If you’ve studied the world of business and entrepreneurship you’ve probably heard the word “systems” used a few times.
Every single business is built on various types of systems. Many large businesses are built on organized systems with documented processes, whereas many smaller businesses are built on chaotic systems locked inside peoples’ brains.
For example –
If you ask the solo founder of a small business how something is done they will generally give you a direct answer. Specific tasks are still likely done by them without any documentation.
These are solo systems. They reflect chaos.
On the contrary, if you ask the CEO of a Fortune 500 business how something is done they will generally refer to an org chart, in which case a person in that org will know or point you to an SOP (standard operating procedure). Specific tasks are documented and modeled for others to do.
These are team systems. They reflect order.
This matches the natural instinct of how humans want to operate. Most of us desire freedom and chaos when starting something new by ourselves. Then we seek more order and structure as things evolve. Business is a perfect example, however, it applies to other things life as well.
- When cooking something new we might enjoy playing with ingredients and flavors in the beginning. But then we follow documented recipes to practice and improve our skills if we intend to improve and grow.
- When playing a new sport we might enjoy having fun and learning in the beginning. But then we create documented drills to practice if we intend to improve and grow.
- When playing a new instrument we might enjoy experimenting and hearing different sounds in the beginning. But then we follow documented songs if we intend to improve and grow.
Starting to see the pattern?
We tend to implement systems if we intend to improve and grow.
Why? Because systems give us a more efficient and organized way to do things. They essentially save us time.
Business is no different. We typically start with a lot of play, learning and experimentation in the beginning. But then we follow documented processes if we’re seeking growth.
In the beginning, chaos is necessary. However, chaos can usually only get you so far. I’ve experienced this firsthand on various businesses I’ve founded or contributed to.
A startup story usually goes like this:
- You start the business and do as much as possible yourself until you reach your breaking point.
- Then you start outsourcing tasks and hiring contractors for help.
- Once you reach enough revenue to breathe and experience a bit of profit you look to hire an employee or two.
- Then your solo systems can no longer work – you have to evolve and build team systems.
- Now you have a team contributing to different systems in effort to grow the business efficiently.
This is the pattern for most startups and small businesses. Many of them fail to grow beyond one person, by the way. Why? Because solo systems are easier, especially if you’re not seeking growth.
It takes a lot of energy and commitment to work efficiently with other humans and include them in your business after you’ve built it alone. In other words, it’s easier for us to do our own thing and fly solo with what we know. This is especially true for introverts (like me) who can roll up their sleeves and get the work done. So you have to accommodate for some friction and learning if you intend to grow and transition into team systems.
Balancing Chaos and Order
That said, there is a blend of systems that can create healthy and impactful businesses. This includes the right balance of chaos and order. I think they both have value in a business and contribute in meaningful ways.
- Great for people to express their creativity and true contributions
- Fast and useful for experimenting
- Needed to get early traction
- Great for people to feel balanced and organized
- Slow and useful for stability
- Needed to create alignment around a vision / mission
The key here recognizing your business’s healthy blend. Some businesses can operate with more chaos than others.
For example, a consulting business or agency can hire a bunch of talented folks and let them do their thing with unique solo systems. The business can grow as long as talent is retained and some minimal amount of order is managed. In many ways this type of business requires a lot of chaos.
On the contrary, a pizza shop requires a lot of order to grow. Everything from recipes to closing the store down needs a structured team system to follow. There is room for minimal chaos in this type of business.
Chaos makes us Unique
There’s one thing I want to point out about chaos – it’s generally what makes us unique in business. In other words, order and team systems are things that anyone can follow and replicate. Whereas chaos and solo systems are usually a reflection of our unique talents.
Let’s look at the pizza shop again. If you want to build the next Papa John’s there are plenty of team systems to get you there. And as I mentioned, you will need a lot of order to grow a large pizza franchise. However, you won’t be any different than all the other pizza shops. It’s essentially a race to the bottom. Same ole story.
Chaos gives you an edge. It might be harder to manage and scale, but it makes you who you really are. The right amount of chaos might make you the cool new pizza shop that people can’t stop talking about. A story worth telling.
So keep that in mind when you’re deciding how systematic you want to become.
I’ll wrap this post up with a few personal thoughts around what I’ve learned over the years.
First, I think chaos and order have their respective place in every business.
They are both essential regardless of your business size and type. Both also add value in different ways. A healthy business will always balance some method of chaos and order to influence creativity and structure, respectively.
Second, I think your intentions as the founder are the primary driver of how much you balance systems.
For example, if you want to build a great company that impacts millions of lives and can potentially give you a big exit one day, well then you’re going to need a lot of order and team systems. However, if you simply want to do great work and enjoy a flexible lifestyle I think chaos and solo systems can be great.
Finally, I want to mention that growth always comes at a cost.
Many of us business founders are tricked into thinking we need to grow which inevitably forces us into more order and team systems. I would encourage you to really think about the opportunity cost before giving up your chaos and freedom. I’ve learned this the hard way over the years 🙂
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.