Machines are made-up of cogs. But if you spend all you time looking a cogs, you have no idea if the machine as a whole is running right.
Ray Zinn educates us on how business leaders should focus.
Guy Smith: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the, Tough Things First Podcast. My name is Guy Smith, I’m your host for today. And as always, we are seeking, exploring, digging out the wisdom and experience of Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO, Mr. Ray Zinn. We’ll just start off by saying hello, Ray. Good to talk to you again.
Ray Zinn: Wow, Guy. Good to hear your voice again. Good to be with you today.
Guy Smith: Always a joy to be with you. One thing which… And the topic today is of keen interest to me, and that’s how a leader, a CEO in particular, needs to view their organization. In the high-tech industry, where both you and I come from, a lot of CEOs come from the technical ranks. They’re used to looking at details, and in that respect they may tend to be looking at the machinery at the cog level, instead of at the overall machine level. I want you to talk for a minute about how in Oregon, how a leader views the organization and how they can simultaneously be worried about the overall machine, as well as paying attention to the necessary cogs.
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s a matter of understanding, as we say, the white stuff and the chicken manure. So, you just have to be able to not get down in the minutia, but be able to step back and look at your company as a machine, as opposed to looking at it as a bunch of gears and bends, and wires and so forth. So, is your machine functioning? In other words, what’s coming in is improved as it goes out. In other words, are you actually getting out really what you’re wanting? And that’s the key, is what kind of machine is it that your company is? Are you a washing machine? Are you a refrigerator, or what is it you’re trying to do? So, that’s the machine that you’re referring to.
Now, you want to pay attention to the cogs, or to the teeth on the gear, because if that tooth is missing, it’s going to grind the machine to a halt. And so, we do want to make sure that all of the teeth of the machine or the gears are in place, and that they’re meshing properly, and they’re doing their proper job. But just looking at the gear, it doesn’t tell you if your machine is still pumping out what it is supposed to be producing. There’s many, many gears in the machine, as you would, and depending upon which gear you’re focused on, it could be running great, but there could be another gear in the chain that’s got broken teeth or out of mesh, and that’s not producing what you expect. Whether that be you want a good human relations department, a good accounting department, a good marketing department, good sales department, production, they all fit together as a part of the machine.
Guy Smith: Well, let’s talk about this in terms of a growing company and what kind of outputs a CEO needs to change their view on. When they start off and they have maybe 10 employees, they can look at every cog in the machine every hour of the day, and know that they have a hands-on. But when they get up to 1000 employees, they don’t have that luxury. So, of course the obvious thing is that you start delegating, but how do you change the outputs that you’re looking at, in order to make sure that all the cogs still have all the teeth?
Ray Zinn: Well, I’m back to what I talked about in the beginning. What is it you’re trying to produce? And so, if what’s coming off down the line is what you’re expecting, and it’s got the quality and the reliability and so forth that you’re trying to produce, then your machine is functioning fine. As long as it’s done in a cost effective way. So, when things start breaking down, that’s when you have to step back and say, okay. Where is this machine failing? In other words, what part of it is grinding to a halt? I was talking to my son the other day, who has changed jobs, he now works for another company, and he said, “Dad. The difference between the two companies, the one I previously worked for and the company I work for now is, they get things done quick. I mean, it doesn’t take two or three weeks to make a decision. They make decisions within hours.”
And I thought that was interesting, that he enjoyed that. He enjoyed working for a company that made decisions quickly, as opposed to having to go through endless meetings, and endless repeating of the same story to get something done. It’s almost like they’re afraid to make a decision. I was talking to another cohort of mine, another associate, just yesterday, and he was talking about working with the Japanese. He says they just take forever to make a decision. And I thought, wow, that’s interesting.
And I started thinking about that, and I said, “Well, I think the different is, is that the Japanese, when they make a commitment, they stand behind it 100%.” And so, when they make a commitment, they absolutely want to make sure it’s the right one. Whereas maybe in the US, we make a commitment, but it only lasts five minutes. So, we can make decisions quicker because we’re not going to stand behind them as long. So, as they say, look before you leap and he who hesitates has lost. So, it depends again, what is the best for your particular business? And so, we don’t want to judge everybody by the same metric.
Guy Smith: And you made an excellent point in your book, Tough Things First, and for anyone in the audience who has not read Tough Things First, that really needs to be what you do the moment you finish listening to this podcast. It is arguably the top shelf business book for reading. But in your book, you discuss the trade-off between the timeliness of the decision and the quality of the decision, and you cited a former military chief of staff, Colin Powell, who at one time, and I’ll probably get the number wrong, but he said something along the lines of, you study a problem until you have 60% of all the information that you need to make a perfect decision. And then you go with your gut. You let your intuition guide the rest of the process. And to him, that was the right way to make a high quality decision, but not suffer analysis paralysis and never get around to actually making a decision.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. I mentioned the culture difference between the Japanese and Americans. Americans, they don’t stand behind their commitments to the degree the Japanese do. So, the Japanese will just take longer to come to a decision, and that’s just the culture of that country. Whereas in the US, we make decisions quicker, but we don’t stand behind them as long. So, we change governments, or we change politicians like we change our shorts. So, there in Japan, they don’t. They stay with something for a longer period of time. So, each culture is different. You have to work within each culture, and operate within the culture of that particular industry, or company, or country.
So, you’ve got to be flexible and say, blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape. Flexibility is also a key part of running a good machine. If you design some tolerances so tight, that there’s no flexibility, then when something does get out of the line, it shuts the thing down. Whereas if you build a machine so it has some flexibility in it, so that if there’s a little bit of a mismatching, as you would, the thing still keeps producing. That may be the best way or course for your particular company.
Guy Smith: All right. Now, in Silicon valley where you and I have spent pretty much our entire careers, we have businesses that go from almost nobody, two guys in a garage, to being thousands of employees. What one bit of wisdom would you give somebody who is sitting atop of a rapidly growing business, in terms of how to keep their proper focus on the machine? What’s the one big thing that they’re probably going to mess up on and how do they avoid messing up?
Ray Zinn: Well, the title of my book, learn to do the Tough Things First. I don’t care whether you’re running a one-pot organization, or tens of thousands of people. If you learn to do tough things first, you will most likely succeed, whether you’re a small business or a large business. Doing the tough things first is learning to love the things you hate. In other words, get used to doing things you don’t like doing, and then do them well. That’s discipline. And so, the one single thing that I think that would help you, whether you’re just a one person operation or tens of thousands of people is, learn to do the tough things first. That filters down through your entire operation, is how well you deal with the difficult tasks. Because the outcome of that, if you don’t do that, is procrastination. And so, we all know what procrastination is, one of the worst words in the dictionary, because you’re putting off tomorrow what you should have done instantly today.
Guy Smith: I absolutely believe in that, because there’s nothing worse in the world than having something hanging over your head until tomorrow. And my routine is that I, like any human being, have an occasional propensity to procrastinate, and I just say, “Guy, don’t be lazy. Get it done, get it out of the way.” And boy, it frees up a lot of time, and takes a lot of things off of your mind. And if you’ve got 500 employees and you’ve got a tough thing that needs to be moved out of the way, you’re not only cleaning your own house, you’re cleaning the house for all of your employees as well.
Ray Zinn: Yep. Get those tough things out of the way, learn to love the things you hate. That’s the key.
Guy Smith: That is. Well, thanks again, Ray, as always informative. And again, for the audience, if you have not bought a copy and read a copy of Tough Things First, mandatory reading. Especially all you [inaudible 00:12:03] out in the Silicon Valley in the startup world. This is your Bible for going forward and being a success in business. And Ray has two other books out there. A Zen of Zinn, will spell that. It’s Z-E-N of Z-I-N-N, A Zen of Zinn, and Zen of Zinn two, little golden nuggets, short little sound bites of wisdom, intelligence, insight, and perspective about humanity, leadership, honesty, relationships, management, and this weird thing that we call life. So, by all means, grab those books, put them on your nightstand, or better yet, put it on your desk in the office, read a couple of pages before you get started on your day, and it’s going to give you that inspirational lift as well as some really, really good smarts about running a business.
Ray Zinn: And here’s my guarantee. If you pick up and read those books, I promise you, if you put even a fraction of them into action, you’ll be a much better person. This book will be invaluable to you in your life. If you even just put a fraction of those ideas into motion, you’ll become a much better person. That’s my promise. That’s my guarantee, and I’m going to stand behind that.
Guy Smith: And I will attest to that because I’ve read both of those books, and I can guarantee you that I walked away with some new insight, and new inspiration, that I did not have before. And it just made going forward in life a little bit better.
Ray Zinn: I talked to a person just the other day that said that after reading my book, Zen of Zinn, of course Zen of Zinn two just came out. But after reading Zen of Zinn, she said that she lost her mother recently, and had some difficulties with her siblings over the property, the disposition of the estate. And she says, because she had read Zen of Zinn, she said it made all the difference in the world in how she was able to migrate through losing her mom and dealing with her siblings on disposing of the assets. So, she said she just called to thank me, or actually she emailed me, to thank me for the book. And so, that was a testimony, I really appreciated hearing that.
Guy Smith: There you go listeners. There cannot be a better endorsement than that. So, until a couple of weeks from now, when the next episode of the Tough Things First Podcast comes up, we’ll bid you all a good day and thank you for listening.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Guy.