“Servant Leader, Guardian, Mentor, are my apt descriptors for Allen Maxwell! A truly ethical and moral leader, Allen is committed to providing the most valuable insights in his inspirational book in order to ease the journey for our next generation entering the workforce! Allen’s lessons learned are a must-read for our youth and will provide a path for their success.” Dr. Michael C. Bachmann, Rear Admiral, United States Navy (retired)
“I’ve known Allen since May 1993, almost 27 years, when we were both stationed at the Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO). Allen is one of those self-motivated leaders who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. I’ve had the pleasure of becoming a member of the Maxwell family, as our friendship has continued to grow through the years. We’ve shared many family trips to the California deserts to ride quads and dune buggies, and many days putting together practice and game plans for the youth league football teams that we coached together. Allen is a leader in the true sense of the word. To lead means to serve and Allen serves those he’s responsible for; be it his family, military organization, or those within his company. His work ethic mixed with the right amount of risk tolerance has resulted in success after success. Allen is always seeking to improve himself and those around him. A man totally dedicated to family and friends! I consider Allen one of my best friends for life.” Sincerely, Efram R. Fuller LCDR, Civil Engineer Corps (CEC), United States Navy (retired)
“Allen ‘Max’ Maxwell – coach, advisor, and most importantly a friend. Over the last 34 years, Max has mentored and guided me on a majority of my career choices, life issues, and leadership /managerial concerns. This advice and his assistance set the foundation for me to meet my full potential in both my personal life and military/civilian career. Throughout these last three decades, I have seen Max in multiple leadership roles ranging from LPO in the Navy to CEO to a highly successful business. His unique ability to motivate diverse groups of people while identifying and overcoming issues is second to none. These abilities not only make him successful in leadership positions but also roll over into his personal life and make him a friend that comes once in a lifetime.” Larry E. Kelley, LCDR (Surface Warfare Officer/Limited Duty Officer) United States Navy (retired)
“As a young man, Allen Maxwell applied his character, intellect, and leadership skills to become a successful and decorated Naval Officer. Following his Navy career, Allen has applied those considerable strengths to become a successful entrepreneur. Throughout his professional life, Allen’s willingness to share his experience and insight have made him an exceptional leader whose counsel is sought whenever important decisions are made.” John V. Garaffa, CAPT, Judge Advocate General Corps (JAGC), United States Navy (retired), Partner, Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig LLP
“Allen uses a phrase in his email byline that epitomizes how he operates: ‘Victories won with Integrity.’I worked with Allen for several years early in my federal career as an acquisition program manager. I quickly learned that Allen was a man of integrity, someone I could trust to get the job done and to work together to do the job as effectively as the red tape of DOD acquisition would allow. Together, we learned ways to maneuver through the maze of regulations while always keeping an eye on the bigger picture – delivering and sustaining capability in the Fleet. His expertise enabled us to have an effective office and helped our teams attain their objectives. As a man of integrity, the reader can be assured that Allen is giving sound advice that will help them achieve their goals.” Cynthia Machnov, Navy Acquisition Program Manager (GS-15), Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, Former Colleague
“Just over thirty years ago, the US Navy assigned me to a position of leadership for which I was ill-prepared, but I did not falter in that billet because a seasoned Mustang, Allen Maxwell, already mentored my new team. From that time onward, association with this amazing friend enriched my life. A more different cultural environment could not have molded us two, and Max, as I came to know him, and I became not only professional colleagues but also developed a deep friendship that is just as strong to this day. Through our years as naval officers and beyond, I came to know him as a deeply spiritual confidante and guide whose subordinates, too, admired him and sought his counsel. After retirement, he launched another fruitful career, followed by yet another. As friends, we concurrently enjoyed common achievements we shared with friends and families. Our children grew up together, and over these last three decades, our families have shared meals, vacations, and a solemn, yearly celebration at New Year’s Eve. Max’s journey with me is marked by not only professional but also personal growth and unparalleled insight shared all along the way. I have benefited from his decisions, his discoveries, and the generous manner in which Max shares the gifts he possesses. He is an amazing human
and my closest friend.” Clay Sellers, Commander (CDR), Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) United States Navy (Retired)
“What a phenomenal read! Allen’s powerful story is moving and the insight into the system, overcoming it, and being truly successful is a lesson anyone can benefit from!”
“A great look into how his experience really molded his life. His system is amazing! A great read for any entrepreneur looking for new systems to drive business. His roadmap is a new approach that is insightful.”
“What a fantastic book that makes you understand how powerful following a system is. This is a must-read if you care to be successful and want a proven strategy. Allen is magnificent and his advice is priceless.”
“This book is one man’s story. Good advice for everyone.”
“Allen has shared insights that will help the next generation to help them become successful. He really captured how his life’s challenges led him to his successes and by sharing how he did it will help so many others. What a great story as well as incorporating great lessons.”
“I simply can’t put this book down. I was completely blown away by the Intro and began highlighting before I could get to the first part of the book! This is a must-read!!!”
“At first, I thought I didn’t get what systems meant, but after reading about Mr. Allen’s experiences in the military and private sector and businesses, I finally understood what he meant. I like all of the examples he gave, especially his military experiences at the naval base in Cuba. He immediately had to shut down the ordinance garage because it was being used to paint cars by some of the soldiers. He also found bottles of liquor in cabinets and refrigerators that had to be dealt with. The military men who ran these operations hated him for shutting them down. He always assessed a new system, finding who he could trust for advice. He related that when the system fails you don’t try to fix it. You step out of it. You also have to cut ties quickly as with his first wife and know the players in each new system that you encounter upon new assignments. He was able to use his military experience in the business world. He hired expert legal help for a bankruptcy experience and came out okay. I liked him giving his wife credit and knowing that his daughters have done well in life. You might say he walked the straight and narrow and was true to himself. A very informative read.”
“First of all, this book reads awesomely well. I couldn’t put it down despite its flaws. In fact, those flaws made ‘The System Is Unforgiving’ so enjoyable.
So, traditionally, let’s start the review with the CONS:
Half into the book I was sick of Allen stroking his ego. It seemed like he couldn’t let the chapter go without articulating how smart, hardworking, and cunning he was.
That was a bit unnerving, but definitely not enough to put the book down. I was sick of this style, yet I still wolfed the book in no time.
I guess the editor dropped a ball here. For example, when it comes to the events during the Guantanamo assignment, the narration was going in circles at least three times.
I needed to read three times how inept and stupid (comparing to Allen; see: the bragging style) his Senior Chief Petty Officer was. How despicable were the Executive Officer and the Admin Officer? How smart Allen was to work the system and get access to the Commanding Officer and the Staff Jude Advocate in advance.
Gosh! It was enough to say it once. Seriously.
- Moral Blindness.
Allen described at least a few times how he did something ethically questioning.
The best example was how he wrote horrible and false, evaluations for his subordinate in the Philippines. Allen had a bunch of great excuses, which didn’t change the fact what he did, was simply wrong.
4. The System Is Forgiving.
I don’t exactly agree with the whole premise of the book; you’ll find more on that in my summary.
Yes, it’s true that one mistake can be fatal. But it doesn’t have to be. Even Allen himself admitted to multiple mistakes and still, he was able to navigate the system.
I suppose, the title “Know the System and Your Life Will Get Easier” wasn’t so catchy 😉
The most infuriating points of this book make it so enjoyable! Seriously, I feel it’s so good because Allen didn’t hold his punches.
1. The Bragging Style.
I prefer honest boasting over false modesty. Maybe Allen in real life is also a bit too arrogant for my taste. Tough luck. He didn’t try to please me with his book, he just provided his own unique perspective.
I appreciate he didn’t try to tone down his voice. Thanks to this “The System Is Unforgiving” is so authentic and reads so well.
Besides, the author had every right to brag. He was there. He did this. From his perspective, it might’ve been just a statement of facts.
Repetition is the mother of learning. Repetition is the mother of learning. Repetition is the mother of learning.
‘I cannot say this enough… the system is unforgiving.’ ― Allen F. Maxwell
I found the word “system” mentioned in the book over 600 times!! The phrase “the system is unforgiving” appears 18 times in the book. And that’s terrific!
This book very skillfully tells the story and teaches at the same time. It happens exactly because of repetitiveness. The author comes back to his rules dozens, if not hundreds of times while describing particular events from his life. Normally, we remember about 5% of what we read. I’ve just made a quick experiment and I remember at least 40% of The 15 Rules of the System.
There is a method in this madness. It works.
3. Moral Blindness.
Do you know what I appreciated the most in the book? The story from the Philippines, where Allen admits how he screwed a fellow human being and how bad he felt with that.
‘A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.’ ― Elbert Hubbard
Well, telling the whole truth was a heck of a way to get some new friends. Mr. Allen F. Maxwell is a truly bold individual who doesn’t shy away from revealing all about his deeds. His level of transparency is off the charts and that’s why I still love him.
It wasn’t the only shameful mistake the author committed and described in painful details. He learned quite a lot about the rules of the system the hard way. Those were some hurtful lessons! I appreciate I could learn from his mistakes, not my own.
4. Fantastic Read.
‘The System Is Unforgiving’ is utterly captivating. It took me about three days to wolf the book from cover to cover. Allen’s style is so refreshingly authentic and transparent.
His life story was also spicier than average Joe’s life. Romance traps. Political traps. Business traps. It reads like a great thriller.
5. I Learned a Lot.
I got multiple lessons ranging from reinforcing things I already knew to the hidden face of modern American racism.
The previous book I read was written by Disney’s CEO. I got 11 highlights. I have 42 highlights from ‘The System Is Unforgiving,’ which is about the exact length. Drop mike.
By the way, it only reinforced my belief that we learn better from folks who are closer to where we are. Allen has a multimillion business and I have only a multi-thousand business. Yet, we both are still an order of magnitude farther away from Disney.
Summary: The System Is (un)Forgiving
Allen proved it in his book, and his life, multiple times. The full transparency he displayed (I cannot praise him enough for that) revealed multiple times he was in a collision with various rules of the system. For example, as a youngster, he didn’t shy away from a night club. Partying all night and coming to work in the morning? Not a very bright idea.
His first marriage was an utter disaster. Period.
When he got the first assignment in the Navy, he was still young and stupid. He just never was caught in the act. The same goes true about some excesses in the Philippines.
Don’t get me wrong, he gave the system the number of chances an order of magnitude smaller to take him down than his peers; he was much smarter than his fellow sailors. But still, it wasn’t like Allen never failed to follow the rules.
The same rings true with his partnerships when he started a business.
The system is unforgiving in a way that it takes only once chance, one occurrence, and you can be disposed – whether in the Navy, in marriage, or in business. That’s why the integrity Allen talks about is so important:
‘You have to do the right thing when no one is looking. Because that’s going to determine in most cases the difference between success or failure and what’s truly in your heart. Integrity is just that, doing the right thing when no one is looking because that behavior shapes your character. Your character defines who you are and it also defines how you will operate within the system.’
I think this is the ultimate lesson of this book. Your character, what’s in your heart, determines in most cases the difference between success and failure.
Do the right thing when no one is looking and you cannot be caught in wrongdoing. You give zero chances to the system to crash on you.
Even if the system spits you out, you know in your heart you did the right thing and you can dedicate your full abilities to another system.”