The Systems Mindset

In this episode Sam Carpenter explains the many benefits of living life with the Systems Mindset and how you can get it too.

In this show we discuss:

  •  How to get the Systems Mindset
  • Applying the Systems Mindset to your work
  • Applying the Systems Mindset to your personal life

Josh  0:29  

Welcome to the Work The System Podcast where we help entrepreneurs make more and work less by getting control of their systems. And I’m your host, Josh Fonger. And today, we have a very special guest, we have the author of the book. You’re all familiar with Work The System here, Sam Carpenter. And for those of you who don’t know, Sam has quite an expansive career not only writing this book, The System’s Mindset, and some political books. He’s also been involved in politics at the highest level, and he has a nonprofit and owns the company featured in the book. Centratel still owns it today. And I know I’m missing some things here, Sam. But we’ve been working together for over 10 years, and still enjoy a great relationship. That’s why I’m having him on the podcast here today. And Sam, how are you doing?


Sam 1:23  

Good. It’s great. Josh, well, down here in our Eastern Kentucky basement slash library, I’m very happy to talk to you today, as usual.


Josh  1:36  

Awesome. Today, we are going to talk about one of your favorite topics, the systems mindset and dive in deep about the systems mindset, but also talking about why it matters. So you get this mindset shift. What do you do with it? And what is it like to live with this mindset? This is one of those things where you actually learn it, and you can apply it today, and it can affect so many things. And so today, Sam, you know, as we talked about ahead of time, we’re gonna just have a conversation about what is the system’s mindset and how to apply it. So let’s just start off with that question. What is the systems mindset for those who don’t know?


Sam  2:14  

Yeah, and this is my favorite topic. I do want to point out before we begin that you and I operate independent companies, so I am working the business, and you are WTS enterprises. And you and I have worked together I think 11 years now. And I have no financial interest in your consulting and coaching. And I only say that, because I want our listeners or viewers to know that I do this for the fun of it. I don’t need the income. I just love talking about this stuff. And, and there’s a lot of stuff to talk about. But the system’s mindset, which we’re going to talk about today, is my favorite. The other thing I want to say is I published Work The System, the simple mechanics of making more and working last my publisher, I self published it. And then after a year a publisher picked it up, and that was in 2008. And the version was just released. Well, February of 2021 is the fourth edition. And have extensively revamped it. And I’m very proud of it. And I love talking about it. And so anyway, if you want to reach Josh, just go to and he’s right there. And you can click over to his website, WTSenterprises. And you will be able to talk to Josh about coaching and consulting and so forth. I don’t do any of that. Because I don’t want to. I may occasionally do a speaking engagement or do a workshop. And that would be in conjunction with Josh but I’m very happy here in rural eastern Kentucky, living the life with our two count hound dogs and a nice house and a wonderful wife who loves me. So I do like taking the time to talk about this, of course. But anyway, the system’s mindset so the book is laid out, it’s a good way to start. The book is laid out in three parts. Part one is the system’s mindset. And part two is the mechanics of running a business and the documentation and procedures and so forth that should be used and we’ll, we’ll get to that later on. And then the third part are just random elements of it, no particular order. But the book is laid out as a guideline and we’ve literally had hundreds of that. There’s been millions of downloads and I think I can safely say hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from the book. My main business income is Centratel which is a telephone answering service, based in Bend Oregon. We used to both live in Bend Oregon and here in eastern Kentucky. But last fall October of 2020, we sold the house, and sold a commercial building. The business is still there with my top people, my top managers and we have about 60 employees. But it’s basically a private 911 answering service. And we have doctors, veterinarians, H vac companies, funeral homes and high tech companies that we take emergency calls for. That’s my primary source of income. And then I have some with the book and so forth. But anyway, the system’s mindset is something that is very unique, it’s not Sam’s best 10 suggestions for success or anything like that. It’s nothing like that. Or I’m also smart or anything. It’s just something that I’ve incorporated into my life. And it goes back to the year 1999. I had an insight. And all of this is in great detail in the book. And by the way, you can download the book for free in PDF at the website. And then you can buy it through Amazon or your favorite bookseller, audible Kindle, or hardcopy. It is a hardcover book I’ve never done, only in the very beginning did I do a soft cover. But anyway, what I want to say is that you can get a whole lot more detail elsewhere. So I’m just going to kind of cruise through this with you, Josh, today. So I had the insight. And the insight is this very simple thing. And that is your life is a collection of systems, systems that execute over time. And I don’t care whether you’re going into the kitchen to get a glass of water, or Yara, washing your hound, or you’re taking your Ford pickup up to Ford to get serviced. Or you’re writing a book or you’re taking care of your family or you’re driving to work or you’re performing for eight hours at your place of work. If you have a place of work. So many people are working from home now. But everything executes in steps over time. And the Work The System methodology revolves around this different way of looking at life. And that is, everything that happens happens over time, in a step by step fashion that makes it a system. So when you say work the system, you’re going to work on your systems. And if you’re running a business, what is your biggest problem? I’ll guarantee you if I was working with you, I would say what is your biggest problem? And this is what Josh does all day long. Oh, okay. Let’s take it apart. What are the steps? Well, Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, well, let’s look at those steps a little closer and you work on that particular system. Maybe it’s because your sales department isn’t running very well, it might boil down to the fact that there’s no processes or procedures documented. It might be that you really don’t need your brother-in-law, always use this example, you don’t need your brother-in-law to be in charge of the sales department because he’s not doing much. I mean it but you break the systems down and typically do small little incremental things and you make the system perfect. And you can get so you go through your whole day in that way. So whether you’re building storage racks in the garage, or you know, the other, the other systems that I mentioned, whatever the processes are, you work on the processes one at a time. And it’s not a swirling mass of sights, sounds and events. Your life is a collection of systems in which you take the most dysfunctional one first, which may be at work. It may be your health, it doesn’t matter. Everything operates here on planet Earth in the same way. It’s a step by step process, whatever the system is, you’re working on a step by step process that ends up somewhere, maybe a good place, maybe a bad place. Maybe it’s 80% efficient, you could make it 98% efficient. So the whole point of this is to work on the processes to see your life as a collection of systems. And Part One of the book talks about that part, chapter four and chapter five, or the crux chapters in part one. It talks about how it came to me in my business and later on, we can talk about that particular night when the insight came to me. But if you don’t have a systems mindset, you’re not really going what I call one layer deeper to where you’re dealing with where the results are propagated. I like to say a lot of people swim on the surface of the ocean and thrash around and thrash around trying to get somewhere. This is totally metaphorical thrashing around the surface and not understanding there’s so much down below in the ocean. And we’ve all seen that picture of Jaws with the woman swimming on the top of the water and the big shark coming up to grab her. There’s dangers down there too. But also, there’s lots of good stuff. And what you gotta do is go a layer deeper look at the systems of your life and start working one by one on the systems. And anybody can do that. The hand of God isn’t going to come down to save you, you’re not going to find this magical manager to come in and straighten everything out, you’re going to have to have this little insight. And by the end of part one, I think most people get it. And then they go to work working on their systems, one by one by one. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it happens rather quickly. Your first process you work on may take just a couple of days to straighten that problem out. And then you go from there to there. And I think that’s what I think that’s what when we first met Josh in a coffee shop in Bend. You were living there at the time in Bend, Oregon. And you said you love my book. And you were surprised that I lived in the same town you did. We went to Jackson’s corner and had coffee. And that was what 2011 I think, and here we are. And now Josh is spreading the system’s mindset everywhere he goes. And of course he operates with the same philosophy I do. I almost don’t want to call it a philosophy. It’s more of a fact of life, that our lives are collections of systems.


Josh 11:20  

I want to jump into that a little bit to understand. I’m curious to know what your answer is going to be? Why do you think most people, maybe why do you think of yourself at a younger age? Why don’t most people don’t see the world this way? Because it says how the world works, it is reality. So why do most people not not get it? Do they just live through life? Without seeing this?


Sam 11:42  

I think the simplest solution is probably the correct solution. And the simple explanation is probably the proper explanation. And I think the proper explanation is people are too busy. We’ve got our devices. We’ve got our TV, we’re working and struggling, and we’re killing fires all day long. so many of us, and we just don’t take the time to take that serious look a layer deeper. And when I read the when I read when I wrote the book, and then the subsequent editions, I really focus heavily in part one to get people to be able to sit down in and really see in their own lives, that life is a collect for anybody is a collection of systems. And so you need to just wherever you’re sitting, we talked about this in a later episode. But there is a way to get the system’s mindset. And the cool thing is once you get it, I remember you coming into the office at the beginning. At first, you know, it was just this guy who wrote this book. And this is one day you walked in and remember that I remember where you were standing in my office back there when I had an office in Bend, Oregon and you said, I really get it. This is really blowing my mind, is it going to make me crazy? Remember that? Do you remember that conversation? And that’s so often how it happens. And it comes in a flash, it’s very exciting. It seldom comes over a period of time, it’s one day, you just get it. But most people won’t take the time to read part one of my book or to think about how life actually works. And so they go through their whole lives, putting band aids on things and killing fires and, and not really getting to where they ultimately want to get to and where do people ultimately want to get to. I’ll tell you, here are two important things. One is to have enough money. Nothing wrong with that, because money is power. And money allows you to do things with your family, what you need to do or by yourself or whatever. And freedom, the time and the money to do what you want to do in this wonderful gift of life that we’ve been given by our Creator. And so most people just don’t think about it because they’re too busy doing other things to answer your question.


Sam 14:08  

I think that’s the simple solution. That’s true. Just too many distractions. Well, they’re letting themselves be distracted by too many things. I think a lot of it, yeah. When you have the system’s mindset, then all of a sudden you’re in control of where you go, as opposed to just reacting and kind of being a victim of all of the things that are bombarding you. A great, simplistic truth to remember is action beats reaction every single time. Action beats reaction every single time and that’s what the system’s mindset is about nets. That’s what you do when you work on your processes. One time system improvements we’ll use that term a lot to to make things better and better and better and gird yourself against The big mistake, or the big stupid fumbling wrong direction turn, you might take too, you don’t lose everything. And, and so, risk management is a huge part of this. But you’re always preparing, you’re always building, you’re always thinking in advance of what’s coming next. And pretty soon the fire killing starts to slow down. And that’s the point. And a lot of times in businesses, as you know, Josh, you give a business owner a chance to understand the systems mindset by isolating a big problem going in with your documentation, your procedures, and working with that owner. And then this problem that they’ve been dealing with for 20 years goes away forever. And then they’re a believer, and it’s usually in the first couple of weeks. A lot of times, it’s in reading the book. It happens, but it usually comes with a snap of a finger, and exciting insight. And you never lose it. I got it in 1999. And I’ve never gone back to my old way of doing things.


Josh 16:02  

Yeah, for me, I notice a recurring problem. I’m always like, wait a second, what have I not seen in terms of the system that I go back? Like, oh, it’s these things that led up to this. That’s why it keeps happening again. And again, it’s everyone’s way you catch yourself like this, the same problems happen three times, you know, more of a personal life problem. And it’s like, well I really could change the system that you have, you have a great story that I remember from years ago, about when you got the insight in you and Nikki and the boys were sitting around the table, and you had some guests at your house. And you realized that the kids leaving the table and going to what else, whatever else they were going to do in the evening was a process. And there were some things wrong with that. Can you briefly talk about that? I love hearing this story from you.


Sam 16:56  

Yeah, I probably will remember, because my kids are older now. My oldest is 16. Started to drive? Well, I think the story had to do with the fact that there’s a process to meals, and my kids would obviously just get their food and just leave. They had no idea of what good manners even were. And once we actually wrote down the product, this is what a good meal is in terms of getting the table set up with your glasses. You know, this is what kind of conversations happened during the meal. This is how you know when you leave it, I think I remember it was, mom may be done or something like that either really little at the time. And then if she says yes, then you know, you bring your things that this is that you wash them off, you put in the dishwasher. And without that knowledge without the steps to take, how are they going to know? Right? I think that goes back to our employees, we just assume our employees know what to do. We don’t ever tell them, and we never break it down into simple pieces. And yeah, so now we have all sorts of checklists. I mean, you’d be surprised. And we got a checklist upstairs. And all the different things I need to do. This is the secret that I didn’t realize at first, when you taught me is that people actually prefer to know what to do and how to do it, as opposed to figuring it out. And I think entrepreneurs, they enjoy thrashing around and figuring things out, because that’s their personality, but most everyone else doesn’t. They just want to know how to do what to do. So they can do well.


Josh 18:28  

And what I remember is you said that you had some guests over your house, and you had set up a system where the boys would say, May I be excused? And you’d say yes. And they would pick up their dishes, right and go to the sink and put them in the sink and say thank you mom, or something like that. I remember it was something like that. And your guests were amazed at the table. And I thought that was such a beautiful thing to treat them to teach them proper etiquette, and respect for the other people at the table. And I think that was one of the first things you did when you got the system’s mindset. And of course, you’ve done 1000 things like that, and you probably don’t remember it as well as I do. But I do remember you coming into my office and telling me that.


Sam  19:18  

That is true. Well, there’s somebody they don’t remember. I mean, I know that one of the early things for me was realizing, Oh, well, I never realized my marriage was the system. I just thought, well, you just just want to get married, and then realizing, okay, it’s made up of these components. And so like, we should just schedule on a date night and we should, you know, do these walks together. And we should set up time for having these deep conversations since as opposed to just, I just hope it works out. You know, it’s like, oh, there’s components we can actually build this as opposed to hoping that happens. And that was something I never really thought of, you know, is having a system for your relationships. And I thought that was really interesting. With my relationships, my parents, my sister, I chat, I mean, talk about, like my goals for my relationship with my sister who lives in Louisiana. We’re not going to be like best friends. You know, I live in Hawaii, she lives in Louisiana, but I call her every other week, on Saturday, when I’m driving somewhere, just to continue to know what’s going on in her life. It allows us to have the relationship we want to have. And it’s a system, I just go every other Saturday, I’m driving somewhere, I’ll get a ring. And it keeps that relationship at the right level. Well, the system’s mindset is not metaphorical. And it’s not an analogy. It’s not a trick you plan yourself, it’s actual physical reality is that everything is a process. And if you get in, if you’d go that layer deeper, and get in the middle of the process and take it apart, let all the other processes in your life go for the moment and just work on this process. You can make it perfect. And in the book, I talk about the very first process that Centratel that we fixed, and that was actually taking the payments that our clients sent us in the mail and getting them into the bank. And it turned out there were 53 steps to do it properly. And it was a mess until my managers and I sat down and over a period of just a couple of days put together a process that never had a mistake. Since then, or a problem since then. And most of all, I didn’t spend I haven’t for 20 years on it. I spent two hours a week, at least putting the deposit together because I was available to do that. In fact, I wouldn’t be working two hours a month at Centratel. Now, so went from 100 hours a week down to two hours based on physical reality that processes make up your life. It’s once you get it, you see the reality and you’re coming down one layer deeper.


Josh  21:52  

What do you think would be advice for someone who’s listening to this? And they’re like, Okay, I’m starting to get the system’s mindset, like, what would be some initial actions they should take? I mean, should they immediately try to do something that’s simple in their business or personal life? Or tell a friend like how do we make sure that it sticks? 


Sam  22:12  

Well, the very first thing I would do for our viewers and our listeners today would be where are you right now? Are you listening to this in your car? Are you sitting at your desk at home? Are you at work, let’s say you’re sitting in your car, and you’re listening to this audio and you’re driving along? This is all very interesting. So what I’m going to say to you is go into a slight meditative phase. And while you’re driving, you don’t have to pull over and just start to notice what’s around you. Okay, there’s a power pole over here. That is an incredible system, the power line systems that go all through the United States and everything, oh, there’s a plane going overhead, that’s a system and a process. There’s the grass growing on the side of the street, or the side of the road, let’s say you’re on the interstate. And then there’s all the cars coming the other way, each one of those is a process inhabited by a system called another human being, and you start to notice the systems in your life. And you’ll start to see that, well, for instance, the car coming by the other way with a driver, and it has nothing to do with PowerPole over here, which has nothing to do with a hydrant down there, which has nothing to do with the other car that’s behind you and ready to pass you on the left. They’re all separate, but they’re all individual processes. Your radio has nothing to do with the brakes on your car, nothing. Your steering wheel has nothing to do with the brakes. It really doesn’t. They’re all connected, I get that it’s a car. It’s a prime, what I call a primary system made up of subsystems. But all those systems are independent. Here’s a great one, you’re out on your bicycle and you crash on the road. And you get what we cyclists call Road Rash. That’s where you scrape along the road and you lose skin on your arms. And that’s why you were riding gloves so you don’t lose all the skin on your hands when you fall. So somebody gets you and you’re all a bloody mess and you’ve got rocks in your forearms you knew you really need to be paid attention to but everything else is okay you haven’t broken any bones you really feel okay, you just got this road rash?  Whoever picks you up is not going to take you to a chiropractor. Right? They are going to take you to urgent care probably and the emergency room nurse will brace your arms and get in put dressing on it and all this. But, you know if you did fall and you broke your leg, you’re not going to be taken to the dermatologist. So even in a car, you know, there’s specialists that work on this or specialists that work on that. That’s because they’re all independent of each other. And so you in your business, your copy machine has nothing to do with how people answer the phone at the front desk, or how your bills are done or how a complaint is handled or how you do a sales presentation. They’re all separate entities. And until you can separate them in your head and work on them one at a time. You’re just going to have this what I said before: a swirling mass of sights, sounds and events, you just can’t get a handle on it, it’s too complicated. But if you do it one at a time, like these problems are coming down a conveyor belt to you, and you handle them one at a time. Okay, I took care of this. You know, the second big procedure we worked on at Centratel, when I got the company screen round had nothing to do with how the bills were paid. It had to be, it had to do with how we answered the calls, the process has been protocols. It took us I think eight hours of time to fix this problem with the billings, it took us a month to fix the system on how our TSRs telephone service representatives answered the phone. And we shuffled back and forth, we tweaked, we made it better, we put it into play, it didn’t work perfectly. So we went back and looked at it again. That’s all my people do in my office, I don’t care whether they’re working on receivables, or payables, or sales presentations, or whatever, they work on things one at a time, and they focus on that thing. And everything else is out, and will be to be focused on by either other people or by them separately. But we focus, focus, focus, and all we do is work on processes and systems, one time system improvements. If you’re doing the work as the owner of a business or manager of business, always doing the same thing over and over and over again, you’re never going to get anywhere. You have to be able to delegate well. We have this term, automate, delegate, delete, anything that comes up. And at that point you’re completely successful with that which I am and have been for. well over a decade, other people are doing the work. So I work on the high level advertising the research and development, and, and so forth. But as far as the work, I have people to do the work and my top managers back in Bend, Oregon, well, they’re all over the United States. Some of them are but our headquarters are back there. They’re always working on very, very interesting one time system improvement processes, creative stuff all day long. Like writing a book is a totally creative thing. And that’s what I am as a writer, and I write articles for trade magazines, and so forth. But your life becomes one of creativity all day long. Rather than tedium, tedium and fire killing. We just don’t have fire killing and Centratel. We don’t have any problems. If something comes up, we work on that process. And it never comes up again. And now after 1999. I’ve had the business for 37 years. But since 1999, it’s just like the profitability is so far beyond our industry profitability. Our top people work 40 hours a week maximum, it’s a really fun place to be to, it is a joy to provide the best quality answering service in the United States. It truly is statistically. So this is not just for call centers and answering services where any business, your private life, like you said, Josh, your marriage, whatever, because this is based on reality. It’s how the world functions, things happen over time, in a step by step process.


Josh 29:33  

Well Sam, the time just flew by. And I want to make sure that I give you one final question before we go. And I asked it with all my guests, which is, what’s something I didn’t ask you? But I should have asked you? And then where can people find out more about what you’re up to right now?


Sam 29:52  

Oh, that’s great. That’s a softball question. So go to And everything you need to know is there. Mainly get the book. I like hardcopy books. And believe me, I don’t need the money. But the book, you can buy it at Amazon, get the hardcopy book where you can take notes and so forth. And some of you Kindle, people know how to do the highlighting and so forth. I prefer the tangible hardcopy book, however, it’s in audible, and I did the recording not that long ago. And it’s on Kindle and read the frontmatter of the book. There’s an original preface, there’s a preface to the fourth edition. And there’s the introduction. And just kind of start plowing through part one of the book. The craps or the system mindset is all in part one of the book, part two and part three are kind of the mechanics and some further tying some strings together and so forth through the remainder of the book. The appendix of this fourth edition is huge. There’s so much more in the appendices about it. We’ll talk about this later. The strategic objective, the operating principle In the working procedures, the base documentation you need for your business. And I’ll leave you with this. Aha. So what is this? What is the main difference between a small struggling business in a hugely successful business, presuming they’re both owned by a single person just for simplicity’s sake. So you’ve got the small struggling business with owner A, and the huge successful business with owner B. The owner has more money than he or she needs and more time than he or she needs. And the owner is working 100 hours a week and has been for two decades, what is the difference? The difference is very simple. It’s written procedures and documentation. If you don’t get your procedures down in concrete form, you can’t tweak them. And so many times nine out of 10 businesses, small businesses that are struggling, all businesses that are struggling, the owner tells the manager don’t forget to do this. Okay, but they do forget, and you can’t possibly tweak a system to perfection by just having a conversation. Sorry, but there’s some documentation and paperwork to do. But you’ll take your 100 hour work week down to two, it’s worth it.


Josh 32:19  

Yep, that’s a great way to finish it. So for those of you who are struggling and listening to this and you’re working long work weeks, and you’ve been doing it for years and years and years, realize you’re going to be stuck there unless you get the system’s mindset and you take some action. So hopefully those watching this today are gonna take some action actually, back into your systems. And as Sam mentioned, if you want to get the book design, you can buy it hardcover, Kindle, audible buy in the platform, you want to get it or you can go to and read what Sam is up to get the book, download the PDF, and then if you want some help with your business, the coaching consulting events. We have that at Go ahead and check us out there. And if you like this podcast, leave us a review. And  anywhere you’re watching this podcast and listening to it, leave us a review, and then take a screenshot of that review and email it to [email protected] And then we’ll just mail you a free copy of the book anywhere in the world. So go ahead and do that. And otherwise, we’ll see you next week. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Sam. 


Sam  33:23  

Thanks, Josh. 


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