Systems vs Flexibility: Why Rigidity is The Enemy of Modern Success
Don’t set goals, create systems. This is a popular idea amongst people who share advice online.
I’ve written about it too. The idea is that you’re more consistent if you rely on a set of daily actions/habits that you execute without much thought instead of working towards goals.
I recently read The Road Less Stupid by the business strategist Keith J. Cunningham. In the book, he has a chapter called “Systems vs Flexibility.”
He provides a counterargument to the whole idea that you should always rely on systems. Cunningham writes:
“Systems are an amazing tool that worked incredibly well 200 years ago during the Industrial Revolution. Systems are exceptionally useful when the work being performed is repetitive (think assembly lines and flipping hamburgers) and doesn’t involve customer interaction, or when the environment is totally stable.”
Cunningham’s main criticism is that systems give you a false sense of security. If you execute a set of tasks every day you feel like you’re making progress. But that’s not always true.
In defense of systems
What I like about having a system is the clarity. For example, here’s a goal:
- Get a 10% raise
If you translate that goal into a system, it could be something like this:
- Show up earlier to work and stay later. Improve my key skills for 30 minutes a day. Record my achievements and the value I offer to my boss/clients every day.
The goal is an outcome you would love to have. The system is an actionable plan that you can execute every day. The latter is within your control.
This is why I like systems.
In defense of flexibility
The problem with systems is that you risk binding yourself to your system. After all, it’s…