Don't Set Goals, Build Systems

In his book, Lynchpin, Seth Godin talks about how you should make yourself invaluable to your company, so everyone needs you, and that’s how you maximize your value.

It also makes you the bottleneck and a vulnerability for the company - if you leave or get sick or hurt, your company is much worse off. No company wants the person who hoards information and power and tries to be the bottleneck. This is just as true in your family life as it is in business.

In addition, goals often change. Despite what Arnold Schwarzenegger says, the vast majority of people and groups don’t achieve their goals. They have to pivot along the way. Better to build systems that can sense and react than to be too fragile.

Here are some tips for building systems:

Set up a memory system. Part of a good system is remembering everything. It’s much better to have information at everyone’s fingertips than in one person’s head. It could be Evernote - I’ve heard of some very sophisticated uses of Evernote and people who swear by it. There are many others. The more shareable, the better. My favorite is WorkFlowy, which is an online outliner that gives you unlimited depth, so you can really cram a ton of information under each item. Here’s a snapshot of my outline - note that a circle means there’s more underneath that can be opened and revealed:

Screenshot 2019-05-09 at 13.24.01.png

Set up a workflow system. This depends how many people you’re coordinating and how remote they are. All systems have limitations. The fundamental principle behind a Kanban system is limiting work in progress, which I think is a breakthrough in task management. Richard Sheridan describes his company’s scrum-style system in his amazing book, Joy, Inc.:


One of my favorite workflow systems is The pros: Monday is very very easy to use, so people actually use it. You could use it to manage a team of up to about a dozen people, and it would be great for a family. I love the interface. Now for the cons: It is prohibitively expensive, so it’s good for rich companies and maybe family offices. It’s also not going to scale seriously - it’s essentially “flat.” So it won’t work for complex projects or many contributors. I’d love to see an affordable version, because it would be very effective for small teams.

Let the system drive. The more shortcuts you take around the system, the worse it works. The more data you put in, the more you can mine and analyze later. Always use the system, always follow the rules, and use the system to periodically evaluate performance and ask how you could improve it.

Build scale in. Scale changes things. A whiteboard is a fantastic system for one person for a few days. A notebook is good for a few months. But at some point, you can’t leverage these systems. I’ve seen some organizations use Workflowy for meeting notes, and at the end of the meeting they send a link to just that branch of a huge Workflowy document.

Today’s assignment: watch these two short videos on systems vs goals:

What tools do you like? What systems do you recommend? Help others by sharing your experience: