Uncover your company’s impact on your next coffee break

Pour yourself a cup and see the bigger picture.

Daily life inside a startup can be chaotic, and it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when there are pitch decks to make and products to ship. But no startup is an island, even in the scrappy, bootstrapping early days. All companies are part of systems with people, knowledge, energy and materials flowing in and out.

Understanding your system is key to making sure your company has a positive impact on the world around you. As a bonus, it also helps you better understand the business you are in, which can translate to overall business growth. But how can you do that on the very limited time and budget of #startuplife? System mapping.

System mapping 101

System mapping can be complex, but simple quick-and-dirty system maps can be immensely useful too. Start with your company in the middle. The people and processes of your value chain come next, and then from there you can map out things like:

  • What activities happen in the company?
  • What resources come into the company?
  • What resources exit the company?
  • How large are these activities or resources in relation to each other? Which are bigger? Which are smaller? Which disappear? Which transform into something else?
  • Who are the people impacted by your company? (users, employers, suppliers, community, etc.)

Resources can be material things, information, knowledge, data, people, energy, emissions, feelings, money — anything that comes in or goes out.

Once you have your system map, look at the system flows that have the biggest potential benefits and the biggest possible negative impacts. This will show you where your sustainability value lies, and where you can put in a little extra effort to avoid unintended consequences.

Pure Growth’s latest system mapping workshop, held for Helsinki startups at Maria 01

Still not sure why you should bother? Here are three reasons:

1. Services have systems, too

Traditionally, sustainability in companies has been all about making production cleaner for the land, air and water. But what if you are a service company without any physical products? You impact systems, too. Social sustainability is about the well-being of the people your company touches. Say you hire contractors — do you know how your company impacts their well-being? In turn, how does that affect their loyalty towards your company? Or if you produce ads — do you know how the images you create shape how people see themselves? Systems mapping can help you go deeper than your business model canvas.

2. It’s worth taking the time now

You might be deep in the startup grind, sweating to get every customer. Why take the time for systems mapping when sleep isn’t even on the menu? Because it will help you prioritize the highest-impact places to focus your sustainability efforts, making it more efficient to do things right. Even spending a quick coffee break sketching out a systems map can help you see your company’s activities in new ways.

Plus, if you find out in your system mapping that your company might have unintended negative consequences, it’s a whole lot easier to pivot now than when your company makes it big. After all, it’s easier to turn a bicycle than a cargo ship.

3. Understanding stakeholders can unlock customer value

If you’re in a startup, sales is everything. Systems mapping can help you think differently about what stakeholders might want. Stakeholder wants = potential customer value propositions. It can also show you the potential risks to your brand. As even some of the world’s biggest companies have learned the hard way, unintended sustainability consequences can be toxic for your brand.

Want to make system mapping easier?

To make it easy to learn systems thinking, we will be launching a simple system mapping tool later in 2019. Whether you’re a startup, an established company or someone who wants to understand the impact of a personal project, we’re here to make it easy. Sign up here to be the first to know when we launch!