The Systems Mindset

“Personal control is a good thing and you get as much of it as you can get.”

- The Systems Mindset, page 20

The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of your Life by Sam Carpenter presents a concept, or more exactly a philosophy, to portray the expositions of previous authors such as Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, and Michael Gerber in the field of time and business management, in a more profound and potent manner. The systems mindset requires adopting—or as the author describes, “getting it”—the premise that our lives consist of a collection of visible and invisible entities that control our lives. Instead of a collection of events and happenings, life is a simple and logical array of systems that can be easily adjusted or “tweaked” to deliver results that you want. The opposite of a systems mindset is ignoring the systems viewpoint and viewing the world as chaotic and disruptive wherein most time is spent putting out fires. Having grasped the system epiphany allows us to gain control of our lives by constantly being aware of the underlying machinery of life, and focusing on constantly and diligently improving our systems.

Davey Moyers elegantly summarized Carpenter’s previous book, Work The System, where he describes adopting an “outside and elevated” vantage point of your life that recognizes the separate linear systems relevant to your professional and personal life, or seeing yourself as the watcher and the watched. To get the life you want you must manage these processes as most of them are recurring. Instant benefits can be achieved by adopting changes immediately.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book


"Look around at any cluster of people and see how many are mentally extracted from the real-time events of the moment, hammering away on a smartphone or plugged into music."
- The Systems Mindset, page 23

Creating a systems mindset can be difficult in the modern world because of the plague of what Carpenter calls Digital-Drug-Dementia (DDD). It is the primary reason for modern society’s failure to concentrate on more complex tasks or philosophies. Concentration is paramount in understanding the systems mindset (or diving one layer deeper, as Carpenter describes it).

The digital component of DDD began with the introduction of TV and continues with computers and smartphones. We now have an age of instant gratification, many people now are constantly on their phones, interacting on social media. As a result, they have developed a dumbed down version of the world, lacking both conversational and intellectual skills.

The second “D” is Drugs: drugs are ubiquitous in our society, and accepted as normal. But at what expense? For a start, lowered expectations, inability to focus, and mental health problems. Dementia (the third D) has subsequently evolved whereby our brains can only function in short bursts, and we lack the ability to set long term goals. Many people look for quick fixes, and have lost the ability to be enthralled with the wonder of life.

Carpenter suggests these actionable steps to regain control:

  • Read a book everyday for at least 30 minutes.
  • Stop, or at least cut back on, mood altering substances.
  • Limit time watching television.
  • Reduce smart-phone and social media involvement.

Stop concerning yourself with societal changes that you can’t influence, and begin to look inside your own life circle for the root of things. Instant self gratification is a distraction from the reality of why things happen. Life is serious business and together your systems add up to you, your fabric, your thread, your existence. If you see your life as chaotic, it will be chaotic. Grasping and accepting the concept that the world is profoundly organized will create a more peaceful existence.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"You want control of your life. Most people don't master this skill, so they struggle."
- The Systems Mindset, page 1

To manage the machinery of your life and to understand the system mindset, you have to understand the following five points:

  1. Every single result and condition of your life has been preceded by a simple step-by-step linear system (or process, protocol, or mechanism), and every single result and condition in your future will be preceded by one of these simple step-by-step linear systems.
  2. To get the life you want, you must assertively manage these processes. Some of these are recurring and you can improve them in the here and now.
  3. Your personal attributes will not deliver what you want in your life.They can help, but they won’t be directly responsible for your success.
  4. The world is not a mess, it’s an astonishingly organised place with 99.9% of everything working just fine
  5. Spiritual transcendence (amazement) lies in the mechanism of right here, right now. It’s not out there somewhere.

The key concept, if you’re a left brain thinker as Carpenter is (engineer training), is the formula 1>2>3>4=Result.  A systems mindset outlook means staying on the left hand side of the equation, carefully examining the systems that are affecting the result. Another analogy is going into the basement and observing the systems running the household: heating, electricity, sewage etc. You can change any systems that is not working to achieve the results you want.

The Systems Mindset is a vision of the world as an orderly collection of processes, not a chaotic collection of sounds, sights and events. From this elevated perspective, one can create and tweak existing systems to achieve the desired results.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Take Care of your Health

"The main machine is you. You’re a primary system, an enclosed entity made up of numerous spinning wheels, all contributing to the singular purpose of that entity, that is, to accomplish a goal."
- The Systems Mindset, page 147

Our bodies are a complex array of physiology, behaviours and objectives. To keep yourself healthy and happy as a machine, you have to consider the deal breakers that will affect your results. Examine your behaviors. Are you dependant on chemicals (e.g. nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, etc.)? Make the choice to become free of chemicals. Do not accept sleep deprivation, and make getting good quality sleep a priority. Take care of your body: exercise (cardio, resistance training, yoga classes), meditate, and eat nutritious food. Make a pledge to yourself to pursue continual learning.

Carpenter uses a scientific approach to his own health: taking regular blood tests to monitor physiological systems at designated intervals (every six months), to illustrate his approach. This approach was initiated after his doctor diagnosed five abnormal indicators on a blood screening test. Carpenter worked hard to repair his body through better health, supplements, and becoming highly tuned to the systems involved in his health. Continual measurement was the backbone of his approach: it allows him to continuously tweak the systems to achieve his desired results. The same approach can be taken in other areas areas of your life, for example, if you are having difficulty in your relationships, you can dissect the relationship into its subcomponents and find the glitch.

The Systems Mindset is a book that the author felt he needed to write, mainly to educate people of his own philosophy. The book focuses on personal challenges, and the systems that surround them. If you are in business, I’d also recommend his first book, Work the System, for much needed strategies to adopt within a business structure, and which I have adopted in my own business.

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Peter Taylor

ABOUT Peter Taylor

I have owned and managed a veterinary based business on the west coast of Australia for 18 years. No one at Veterinary school gives us any clues about running a business and it is only in the last few years that I have started to study business and management...
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