Systems Thinking

Team AOJ1,

What do you take for granted?  I often find myself hearing truths for the “umpteenth” time, and passing them off as things that I already know.  In trying to grow my systems thinking I have come to the conclusion that B-type business owners cannot afford to get lazy in the operations of their systems.  For example, my brother-in-law Gerald, worked on the assembly line for the now defunct Chrysler plant in St. Louis, and a good friend named Mike worked as an engineer at a new Toyota plant in Evansville, Indiana.  So from time to time I would asked them questions about their systems, in an effort to gain more perspective of the two companies.  Gerald or Big G as we called him, is old school, tried and true UAW, and would often tell stories of employees purposely stopping production in order to get off of a “hard” job in the line.  He would tell of people throwing hammers and playing poker in the vehicles as they moved down the line being assembled.  He would share horror stories of the line being shut down because some parts were not in the plant, and I would often wonder how the place stayed open.  Big G’s job on the line was to wait for a robotic arm to swing the car door into position and then tap in two pegs that held the doors in place. It was a hard job, but Big G used to say someone had to do it.  So when Big G hurt his shoulder, I inquisitively asked how can you hurt your shoulder by tapping in two little pegs every 3 minutes? Here is our conversation:

Big G: I hurt it lifting a door.
Me: I thought the robot swung the door into place.
Big G: It does for the most part, but I have to position the door a couple of feet in order to put in the pins.
Me: That’s stupid, why not fix the robot to move it the two feet?
Big G: That would mean we would have to stop the line for a few days to fix the robot, and they hate stopping the line!
Me: But you said they stop the line all the time for dumb stuff, and you have time to play poker and sleep in the vehicles for hours.
Big G: (smiling) Yeah, but that’s different.


Then on the other side of systems reality was my friend Mike.  He traveled the globe ordering parts for his plant Indiana.  In talking with him it was a rare day that their line ever stopping running.  And if it did, it was a major meeting of the minds to figure out why, and how to fix whatever caused the issue. The level of systems thinking was to the extreme detail.  Here is one our conversations…

Mike:  I just came back from a meeting with one of our suppliers.
Me:  So what do you do when you go to these meetings.
Mike: I am responsible for making sure that the supplier is meeting the rigorous specifications that we demand for our parts.
Me: So how do you know if they meet the specs?
Mike: I get a sample lot and I have to measure a percentage of each lot, and if 2%-5% are off, then we cancel the order and make them do it again.
Me: 2%-5%, that is amazing that you will hold the standard that high on a million bolts.
Mike:  Yeah, that’s how we are trained. The system demands adherence or we fail.  Even down to a bolt.
Me: So what do the companies do with the parts that you reject?
Mike:  They sell them to Chrysler.

True story, on both ends of the spectrum.  What happens when a system is non-existent and what happens when a system is followed to the letter. So what does that have to do with our team?  Everything!  We have a great system in place designed to build communities of people through which products and services flow.  Any deviance can have catastrophic long term effects. You may not see it for months, but in the end something will break down.  Just one little tweak, or omission will eventually cause the entire system to fall apart at the seams.  The small things do matter…Here are the top 10 little tweaks that will destroy our system.

  1. Not being on or promoting the TEAM education system.
  2. Not having or leveraging the top 10 packs.
  3. Not being on the LIFE subscriptions of qualifying for LIFE Incentive trips by generation 200 PV.
  4. Not being on Meeting subscriptions.
  5. Not attending ALL meetings or leaving before the night owl or standing in the back of the room talking during the open. 
  6. Not purchasing your major tickets until the last minute. 
  7. Changing the registration amount and packages.
  8. No growth (reading , listening)
  9. Not showing the plan 15 times a month consistently.
  10. Not setting goals and being responsible for your business. 

I have heard Orrin Woodward say many time, extend grace to others and apply law to yourself, so I do not write this list as a condemnation of anyone except myself.  As I mentioned, I take our system for granted, and need to be reminded of it’s greatness constantly.  Conformity or non-conformance to our system is a choice that we all freely choose daily.  As Chris Brady so brutally and honestly put it…  Either love change or get used to irrelevance!

Toyota today – Systems Thinking
Chrysler today – Irrelevance


  1. BRAVO, Excellent post and what a great analogy to get us all to think BIG and not cheapen or change the system. So often I too have found myself trying to short cut the TEAM proven system of Short Cuts! To put this in writing makes it even worse, yet it is “embarrassingly” true.

    Team AOJ1 we are doing so many things right! Lets check ourselves and see if we are the Duplicateable Master Copy worth following. If not, no big because today is the day. If so, Charge and let's Double Up!!!

    Tina A

  2. When I read this Leadership and Self Deception comes to mind! What am I missing that will move my thinking forward thus allowing me to lead more effectively. The bar must be held high and we must learn to believe in and trust our system completely! Raymond great job again. This makes me examine my own application of the team system!
    I hope everyone reading this is moved to examine whatever system they've chosen to plug into and follow.

    Larry Cheatham

  3. Hi Raymond,
    Thanks for the great reminder. We have learned that it is better to be reminded than to be taught.
    Life is a series of choices to be made and the wise makes the best choices based on facts for his/her family.
    Our system is Proven, Great and Duplicateable so given the choice of System Thinking or irrelevance,we choose to be System Thinkers.

  4. WOW!!! thats all I could think of after reading this post and I have to say with no reservation that I,m guilty of some of those lil tweeks and to learn what Toyota do with thier defected parts is an eye opener.That is why I am so blessed to be associated with such great leaders on Team AOJ1,leaders who wont lower the bar but hold the line and expect excellance.So Team AOJ1 let,s walk a mile and see the while we walk it out haha.See yall at the top

  5. Dad,
    This is so true, everything you said in this post speaks directly to me. People take so much for granted and it really is about the little things: coming to Tuesdays, listening to CD's, and buying my ticket to the Major. I thank you for being so blunt and truthful because sometimes that's what people(like me) need to wake up and get off their butts and do something! AO DOUBLE UP!
    Love, Tirae'

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