Systems are repeatable methods for obtaining reliable results and vary widely. Selecting the ideal system in scientific research involves defining specific outcomes and understanding personal values. Choose the right system by understanding your precise needs and how you feel about the task at hand. Verify your system and assess its complexity before implementation.

In scientific research, myriad strategies abound, some bordering on the philosophical. While infusing your personal values into your lab work is commendable, there are days when a more direct approach is preferable to simply getting things done.

In such instances, starting with a practical problem rather than a righteous cause is fruitful. Recurring issues necessitate replicable solutions, leading us to the realm of systems.

A system, by definition, is a repeatable method yielding reliable and desirable outcomes. The strength of science lies in the trove of not only documented successes but also failures preceding us, encapsulated in various systems.

Yet, the conundrum remains: How do you select the right system tailored to your unique circumstances? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.

Start After the End

The quest for a suitable system commences with delineating desired outcomes. (Alliteration not intended, but it works, right?) Enumerate both needs and non-needs, for what remains unarticulated tends to linger in vagueness. These written criteria serve to sharpen focus and eliminate ambiguity.

Let’s see an example. We’ll call our system seeker Margaret. Margaret wants a new fitness system that works for her.

Margaret is no couch potato but she’s no triathlete either. She’s not vying for gold medals. She’s not longing to be on the cover of a magazine as a fitness model. What she is seeking is strength and flexibility. She wants her clothes to fit well. She wants to feel good.

The notion of “feeling good” is where many folks stop. But it is too generic. What, specifically, does Margaret expect to feel after she has met her objective? There are many viable options. 

Is her objective to feel accomplished? Is it to feel vital and strong? Is it to feel healthy? The specifics reveal her best choices.

So, Margaret knows that a marathon training system isn’t for her. Neither is a competitive bodybuilding system. She can probably write off any system that uses adjectives like loco, insane, or crazy in its title. She can now focus on systems geared toward health, fitness, and flexibility.

You Are Not a Machine

Don’t deceive yourself that you don’t have any “feelings” about your lab work. In fact, you are likely highly invested in your work and admit it—that will involve more than just cold, hard logic.

If you are seeking visibility, that will inform your objectives and your methods. However, if you are pursuing the thrill of discovery, your ends and means may be subtly or even dramatically different. It’s up to you to decide which feelings are best implemented. 

Once you choose, you can work backward. What would come right before a feeling of relief, or of satisfaction? Inhabiting that space provides clarity on what must be present first, and what you must do or ensure is done to make that resulting feeling possible.

Know Thyself

Once you have the final picture painted in detail, now you can get down to the means.

How much structure do you need? Notice I didn’t ask, “How much structure do you like?” It’s not about pleasing yourself; it is about knowing yourself. 

You may hate the alarm clock but that is precisely why you need an alarm clock. It causes you to do something that may not be to your short-term liking but serves your long-term objectives.

So, let’s crack the whip. I challenge you to do the following exercise. (At home, not in the lab!) Start with a paper (not plastic) grocery bag. Cut yourself some eye holes, and ensure yourself some privacy. Now, stand in front of a floor-length mirror and put the bag over your head. It will be an even more stark realization if all you are wearing is the bag. What is this person really like? What are his/her flaws? Where does he/she need guidance?

I’m serious about actually doing this exercise. Just thinking about it won’t be enough. This is especially true if you really want to see your own body for the first time. With just you and a bag in front of a full-length mirror, you are going to meet someone you have never met before. It may be a bit disrupting, but it certainly is enlightening.

Take the Advice of an Experienced Carpenter

It is so easy to get caught up in the promise of a shiny new system. But be sure to verify its claims. I am not advocating cynicism. But like a good carpenter, measure twice, cut once.

Remember your lists, those needs, and non-needs? Settling for getting some but not all of what you need (and perhaps a healthy dose of what you don’t need) may prematurely end your systems search. But you need to mindfully verify: can you do without the missing needs and tolerate the baggage of non-needs? It is not wrong to see when a system does not serve the specific application you will put it to, even if it does a great job for other people in different situations.

Most robust systems have a learning curve that takes some time to learn and commitment to master. Make sure you have found a qualified system that meets your needs with a minimum of fluff before you invest your effort and resources.

Is It Enough or Is It Overkill?

Are you looking for a simple way to bake a cake? Then don’t be mesmerized by baking systems with “features” that you will never use. Don’t get bogged down in complexity that seems to broadcast capability but is overkill for your needs.

Maybe it’s not as simple as cake. Are you looking for a comprehensive way to run a successful bakery? Albert Einstein is rumored to have said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” (Perhaps he said it in German.) This is where your needs inventory, and especially your non-needs inventory, will give you a means of assessing.

Should I Go with Facts or Feelings?

Have you ever seen a system that sure looks good on paper, but you just don’t feel right about it? Such notions are worthy of examination. Shining the light of your attention on the matter may illuminate why you are discomforted. Of course, the discomfort might be that it looks likely to work for you, and you will, therefore, no longer have an excuse for failure. In that case, scroll back up and reread the “Know Thyself” section.

Your hunch may have another cause, however. It may be that you recognize something that is not for you. Don’t play this off. Get comfortable, or move on to the next system.

In other circumstances, the excitement may be there but the facts are just not backing up the buzz. Is it a mere lack of data? Then go get that data. If, however, it is the data itself that is at odds with your positive feelings, you need to take a step back.

The opposite can also happen. If you find yourself being negative for no good reason, don’t let that block you from a good thing when you see it.

If your feelings (positive or negative) are starting to be insistent, stop. Take a breath. Set aside your desire to make this one work or to push it away. Put a “bag” over this particular system’s head and see it for what it really is.

Stick Or Pivot?

So, you know what you are after, you know yourself, and you have examined your options thoroughly. You dealt with the data, you got emotionally present, and you made your choice. Now the rubber meets the road.

No system implementation goes without hitches. You have to learn new things. You may have to go against your nature on occasion. You may get new information, or your circumstances may change. Oh no, did you make the wrong choice?

Before you decide to cut and run, remember the path that brought you to right here. Recall why you made the choices you did. Are you now making some assumptions about how easy this “should” be that are really not appropriate? Are you getting overly emotional, flustered, or panicky? If so, take a step back. Go get your grocery bag again. (Who knew that bag would be so useful?)

Of course, there are times when something is just not living up to its promise. Don’t let your investments (energy, focus, time, money) sway you to stick with something that is not going to deliver the results you require. At the end of the day, your preferred outcome is the only measure. It all starts and ends with results. If need be, head back to the beginning and, with the new knowledge you have acquired, choose a new system more likely to deliver. Then, work that system until you get your desired results.

Takeaway Message for Selecting the Ideal System

No system can absolutely promise a result. Oh, it might offer guarantees, but you don’t want your money back; you want what you paid for. You have to jump into life. The outcome may be uncertain, but the possibilities make it worthwhile. So do your homework. The right system can improve your odds considerably.

Have you picked the right system? Tell us about it by commenting below.

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