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‘Systems Thinking’ Fires Up Your Brain’s Ability to Problem-Solve. Here’s How to Do It.

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October 15, 2019 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Being an is about problem-solving. On a granular level, there are dozens of issues to tackle each day. On a higher level, the big question is: how can I do a better job of delivering my product or service to my users?

Recently, I’ve discovered a new approach to handling the issues we face as entrepreneurs. It’s called systems thinking and it made me realize how often we go about problem-solving the wrong way — attempting to fix one isolated part, instead of focusing on the underlying system.

Take the New York Jets . Jets fans hoped that new head coach Adam Gase would bring better luck this season; maybe their team would even make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Gase seems to be following the same script he did as head coach of the Miami Dolphins — and delivering the same disappointing results.

Related: 5 Mental Powers Every Entrepreneur Can Develop

Because changing the roster isn’t enough. Improvement comes through changing the system — in football terms, that means a new coaching strategy. For your business, it could mean many things, depending on your unique circumstances.

We shouldn’t be so hard on Coach Gase. Many of us fail to recognize the systems that make up our world. But after we do, we can proactively take steps to achieve the results we’re after.

As Donella Meadows, whose book Thinking in Systems first introduced the concept, writes:

“Once we see the relationship between structure and behavior, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behavior patterns.”

If you’re launching or running a business, there’s never a shortage of challenges. Even when things are running smoothly, you can always find areas that can be improved, particularly if you’re looking to scale up your company. Whatever your question, systems thinking can help you find an answer. As CEO of , I use a three-step approach for applying systems thinking to any issue.

But first, a closer look at the core concepts of this .

What is ‘systems thinking’?

Before trying to apply systems thinking, here are some core principles:

  1. Everything can be understood as a system: a startup, a product, a service — even a football team. 

  2. To understand or improve the system, you first have to understand each part and how they connect. A football team is more than just a bunch of athletes and a guy wearing a headset. All of the elements of this system are dynamic and interact with each other.

  3. If you can’t see or experience the entire system (i.e., most cases), you have to create a model. That’s the only way to understand how the parts work together — or how your team is currently performing, and how they can do better.

Let’s say your company produces widgets. To understand the system relating to those widgets, you’d have to put together a model that includes the entire picture, including the customer’s perspective. So, you’d want to regularly solicit user feedback to learn about their experiences. Using that model, you can discover how to improve the widgets to make them more useful.

With those core principles in mind, here’s an easy guide to applying systems thinking.

A quick guide to changing any system

1. Identify leverage points

To understand a system, you have to know where are its leverage points — the points you can tweak in order to adjust the whole. Meadows says they’re places where “a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.”

Related: Just Start Doing Whatever It Is You Can’t Stop Thinking About

To demonstrate, say your organization is seeking to reduce pollution in a certain natural habitat. In this case, one leverage point would be increasing public awareness about harm flowing from the pollution. Sure, changing your own behavior helps. But by promoting public awareness, you can benefit from a collaborative effort and a much stronger overall impact.

David Ehrlichman, the co-founder of Converge, provides common examples of leverage points including: expanding communication systems; adding constraints; and changing the rules that govern a system.

Once you identify your leverage points, you can come up with a plan about how to act upon them.

2. Look for patterns and trends

In any system, patterns and trends emerge over time and these all flow from underlying structures. By spotting patterns, we can determine which structures in our system need adjusting.

For instance, imagine your car runs low on gas faster than you expect. At first blush, you might assume it’s a problem with the gas tank. But by zooming out and recognizing a pattern of bad gas mileage, you might realize that the problem lies in a separate structure entirely — your tire pressure is incorrect or your spark plugs are misfiring.

Only by taking a step back and observing patterns can we get to the underlying system issues.

3. Clarify the nature of the issue

There are people problems and there are systems problems. A bad hire that’s stirring up negativity and draining morale is an example of a people-problem. Replacing that person would be your leverage point.

But 9 times out of 10, the problem is still systemic in nature. So maybe there’s a blindspot in your interview process that led to the bad hire — in other words, a system problem. In that case, the leverage point would be somewhere in your hiring practices.

Related: Critical Thinking Is the Skill Many Leaders Lack

If you’re trying to scale up your startup and it’s not happening fast enough, you’re probably not to blame. Instead, it’s likely a system that needs to be optimized. Maybe you need to offer more variety in your product to increase the utility or perhaps there’s a weak point in your sales process.

Systems thinking starts with establishing your vision

Whether your goal is to become a Super Bowl champion or a top startup on LinkedIn, it’s crucial to define your vision for your organization and share that vision with your team. You can host hack weeks or pen company-wide newsletters — whatever you choose, make sure your vision is known to all.

Otherwise, systems tend to break down — people lose sight of the bigger picture and the train runs off the track. But if everyone understands your mission, it’s easier to identify any weak links and shore up any faulty structures in the system.

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Two Morgan Stanley executives will leave the bank after using WhatsApp against company policy.

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Morgan Stanley’s two most senior commodities executives are leaving the firm after the bank caught them using the encryption app WhatsApp against company policy and failing to monitor other employees’ use of unauthorized communication channels, according to a person familiar with the bank’s operations who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The news was reported earlier by Bloomberg News.

An internal review by the bank found that Nancy King, the global head of commodities, and Jay Rubenstein, head of Morgan Stanley’s commodities trading operations, had communicated over WhatsApp and had not stopped their employees in the division from using other platforms that Morgan Stanley has outlawed, the person said.

Neither Ms. King nor Mr. Rubenstein could be reached to comment.

Morgan Stanley found no evidence that anyone in its commodities division had engaged in wrongdoing while using the forbidden communication platforms, the person said.

Nevertheless, the division is being restructured. Its new leaders will be Jay Hallik and Jakob Horder, two executives who oversee fixed income trading at the bank. Ms. King is retiring from the firm, while Mr. Rubenstein is leaving.

The bank prohibits the use of certain apps and devices for communications related to sales and trading because it cannot see what is being said on them. Regulators require banks to monitor their employees’ messages to ensure that they are not doing anything illegal.

In the past, Wall Street traders have used chat platforms to skirt financial regulations. Over the past decade, for instance, authorities in the United States and the United Kingdom have filed criminal charges against major Wall Street banks after their traders were caught using instant messaging apps to make secret deals to manipulate markets in interest rates, foreign currencies and metals.

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Why Customer Champions Need to Be a Part of Your Marketing Strategy

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October 21, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Customer champions are a tremendous asset for any organization. In most cases, people are far more interested in reading about your customers’ experiences than straight materials. Customers are more relatable, and they’re more credible, too. People want to hear from their peers before they buy your product or service. This “social proof” is the power that guides decision-making at sites like and

Related: Are You Sitting on a Customer Retention Goldmine?

Why customer champions are exceptionally powerful 

Trust is a critical plank in any marketing platform, since people do with those they know, like and trust. A solid customer champion program will help you build trust and credibility.  After all, it’s easy for you to talk about how great your product or service is, but you aren’t exactly an objective third party. That’s why customer references, testimonials and are so powerful. They provide prospective customers with a view into how your product or service has produced results in a real-world context. 

Related: 3 Keys to a Highly-Effective Content Marketing Strategy

Six ways to promote customer success 

An effective customer reference program gives your company more than just trust and credibility. It also can drive , provide great marketing content and help close faster. To accomplish this, there are many different formats and opportunities available for your customer champions to describe the experience and results they’ve seen with your product or service. The best choices for your company will depend on your target prospect personas and the interests of customer advocates. 

1. Online Reviews – These types of free opportunities, on sites like G2 Crowd and Gartner Peer Reviews, let customers share their experience with your company. Asking for and receiving feedback from customers helps in two ways. First, it reminds those customers why they like working with you, leading to retention. Second, positive feedback from customers encourages prospects to pull the trigger and choose you. 

2.  – Case studies that bring the customer story to life are an essential tool for marketing and sales teams because they generate demand and engage with leads. They can be particularly effective in the consideration phase of the buyer’s journey. A visually compelling document or video showcasing how you’re helping customers address their real-world pain points and achieve ROI can help prospects with their purchasing decision. Case studies include not just social proof but statistics and other measures that demonstrate the value of your offerings. 

3. Media Briefings – Just like prospects, the media needs third-party validation. Tech and business journalists will often ask if you have a customer they can speak too. Setting up interviews between your customer and industry journalists to provide real-world anecdotes for articles can earn tremendous credibility and visibility for your .  It also offers your customer champions a chance to showcase themselves as forward-thinking industry leaders and look good in front of their peers.  

4. Press Releases – A well composed announcement publicizing your customer’s success story, the new abilities they’ve gained with your offering and the results they’re seeing is a great asset for marketing and sales teams. Not only do press releases provide positive air cover for you and your customers’ innovation; they also can be promoted across channels –including social media and email outreach – to drive targeted leads back to your website. 

5. Awards – Many award opportunities are available for the purpose of showcasing how customers are achieving success with your offering. By acknowledging your excellent work, awards can help drive business for both your company and the customer who participated in the story or that the award was based on. Award recognitions provide third-party validation that can help create competitive differentiators, strengthen reputation and generate publicity. 

6. Joint Speaking Opportunities – Whether online or (eventually) in-person, joint presentations provide a platform to both verbally and visually bring customer stories to life in interactive formats. Allowing target audiences to hear your customers’ stories from their point of view through webinars, fireside chats, speaking panels and virtual speaking sessions is a strong way to build affinity and trust. 

Related: How to Weave More Empathy Into Your Marketing for Better Connections With Potential Buyers

How to identify and bring customer references on board 

Your customers’ workdays are just as busy as yours. So, even though they may love your brand, it’s likely not top of mind for them to promote you. That’s why you can’t be haphazard about gathering customer references. Be intentional; identify and go after your brand advocates. Focus on those whose success stories will inspire others to work with you. 

Securing customer willingness to participate can be tricky. It can often be much more difficult to get a firm “yes” to an open-ended request for participation. A better approach is to present specific opportunities to the customer that benefit their reputation as well as yours. For example, perhaps a customer wants to gain market share in a specific industry. In this case, bringing forth editorial opportunities from relevant vertical publications would be a strategic way to align with their goals and enlist their participation.  

Everyone’s success 

In an era where the average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 company messages a day, trust is what makes the difference between a mere ad and lead generation. Customer stories resonate with prospects because they offer hard evidence that your  is a tangible one. So, find your champions, find win-win opportunities and create that brand distinction that draws prospects in. 

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Purdue Pharma to Plead Guilty to Multiple Federal Charges

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The OxyContin manufacturer will pay the government $225 million and own up to misleading the DEA and incentivizing doctors to write prescriptions.

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October 21, 2020 1 min read

According to AP, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma intends to plead guilty to three federal charges levied by the Department of Justice. The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States — for misleading the Drug Enforcement Administration — and violation of federal anti-kickback laws vis a vis illegal incentivization programs with doctors. 

Purdue, which is owned by the controversial billionaire Sackler family, will immediately remit a $225 million fine to the government, AP reports. But that’s a small piece of billions in total criminal- and civil-liability damages Purdue may still be on the hook for, pending the outcome of a hotly contested bankruptcy hearing

Related: An Investment Opportunity for a Better Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical powerhouse, which has innovated numerous prescription painkillers, has become emblematic of the opiod crisis that’s enveloped American lives over the past decade-plus. Opiod-induced overdose deaths more than doubled between 2010-2017, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As of 2013, the Sackler family’s worth was estimated at more than $13 billion.

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