Six Steps to Thinking Systemically About Frustrations

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What’s Frustrating You? 

Think about the daily operations in your business: your role and responsibilities, your people, your customers, and the situations that cause frustration. What do you encounter repeatedly that bothers you or makes you feel stressed? Make a list of these things below. Write them down just as you feel and experience them, as if you were telling someone about it. 

I feel frustrated because... 

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Systems Are the Solution

Frustration is an important indicator that something in your business is going wrong and 

needs attention. Feelings like exasperation, confusion, even anger are some of the things that help us identify when things are broken. The more impact a frustration has— 

and the more difficult it seems to fix—the more intense the emotional experience. Throughout this process, you’ll learn how to take a step back from your immediate 

reaction to see the underlying cause of your frustrations. When you can distance yourself from the problem and look at the bigger picture, you can create a system solution that will help you get back in control. 

Breaking it down further: the frustrations that you feel are the result of chronic problems where something is repeatedly going wrong and your efforts to fix it aren’t working. You have an undesirable pattern of events that produces results you don’t want over and 

over. The good news is that every frustration or problem in your business is due to a missing or broken system, which means that you can put a stop to feeling like you’ll never have control again. 

Six Steps to Thinking Systemically about Frustrations takes your focus away from blaming people, including yourself. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you feel frustrated and your immediate reaction is to ask yourself what system is missing, rather than to blame yourself or someone else. That’s not to say that people are never the problem. Sometimes they are. But that too is made clear by the process of creating a system solution. 

Three Ways We Relate to Frustrations: Self-Directed, 

Outer-Directed, and System-Directed Frustrations

There are three ways to look at the frustrations that arise in your business and one of them is the key to the success of this process. 



Self-Directed Frustrations are those where you consider yourself to be the major source of 

the problem. You blame yourself. 

Every day I promise myself I’m going to make 50 cold calls a week and I haven’t done it yet. 

I know I need to meet with Janet to give her feedback on her customer support calls, I just don’t want to make her feel bad because she might quit or get angry. 

I’m too embarrassed and uncomfortable to make collection calls; I just don’t know what to say. 



Outer-Directed Frustrations are those where you consider someone or something else to be 

the source of the problem. You blame someone else or some external condition. 

• Jack is always wasting time talking to the other employees. 

• The weather makes it impossible to control our delivery schedule. 

• The economy is costing me a fortune in sales this year. 



System-Directed Frustrations are those where your business systems and processes, 

or lack of them, are the source of the problem. There’s no blame, just a statement of a 

frustrating condition. 

• I don’t know what’s in inventory at any given time and have to leave customers waiting while

I find someone to ask. 

• We don’t know how to determine our cash position. 

• I don’t know what questions are best to ask in the final recruiting interview. 

The truth is that System-Directed Frustrations are the only kind you can resolve. And the 

good news is that Self-Directed and Outer-Directed Frustrations are actually System-Directed Frustrations in disguise. They can always be restated as System-Directed Frustrations. 

And once you have a System-Directed Frustration, you have the clues you need to understand the underlying business condition that’s the cause of your frustration. And that leads you directly to a system solution. 


Six Steps to Thinking Systemically about Frustrations

To recap: frustrations in your business are really the result  of an undesirable pattern of events that can be eliminated by installing a system. This process is a tool that supports systemic thinking. It teaches you how to identify frustrating underlying business problems and create system solutions to help stop them from happening. 

One of the primary skills of successful business manage-ment is systemic thinking. When you’re able to reframe your perceived people problems and look at them as systems issues, then you can see underlying opportunities in your business. 

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