The Multiplier Effect of Operating Systems

Dan Sullivan

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m enjoying my iPad. In fact, Strategic Coach uses Apple computers throughout our three offices. I’m a big fan of Apple’s operating systems because they’re just so easy to use.

This ease of use in itself has a multiplier effect: All sorts of individuals now make websites, movies, songs, photo albums, and podcasts who never would have considered doing such things before, just because these computers make it so easy to be creative.

I realize people feel so passionate about their choice of operating system that it borders on religious debate. Don’t worry: I’m not evangelizing for Apple here; I’m just using them as a model — and not just for computers.

A broader definition of “operating systems.”

To me, an operating system is any structure or tool that does the following things:

-It creates capability that wasn’t there before.

-It provides information and allows people to see things in a new, more useful way.

-It links resources together.

-It increases productivity.

This certainly applies to technologies like computers and the Internet, but it also describes a lot of other things we might not usually think of as operating systems.

The U.S. Constitution.

The United States is going through major shifts on a lot of levels right now. Yet I’m confident the country will come through these shifts just fine, because it has an operating system: the Constitution. This document lays out the instructions for how to run a country.

What’s remarkable about this operating system is that, though it made sense to people and worked over 200 years ago, it still works pretty well in today’s digital world. It may have accumulated a few barnacles over time, but scrape those off and it’s still seaworthy — because what matters isn’t so much the content of the document but the direction it gives us. Human nature is still very much the same today as it was back then, and the Constitution is an operating system for a country made up of individual human beings with all their varied dreams and aspirations and foibles.

A school that runs an operating system.

I went to St John’s College, which offers a program on “the Great Books” — a canon of timeless works of Western culture. Their teaching method involved our reading each of these texts, then participating in discussions about them along with skilled instructors who kept the conversation going in a way that helped us all contribute and learn from one another.

What I took away from the school wasn’t the ideas in the books. It was this operating system of having open-ended discussions based on great questions — rather than lectures that had one single, predefined conclusion.

A system of learning and transformation.

That system of asking questions lies at the heart of the Strategic Coach Program. In our entrepreneurial coaching, we deliver the concepts and tools we’ve developed over decades of working with people from a wide range of industries. But the other essential component of this system is what happens in the workshop environment.

In this setting, as we say, “more is caught than taught.” People put things together for themselves in a way that would never have occurred anywhere else in their lives, and it can’t be predicted or predetermined. We just set up the conditions.

Though we’ve always published content — tools and strategies from the Program — in the form of books, audio, and now increasingly online material, the essential aspect of our business will always be this operating system, which consistently creates transformational learning experiences. It’s a way of organizing information, thinking, and taking action. The result is human and unique, and can’t be easily replicated.

The operating system advantage.

Building a coherent operating system into the heart of your business gives you a platform for creating many different kinds of value for your clients and customers. It also gives you advantages in the marketplace — including the ability to constantly differentiate yourself.

In fact, your competitors won’t even understand what you’re doing. They may try to copy your products and services, but you’ll always be several steps ahead of them.

In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about why this is.

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