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Are You Creating Art or Creating a Factory

I have to warn you that today’s post is a bit of a ramble because I’m working through something that feels kind of big, but that I don’t know that I’ve concluded.

painting systemsIf you’ve read this blog or, for that matter, anything I’ve written you know that I believe a business is a system and marketing is perhaps the most important component system in any business. While this notion resonates with most of the small business owners I speak with, the practical application can be rather difficult to master.

Most business employ systems, whether they know it or not. We are naturally drawn to those systematic experiences that make things feel more effective and efficient, but often lose site of just what makes them so. The villain is this case is not systems or even a lack of systems, it’s our flawed systematic thought. If we look at improving our marketing return by tearing down failed systems or installing new ones, but do so with the same flawed systems thinking, we run the risk of simply producing another set of flawed processes.

Most people who work with marketing think of it as a set of tools that can be forged to produce and keep a result, a customer. It’s this thinking or rationality that must be changed first in order to truly impact the system that produces results.

So often when we think of building systems, or even the smallest of processes, we think about the steps we need to take in order to make sure something gets done in the most efficient manner – even if that work feels completely meaningless to the person operating the process.

What if instead we viewed every decision, every action, every system with the end impact in mind first and worked backwards?

You can have any number of desired results in mind, even breaking them down in a hierarchy of departments like lead generation and customer service. But, the key to any systems thinking is to get very clear about a specific tangible result and drive back to every point that can logically come into play to deliver that result.

Instead of thinking we need to develop a customer service system, think we want to make sure that 100% of our customer willingly refer us to their friends. Instead of thinking we need to develop a lead conversion system, think we want every prospect to conclude they would be crazy to choose someone else. Could that kind of thinking change how and what you built by way of a system? Could this kind of thinking pump meaning into every task, operated by every employee, at every level?

If this way of viewing any challenge or initiative crept into your business at the most foundational level I believe you would find systems creation much more like creating art than creating a factory.

Image credit: jaci XIII

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  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/about Ryan Hanley

    John,

    This is great stuff and I'll tell you why I think you're on to something.

    I am extremely guilty of not having a clear goal. I say to myself if I make 100 calls a week to prospects I'll make more appointments and more appointments means more business and more business is what I want. But to what end. I can't wrap my brain around the end game.

    About a month ago i began to change this by spending time with more experience producers in my agency. I literally didn't know what was possible. You always want to say the sky is the limit but realistically i had no idea what proper goals were for an Insurance producer 3, 4, 5 years out.

    So I said this, “At the end of ten years I want to have a base of clients that BELIEVE in what I do for them and consider me a Team member in their business operations.” If I can build that type of relationship with my clients then the Money, Success, Freedom is going to be there.

    So over the last few weeks I have been trying to work on the ways that I can provide the products, service and relationships that Insurance Consumers would want and targeting the clients that I think can appreciate that relationship.

    Thanks for the great content.

    Ryan H., http://www.RyanHanley.com

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Ryan – this is such a great way to look at it – your admission that you “had no idea what was possible” is such a great starting place for applying this. That's job one I guess.

  • Billkaras

    Not to point out the obvious but this kind of thinking is exactly what a good project manager or systems development manager does every day. They start with the “Business requirements” and not with the solution. Once those business requirements are fully developed then and only then do you convert them to process or system requirements that they can be built into a system. Or as someone famous used to say… “Don't put the cart before the horse”

  • http://www.hirebetterblog.com Kristend

    Our CEO always encourages us to start with the end result and work backwards. It is sometimes difficult to work that way, but I can tell you that being able to see step by step how you are going to get to an end result by working through the steps backwards has been key in achieving what we have achieved.
    Great post, as always!

  • http://www.qualitywriter.com phildunn

    This meshes well with the ideas about establishing an ideal customer/prospect first, too… then working back to “where do they congregate?” “what is their context/environment?” “what are their goals?” etc.

  • http://keithjennings.typepad.com/keitharsis Keith Jennings

    John,

    I really respect your thinking in this vein. It reveals that you have a heart that cares, not only about the work you do, but how you give people meaning and purpose – the real engine of growth.

    For what it's worth, here's what popped around in my brain as I read what you wrote:

    We tend to think that success is our goal. That success is the best motivator. But success doesn't matter as much to the front-liners who won't get the lion's share of the rewards. And success doesn't matter once the means becomes transactional (as Ryan was alluding to here in the comments).

    Significance, not success, is our ultimate motivator. We want to know that we're part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. That what we do, no matter how seemingly routine or mundane, matters in the end, not only to ourselves, but to someone else.

    It's easy to understand this. But very challenging to execute in the real world.

    I hope you will continue pursuing this thinking on your blog. I'm very interested in where you take this. Viva la art!

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Hey Keith thanks for your thoughtful comment – I love this and it's so true – “Significance, not success, is our ultimate motivator.”

  • http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog ducttape

    Indeed it does!

  • http://twitter.com/datasplash Darren Lunn

    Sounds very much like a process I have deployed on several occassions called RADAR. Stands for: Result, Approach, Deployment, Assessment, Review.

    Started by the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management). It does exactly what it says on your tin :)

    Starts with a result and applies a logical process for working back to the approach, including how to measure and assess success so that you can tweak your approach. Based on the widely known process of PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) conceived by some American chap whose name escapes me.

    It works too.

  • http://www.ceforprofit.com/ Linda Ireland

    John,
    Ever since I read Steven Covey's “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” more years ago than I'd care to admit, I've known I was an end-in-mind girl.

    It all sounds so logical. Yet this “system” you describe – and the idea of a smart, well intended group of people in the system doing things that all work toward a common vision of a customer's success – is something to wrestle with, isn't it? A client & now friend of mine once said: “This is simple. It's just not easy.”

    As marketers, what if we could get perfectly clear about the customers who drive our growth & profits? Then what if we knew – ideally – what should happen and how they should feel from the moment they realize a need through the purchase, and on to how their needs change over time? If we could enroll our peers across the organization to act on that end-in-mind I know great things could happen.

    You/others here may be interested in this post – written from a similar frame of mind: http://www.ceforprofit.com/2010/08/defining-cus

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, John. As usual, you've stirred up a great conversation. LCI

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