What Folding Laundry Can Teach Us About Building Systems

Image for post
Image for post
Credit: Mark Bonica

The faster you go, the more resistance you encounter.

When it comes to growth, most of us will look for improvements that will increase revenue, get more customers, and achieve goals.

When I’m consulting with business owners or working with coaching clients — and when I’m thinking about my own life and business, too — I’ve found that it’s often more helpful to uncover the blocks to progress. In systems-speak, we often call these “balancing loops.” They’re sources of resistance that increase in strength as the thing we’re trying to improve starts to happen.

Let’s say you run a small software-as-a-service business and want more customers. You advertise, you speak at conferences, you start a referral program — whatever is appropriate for your business. Those customers, you hope, will bring others to your product. You’re spinning up your flywheel — the loop that will propel your growth.

It works! People sign up, some are even paying customers. You start to fantasize about meeting your monthly recurring revenue goals and hockey-stick growth! It’s awesome.

But that very success strengthens a balancing flywheel. More customers mean more customer service issues. If you don’t anticipate the influx of customers, the balancing flywheel will push against your growth. More resources are needed to handle the issues that come naturally with more customers. If you don’t proactively recruit customer service reps, you might rely more on your product and engineering team to solve problems, slowing down their ability to innovate. Unhandled complaints will turn customers off. All of this will slow your flywheel.

These sources of resistance aren’t always the result of complicated dynamics, either.

Sometimes we don’t have the right systems in place.

Take laundry. My laundry basket is full of clean, unfolded laundry right now, a jumble of my and my kids’ clothes. That means that every morning, I have to go on a scavenger hunt. Find socks, pants, underwear, and shirts for all of us. Yes, it only takes a few minutes, but those minutes can be costly. It slows our momentum and makes it harder to get moving for the day.

It’s a tax on my resources.

Fortunately, the solution is obvious. A small, up-front investment: fold the laundry and put it away!

But if it’s so obvious, why haven’t I done it? The answer, I think, is that I need a system. On a personal level, there’s a couple of ways that I could do this:

  • I could link it to something I’m naturally doing anyway, such as tackling the laundry every Sunday after I tuck my kiddos into bed.
  • I could make it part of a temptation bundle. I’ll only watch Bojack Horseman while I fold laundry, for example.
  • I could delegate it, paying for wash and fold at a laundromat or for someone else to do it.
  • I could automate it. Well, not for this problem, but automation can help… though you need to be careful not to create more problems with it.

It’s a silly example, but it shows how resistance can make things harder. Even before we consider the dynamics of our balancing loops, we can think about how we do, delegate, or automate trivial tasks. This will allow us to reclaim our bandwidth for what matters.

OK, I’m gonna go scrounge around for a pair of matching socks.

In the meantime, reply and let me know what kinds of “systems” you plan to invest in, and whether there are balancing flywheels or persistent taxes that you face.

Subscribe here and let’s keep the conversation going…

Written by

Host of The Breakdown™ podcast. Co-author of MELTDOWN, a book on why our systems fail & what we can do about it. A lot, it turns out. http://bit.ly/1-meltdown

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store