe that understanding multiple perspectives of reputation will give us comprehensive enough knowledge to integrate this idea properly into our behavior.

I’ll start with a modern and fairly simple explanation for reputation from renowned and successful real estate investor, Brandon Turner. In the world of real estate investing, the strength of your network is directly proportional to success.

“[Reputation] is built through character (doing what you say you’re going to do), experience (showing proof of what you’ve done), knowledge (do you know what you’re doing?), and even who you are associating with (you can borrow other’s credibility if they are part of your deal. Someone might not trust you yet, but maybe you can bring in a more-established partner who would have their trust?).”

Brandon Turner (The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down)

Turner’s take on reputation is aligned with what most modern people associate reputation with and is worth knowing. These four aspects (character, experience, knowledge, & associates) are what are going to be judged when we’re out interacting with people. Intentionality in each of these areas will inevitably upgrade our network.

Another perspective that’s worth knowing is Arthur Schopenhauer’s. His take on reputation is fresh and carries a warning about what a reputation can do to our personal experience of life.

“By a peculiar weakness of human nature, people generally think too much about the opinion which others form of them; although the slightest reflection will show that this opinion, whatever it may be, is not in itself essential to happiness. Therefore it is hard to understand why everybody feels so very pleased when he sees that other people have a good opinion of him, or say anything flattering to his vanity.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

He regards carrying weight in the opinion of others as a weakness and proposes that what goes on in other people’s heads, or a demonstration of their thoughts, is not essential to our happiness.

“Therefore it is advisable, from our point of view, to set limits to this weakness, and duly to consider and rightly to estimate the relative value of advantages, and thus temper, as far as possible, this great susceptibility to other people’s opinion, whether the opinion be one flattering to our vanity, or whether it causes us pain; for in either case it is the same feeling which is touched. Otherwise, a man is the slave of what other people are pleased to think,—and how little it requires to disconcert or soothe the mind that is greedy of praise”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Artie says we should see what happens in other people’s minds with indifference, a stoic perspective which I can get behind. Especially because if we don’t, then we become a slave to other people’s poorly informed opinions.

“to lay great value upon what other people say is to pay them too much honor.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Artie is known as the Great Pessimist, but I have to agree with this too. What other people think is usually of very little value to us. Obviously, there are exceptions, but these opinions should never rob us of the ability to act or think independently.

But now this poses the question: if we don’t place value in what other people think, then how are we supposed to network effectively?

“Let me remark that people in the highest positions in life, with all their brilliance, pomp, display, magnificence and general show, may well say:—Our happiness lies entirely outside us; for it exists only in the heads of others.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

When it comes to networking, reputation can bring you the highest positions in life, but it can come at a cost of our peace of mind.

Build a reputation, but don’t identify with it.

It’s a tricky balance, but one that needs to be gotten right otherwise we may lose our sense of self in the nonsense of others.

The last thing I want to mention about reputation is that the last impression means the most.

“The last impression is the lasting impression.”

Chris Voss (Teaches The Art of Negotiation)

I got this from Chriss Voss. It’s not about how they feel about us at first, it’s mostly about what we leave them with. Leave them feeling good and happy if possible.

Don’t worry about starting off on the wrong foot, just make sure we finish on the right foot.

Reputations are something that we are continuously building. Every day we make choices that influence our reputations, even choices of omission impact our reputations. But we also need to keep in mind that reputations are for other people and not for us. Our relationship with ourselves is different from our relationship with other people.

Categories
Education Productivity

Analyzing & Improving Systems

“If you are unhappy, your system is broken.”

Brandon Turner (The Book on Rental Property Investing)

In my last post, I talked about Gall’s Law and the different components of systems. In this post, I’m going to discuss ideas surrounding analyzing and improving systems. There are going to be some terms I reference from my last post, so I highly recommend checking that out first.

Josh Kaufman beautifully and simply explains how to do this in his book, The Personal MBA, and I also highly recommend checking that out too. The ideas in this post are mostly from that book as well as my own personal insights.

How to Analyze Systems

When analyzing a system is difficult to know what to look for, especially when dealing with complex systems. It’s also crucial to keep in mind that we all have a bias which could get in the way of analyzing systems. Whenever possible, we need to take steps to mitigate our bias.

Here are some other things to look out for when analyzing systems:

Deconstruction

This is an excellent first move when it comes to analyzing systems. As discussed in Gall’s Law, all complex systems arise from simpler systems, therefore every complex system is capable of being deconstructed into simpler systems. Deconstruction is simply breaking up complex systems into their interdependent parts and understanding how each of those parts works. It’s also helpful to try to identify triggers (what kicks off another system) and endpoints (what makes a system stop). Diagrams and flowcharts are also lifesavers when it comes to deconstructing systems. Recognizing if-then and when-then relationships are also invaluable.

After breaking the complex system up into it’s smaller parts, we can then break down those simple systems even further into their components. Identify inflows and outflows, stocks, interdependencies, and so on. I talk about what those components are in my last post.

Deconstruction makes understanding systems possible. Without deconstruction, we are sure to experience confusion.

Measurement

How does the system collect data? What kind of data is it collecting? Measurement describes the process of data collection in a system. If we can understand the information related to the system, then we get an insight into the system itself.

Paying attention to the measurement is fantastic for dealing with absence blindness — the idea that we have a hard time seeing things that aren’t there.

Let me give an example, measuring someone’s blood glucose levels tells us if someone has too little or too much blood sugar. This number gives us tremendous insight into what is going on inside the body even though we wouldn’t be able to visibly see changes in someone’s blood sugar.

Measuring something is the first step in improvement. I wrote a post, Tracking vs. Loss Aversion, that talks about the importance of measuring ourselves and our progress.

Don’t sleep on measurements. Trust me.

KPI (Key Performance Indicator)

I know I just emphasized how important it is to measure things, but there is such a thing as too much data. If we measure too many things, we end up having a bunch of junk data that weighs us down and doesn’t show us anything. In order to prevent this, we try to keep our measurements to only KPIs or Key Performance Indicators.

KPIs are measurements of the essential parts of a system.

Identifying KPIs can be tricky, but try to limit them to only 3-5 KPIs per system otherwise, we risk measuring too many things.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

This is one of the more straightforward ideas – what we put in is what we get out. The quality of the output is only as good as the quality of the input. You get what you give. There are so many cliche phrases that express this idea.

I found this to be especially true when I started cooking. I used to watch Gordon Ramsey cooking videos to try to learn how to cook (I even watched his Masterclasses), but I could never make my food taste good until I spent the extra money on fantastic ingredients. Now, I try to only cook with fantastic ingredients. It really makes all the difference.

One of the best ways to improve the quality of a system is to pay attention to what we start with.

Tolerance

This can be thought of as the range in which the system is working normally. If the system is performing within that range, then it’s within tolerance.

Tolerance can either be loose or tight. A loose tolerance is when there is a considerable amount of leeway and small mistakes don’t make a huge difference while a tight tolerance is when there’s little room for error or change, this is usually the case for essential components of a system.

Analytical Honesty

In order to properly analyze a system, we must acknowledge our propensity to make things look better than they are. We have to be able to apply objective judgment to our data which means that the best analysis of a system will come from someone who isn’t personally invested in it.

As I mentioned in my post, Our Unconscious Filters, human beings view the world through their bias and it’s hard to shake them, even if we’re aware of them. Having an outsider provide analysis is the only way to completely prevent our bias from contaminating our observations.

Context

Most measurements are meaningless without context. Context is all of the information we use to understand if measurements are favorable or not. Setting goals for arbitrary numbers like a 20% increase or 3 new deals are meaningless if we don’t know the performance of the system in the past and it’s projected performance in the future.

Trying to oversimplify how a system operates by judging it off one measurement will blind us to other important changes as well. Context is crucial for an accurate understanding.

Sampling

Sampling is what we do when we try things. We’re simply taking a small part of the output and using it as an example for the entire system. Sampling is great for catching errors without needing to check the entire system.

Just like all other methods of analysis, we have to consider our bias, and sampling is prone to bias. A way to control for it is to make sure the sample is random.

Margin of Error

Of course, not all samples will be perfect representations of the entire system. The margin of error is how much the sample deviates from the whole. The higher the margin, the more inaccurate the sample. The more samples we have, the smaller our margin of error.

Ratio

Ratios are fractions. Somethings divided by something else. It’s a simple way of measuring multiple variables at once. Ratios are also great for letting us know how a particular measurement changes.

For example, ROI is a percentage ((Returns/Investment)*100%) or comparing MPG (miles/gallons) or unit price of groceries. You know a ratio is involved in you hear the words per.

Typicality

In order to analyze a system properly, we need to know how it would operate normally. Kaufman suggests that we can measure typicality through calculating mean, median, mode, and midrange or various measurements.

Correlation & Causation

Causation comes from the idea of cause and effect. One part of a system is causing another part of a system to act. Correlation, on the other hand, is not always causation. Sometimes variables may seem the act like one causes the other, but that won’t necessarily be the case. For example, 100% of people who drink water die. Does the water cause the death in this case? Probably not. Water and death are simply correlational.

So how can we determine is something is correlational or causational?

By adjusting for known variables. If we control for as many variables as possible, we can see the relationship between each more clearly. As systems grow more complex, this becomes more and more difficult. The more we can isolate a variable, the more confidence we have that the changes are causational.

Proxy

Proxies are measurements of something by measuring another thing. A proxy is useful when we cannot measure something directly. The closer the proxy is to the original, the more accurate the measurement. We have to be mindful about correlation and causation when measuring a proxy.

Segmentation

Segmentation is grouping data into separate subgroups to get a more comprehensive context. I do this with all of my blog posts! That’s why I have titles and headings and subheadings. It gives all the (seemingly) random information I’m spewing a more detailed context.

Segmentation plays a huge part in how we understand complex and large amounts of information.

Humanization

When looking at data is easy to see it as an inanimate object, but when analyzing systems we have to keep in mind that the data tell us information about human beings. They are insights into real people — their behaviors, experiences, and thoughts. It’s easy to disconnect from data about a system because it seems so abstract and inanimate, but it’s quite the opposite. If we pay enough attention, the data lets us understand people on a deeper level.

When I worked at Kohls, they always emphasized selling to “her.” Her being a personified collection of the average data on their customers. They used average household income, gender, family size, and other variables to create their typical customer and found ways to satisfy that person.

Our data tells us what’s up with other people if we look hard enough.

Other Things to Look Out For

“If something in your business is causing you stress, most likely, you either don’t have a system for that issue, or you are not following your system.”

Brandon Turner (The Book on Rental Property Investing)

Pay attention to environmental changes and selection tests. I talk a little bit about these in my last post. These changes give smaller players a chance to outperform larger players. Identifying selection tests gives us a competitive edge.

Some questions to ask while looking out for these things could be: How is the environment changing? Who is unable to adapt to these changes? What can I do differently from those who cannot adapt? Who is taking advantage of these changes? What can I do similar to those who are doing well?

Always keep an eye out for the “black swan.” I first heard about this idea from Chris Voss, an ex-FBI terrorist negotiator. The “black swan” is any information that if discovered would change everything. Back in the day, people would say swans are white and if anyone said otherwise they would be crazy because swans are white. Eventually, someone discovered a black swan and everyone had to change how they saw the situation. Systems are the same way, try to keep an eye out for the information that would change everything. There’s always a piece of information that, if known, would change everything This is excellent for accurately identifying and balancing risk and uncertainty.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that we process the unknown the same way that we process threats. We literally see and respond to what we don’t know as a threat. Expect to encounter threats, but instead of responding to it, we can respond with curiosity to learn more.

The last thing I want to mention about analyzing systems is to analyze close-calls when they happen to minimize accidents. Sometimes shit happens, but most of the time we can prevent it from happening. If we can notice when things almost go wrong, then we can take the steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again or prevent the conditions that allowed it to happen in the first place without having to deal with the fallout of the accident.

How to Improve Systems

“Anyone who understands systems will know immediately that optimizing parts is not a good route to system excellence. For example, let’s build the world’s greatest car by assembling the world’s greatest car parts. We connect the engine of a Ferrari, the brakes of a Porsche, the suspension of a BMW, the body of a Volvo. What we get, of course, is nothing close to a great car; we get a pile of very expensive junk.”

Donald Berwick (1946 – )

Now that we’ve discussed analyzing systems and have a base framework for understanding systems, let’s talk about some of the ideas useful for improving systems. Most of these ideas are also included in Kaufman’s The Personal MBA.

Intervention Bias

This is the idea that human beings tend to add changes to a system just to feel like we have more control. So when we set out to improve a system, we have to entertain the thought that we might be implementing a new change just to feel in control. If we don’t, we risk adding unnecessary complexity to the system.

The best way to account for intervention bias is to analyze through a null hypothesiswhat would happen if we did nothing? What if the situation was simply an error?

If the null hypothesis experiment determines that we’re better off doing something than nothing, then we will have minimized our chances for intervention bias to take hold. Examining the null hypothesis isn’t our natural reaction, especially since human beings have a proclivity to doing something rather than nothing, but it’s crucial for actually improving systems.

When improving systems, first think about what would happen if we did nothing.

Optimization

Optimization is what people usually think of when it comes to improving systems. This typically involves maximizing output or minimizing an input. Optimization is usually focused around the KPIs.

Kaufman suggests when optimizing a system to focus on one variable at a time. Optimizing a system across multiple variables will almost always lead to disaster. System interdependencies and second-order effects make it challenging to change more than one thing at any given time.

Refactoring

This refers to changing a system’s process so that it can perform the exact same result but in a more efficient way. This is most obvious in coding. Some programmers will pride themselves on performing the same actions in fewer lines of code.

To the average person, refactoring may seem insignificant, but more efficient systems run faster and require fewer resources which could be redirected elsewhere.

Some questions to ask when refactoring a system could be: What are the essential processes to achieve the desired objective? Do these processes have to be completed in a certain order? What are the constraints of the system?

Critical Few

If you’ve heard of the Pareto Principle (a.k.a. The 80/20 Rule), then you understand the concept of the critical few. Essentially, 19th-century economist and sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered an interesting pattern when analyzing data regarding land ownership and wealth distribution.

He discovered that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto didn’t just find this pattern in wealth and land distribution, he also saw it in his garden. 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of the peas.

Today, we can see his 80/20 split in almost everything. In systems is useful to know that 80% of the output is from 20% of the input. In businesses, typically 80% of revenue usually comes from 20% of customers. 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. 80% of our time communicating is with 20% of people we know.

Focus on the 20%. That is where the biggest changes will happen. Identify which parts are critical and give it attention or starve it of attention, whichever is required. The idea is to not try to focus on the whole thing, but the smaller parts that matter.

I do this with my students. 80% of my income comes from 20% of my clients and my attention and efforts are split accordingly. I give the clients who matter more attention and I starve the ones who don’t. After practicing these methods, I’ve eliminated a lot of headache clients and I’ve strengthened my relationships with the ones I do like. 80% of the problems came from 20% of the clients.

Focus on the critical few.

Diminishing Returns

This is the idea that after a certain point, adding more starts to cause more harm than good. This is common when optimizing high performing systems, people tend to try to push the system even more to the point where the system breaks.

“The last 10 percent of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.”

Norman R. Augustine (Aerospace Executive & Former U.S. Under Secretary of the Army)

A way to control for diminishing returns is to apply Ramit Sethi’s infamous “85% Solution” from his fantastic book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Simply get 85% of the problem right and move on. Yeah, we can really hone in on getting that extra 15%, but then we risk diminishing returns.

Is it worth doubling the effort just to squeeze out that extra 10-15%?

It might be, but not every time. It’s better to spend our energy getting the big wins, than trying to squeeze out every little bit.

Friction

Friction is something I pay a lot of attention to. I spend a lot of time dedicated to removing friction from my life because it stops me from doing so much. Friction is any force or process that removes energy from a system. Remove the friction, increase efficiency.

Amazon Prime is a perfect example of a company removing friction to make a system more efficient. If you have amazon prime, then you know how easy it is to purchase things. That’s intentional. The ease of use creates more cash flow for the business.

If a system has a lot of friction, it can still perform but it will require much more energy. If we don’t add more energy, then the system will eventually slow and stop.

For me personally, when I encounter friction while doing an activity that I don’t enjoy, then I won’t do it at all. So if I can help it, I try to remove as much friction as possible whenever I’m doing something difficult or something I don’t want to do.

Sometimes introducing friction is what’s needed to improve a system. When I want to prevent myself from performing certain actions, I introduce friction because I know it will stop me. Some business makes it cumbersome for a customer to return their product so they are less likely to return it.

Automation

The gold standard of no friction. Automated systems operate without human intervention. Automation is best for repetitive tasks.

Be mindful that automating a system tends to magnify the efficiencies and inefficiencies. If the system is already efficient, then automation will make it faster. If the system is not efficient, then automation will slow it down.

When it comes to understanding automation, we want to be familiar with the Paradox of Automation: the more efficient an automated system is, the more critical the human inputs are. While automate reduces the need for human intervention, the small amount of human intervention that occurs becomes increasingly significant.

Automation makes our actions count more, not less.

On that note, I also want to mention the Irony of Automation: the more reliable a system is, the less attention humans pay to it. Reliable systems train absentminded operators. This is dangerous because if something goes wrong, we aren’t likely to notice and the automation will propagate that error.

The best way to avoid automation errors is to perform consistent sampling and testing.

Standard Operating Procedure

SOPs are predetermined processes for completing certain tasks or solving common problems. We save cognitive load and cut down the number of decisions we have to make in a day if we have a preselected method that’s known to work.

Using SOP helps us spend our energy on improving a system, rather than solving repetitive problems over and over.

Kaufman recommends reviewing the SOPs every two to three months to keep it running effectively.

SOPs can look many different ways. For example, I have a set price for certain students, and certain times I will tutor. But it can go further than that, I have predetermined phrases that I say when talking to clients to make communication easier when it comes to scheduling or other common tasks. I also have predetermined methods for dealing with certain kinds of students so we have a simple system for us to start with and build upon.

Focus on creating go-to methods for things you encounter often. You’ll find that it can seem like a lot of work upfront, but it will streamline the process in the long run and it’s so worth it.

Checklists

I can’t talk about checklists without referencing Dr. Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. That book beautifully describes the power of checklists. Checklists have been a vital part of pilots take off routines and are the reason for their high success rate. Checklists have also played their role in minimizing infection rates in hospitals all over the world. The secret to repeatedly completing complex tasks perfectly is writing it down as a checklist.

Checklists are simplified SOPs for specific tasks. They’re fantastic because they create systems for processes that haven’t been articulated and minimize our chances of skipping critical steps.

I always make a checklist for my students who are struggling to “manage the chaos.” Transforming the glob of craziness that is school work into a list that can help us narrow our focus works for every single student I have ever worked with. Seriously, I haven’t come across any academic situation that a checklist could not solve.

Checklists are so critical for entropy management that I use them whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Whenever I’m feeling stressed and swamped with work, I ask myself “What’s the 80/20 I need to tackle here?” then I made a checklist to conquer the critical few.

I’ll probably write another post on checklists because they’re so damn powerful, important, and useful.

Checklists are also great because once we have a good one, we can delegate or automate it — which frees us up from doing the work! Checklists tend to be the first step to freedom.

Cessation

This refers to the idea of stopping something intentionally. Sometimes a system may be going haywire and the best thing to do is to stop a process. As I mentioned earlier, humans have a proclivity to do something to improve a system, but sometimes the best choice may be to not do anything or stop altogether.

Cessation is not our natural reaction when we want to improve systems and it’s usually an unpopular choice when dealing with a group, but keep in mind that it’s a valid option.

When analyzing and improving systems, I entertain the idea of cessation after I’ve tried the null hypothesis. If both of those options are determined to be ineffective, then I’ll start doing something to improve the system.

Resilience

The resilience of a system is determined by how much change it can withstand. The ability to weather change and adjust plans means the difference between disaster and survival.

Resilience usually comes at the price of optimal performance. A system can increase its resilience through leverage. For example, if a business needed some money to weather the storm it will be more resilient, but that money can’t be used more efficiently. Resilience comes at a cost.

Another way to boost resilience is to prepare for the unexpected. Having plans for different/unexpected scenarios or extra supplies on hand are great ways to make a system more resilient. Fail-safes and backups are great for that also. A fail-safe is a backup system designed to prevent or recover from the original system failure.

Stress Test

This is the process of identifying the boundaries of a system by changing the environment. Testing different extremes on a system can help determine which variables affect which processes.

When I stress test my systems, I try to break them. This is the part when we want to try and test out our “what-if” scenarios. Scenario planning is at the heart of any effective strategy. Rather than trying to predict the future, we can prepare for a handful of imagined scenarios and be ready for what comes next. A proper stress test can really help with a system’s resilience.

Sustainable Growth Cycle

This cycle is a pattern that systems follow when undergoing consistent growth without any major issues and it’s split up into three phases:

The Expansion Phase – this is when the system is focused on growing. This is a creation phase. New components and strategies are implemented and dedicated to growing the system and collecting data.

The Maintenance Phase – this is when the system focuses on executing the strategies and maintaining the functionality of the system. Pressing play on the system, so to speak.

The Consolidation Phase – this is when the system is focused on analysis. All the data that was collected is now put into context. Things that work are given more resources and attention while things that don’t are cut back or reworked.

The Middle Path

This idea comes from the fact that the balance between too much and too little are constantly changing. Balancing what systems need requires constant reevaluation. The best approach usually lies somewhere between too much and too little.

Experimentation

No one has everything figured out and determining the best choice when it comes to improving a system is a difficult task. This is when experimenting comes in handy. Frequent experimentation is the only way to accurately determine what improves and system and what doesn’t.

I like to treat experimenting is play. I love trying to new things, changing stuff up, and seeing what happens. The more we experiment, the more we learn about our systems.

More Methods of Improvement

“A man with a surplus can control circumstances, but a man without a surplus is controlled by them, and often has no opportunity to exercise judgment.”

Harvey S. Firestone (Founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company)

A personal note for improving systems – I like to have stock built up for projects with continuous deadlines like blog posts and beats. Having more stock makes me less anxious about meeting a deadline and I can focus on making good music or writing a good post. To increase stock, simply increase inflows and decrease the outflows. In this case, I increased how many beats I made in a week, but released only 1 (I usually release 2). After a while, I started to build a stock and the beats I made later were of higher quality. My end goal is to make high-quality music while enjoying the process, so I modified my system to make that happen.

In every system, there’s always a limiting reagent. Finding that constraint and removing it will improve a system’s efficiency. Israeli author, Eliyahu Goldratt, suggests using the “Five Focusing Steps” to identify and eliminate constraints:

  • Identification – examining the system to find the limiting factor
  • Exploitation – ensuring that the resources related to the constraint aren’t wasted
  • Subordination – redesigning the entire system to support the constraint
  • Elevation – permanently increasing the capacity of the constraint
  • Reevaluation -after making a change reevaluating the system to see where the constraint is located

When dealing with systems that involved other parties, we introduce counterparty risk. The best way to deal with counterparty risk is to have a plan of action in the event that the other party doesn’t deliver on their end of the deal.


These ideas are foundational for analyzing and improving systems but the methods are endless and I recommend that you go out and find concepts and methods to build upon your knowledge of systems. Remember Gall’s Law, all complex systems evolve from simple systems, and these ideas are the components of creating a simple system to analyze and improve other systems. How meta.

However, the most important concept for analyzing and improving systems is understanding that we can always learn more and education never stops. Systems can be complex and there is always something more to learn about a system or systems in general