Leaders of all shapes and sizes can fall victim to one of the great challenges managers face, the danger of trying too hard only to find they’re doing the same thing over and over again.
In this special edition of the Tough Things First Podcast, Essential Leadership Episode two, Ray looks at being realistic and knowing when to change tactics.
Rob Artigo: Welcome to a special edition of the Tough Things First Podcast with Ray’s new series on essential leadership. I’m your guest host, Rob Artigo. I’m a writer and investigator in California. I’m happy to be back, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey Rob, it’s always good to do these podcasts with you. You’re so energetic and positive.
Rob Artigo: Well, this is a great subject to pick your brain about. Leadership is, as we discussed in the first episode, it’s a very broad topic. And it’s rich for grabbing those little details out of the realm of leadership, and exploring them a little bit so that we can grow and be better leaders. And if we’re just okay leaders, we can be better leaders. Even if we’re great leaders, we can still learn something, because we should be humble enough at least to understand that we don’t know everything. So let’s launch into episode number two of the Tough Things First series on essential leadership. I was reading-
Ray Zinn: Let’s do it.
Rob Artigo: Yes. I was reading your latest book, which is Zen of Zinn 2, which follows Zen of Zinn. And you have all these basically little passages that you can read each day, or a couple times a day if you choose, and get little bits of wisdom about leadership, about life. And I find it very staying across the board. I mean, there’s this thing about daily affirmations. You get to sit there in the morning and read something. But it does give you something to get a frame of mind and focus on something. Particularly if you take something out of a particular reading and go, “You know what? I’m going to try to implement this in my life today.” Zen of Zinn 2. So if you have these thoughts and inspirations. Today’s topic, I think we’ll just say, what it takes to handle setbacks and failures, and yet still succeed.
So great leaders, I know like you, tend to be tenacious. So remind us, in Zen of Zinn 2 you have an expression, or you actually quote the expression. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But you have a caveat to that. What’s that caveat?
Ray Zinn: Well, he who repeats the past fails in the future is another saying that I have. So it’s if you keep doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result, that’s insanity. So don’t keep repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result. You’re going to get the same result over and over and over. So that’s a concept of try, try again, but don’t repeat the same mistake.
Rob Artigo: Do you see that a lot in the business world?
Ray Zinn: Yes. I mean, people are afraid of failure. I mean, that’s one of the biggest fears that we have is the fear of failure. And so in trying to overcome failure, either we go and go into cocoon and just kind of get out of the situation, and are risk averse, or we keep just doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result. And I see that. That’s how companies fail. As we mentioned in series one, episode one, that nine out of 10 startups fail because they just keep repeating the same mistake and expect a different result. So honestly, if something doesn’t work the first time. I say, when you plan, don’t forget, is you plan, then you do a follow up. Check your plan, see if it’s working. Then you revise your plan, and then move forward again. You don’t just stay with the same plan if it’s not working. Because generally speaking, if the plan isn’t working, there’s something wrong.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. I always think of the old military saying as, “No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” So you have your plan. Then when you implement it, something’s changed. Right?
Ray Zinn: Exactly. Who moved the cheese? You can’t keep going back. It’s that book, who moved the cheese?
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: You can’t keep going back to the same place and expecting to get the same meal. Things move. Things change. You have to be able to pivot. And pivoting is the key to improving one’s leadership or improving one’s skills.
Rob Artigo: Well, you are out there a lot talking to young people, or just young business owners if you want to call anybody under the age of 45 as being somebody who could potentially be coming up to you and pitching you an idea, and maybe be a little bit green behind the ears as a leader of a business. So do you have experiences where people come up to you, and then you give them the advice, “Hey look, it looks like you’ve tried this a lot and you failed, and you are just doing the same thing over and over again”?
Ray Zinn: Yeah. I mean, I was coaching couple of students from Utah Valley University, and they were on the Master’s program. And they had come up with this product idea. And so I said, “Well, now let’s look at what’s working and what’s not working. And so they would make a list up. And I’d say, “Okay, now this is what’s not working. So what’s your plan to make it work, to get that issue resolved?” And they just kept saying, “Well, we’re just going to keep pushing.” And I said, “No. Pushing, unless you’re pushing on the right thing, is not going to get you anywhere.” So I said, “Let’s try something different.” And so they go back and scratch their head. And they come back and said, “We’ve seen other companies do the similar to thing, and it worked for them.” And I said, “Yeah, but it’s not working for you. So don’t just follow that example.”
So I have a story that I tell, which is a young nine year old girl was watching her mother cook a Sunday roast. And her mother cut an inch off each of the roast before she put it in the pan. And the daughter asked her mother, “Why do you do that? Why do you cut an inch off each side?” She says, “Because that’s the way my mother did it.” And so the young girl kind of nodded, “Oh, okay.” And then she happened to be with her grandmother some time later. And she asked her grandmother, “Why do you cut off an inch off each side of the roast?” Her grandmother smiled and said, “That’s because that was the only size pan we had.” And so just because that’s the way it was done in the past, that doesn’t mean that’s the way you need to do it in the future.
Things change. And unless you are willing to move with the cheese, you’re not going to succeed. And don’t keep cutting an inch off each side of the roast just because that was the only size pan you had. You got to come up with another solution. Get a bigger pan, or get a different sized pan or something. But-
Rob Artigo: Yeah. You can continue. Sorry.
Ray Zinn: No, it’s okay. That was my point, was that don’t stay with the same plan just because that’s the way somebody else did it.
Rob Artigo: Well, is there a secret behind … We talked about being tenacious. Leaders are tenacious by nature. If they’re good or great leaders, they’re tenacious by nature. Is there a secret behind being tenacious, while also being aware of what you learn along the way so you don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
Ray Zinn: Yeah. That’s another funny story. We were moving a large bed, a queen sized bed into a room. And I said to my two guys that were helping me. I said, “I don’t think we have to take it apart to move it into the room. I think you can get it in without doing that.” And so they just started moving the bed through the doorway. And I said, “Les, I don’t think it’s going to go in that way.” And they said, “Oh yeah, we can do it. Kind of move a little bit here and a little bit there.” And I said, “No, you can’t go that … That’s not going to fit that way.” And I said, “You can push all you want, and you’re not going to get it through that door.”
And so I said, “[Hert 00:09:40], tell you what. Let’s do it so you do it from an angle. And so let’s put the headboard in first, then move to the right, and then slide it through, and then move to the left again.” And so they tried that, and then that worked. So it goes back to the story about the little girl asking her mother why she cut an inch off each side of the roast. So there’s the right way to do it and there’s the wrong way to do it. And so the right way gets it done. And the wrong way, all you [inaudible 00:10:07] is going to frustrate yourself.
Rob Artigo: Is there a way to learn this process? Am I to make notes about these things, write it down. Or how do I, as a leader, a young leader, make sure that I’m fostering an awareness of how to balance that between trying and trying, versus making sure I don’t try the same thing over and over again, and try to force issue like the bed into the room?
Ray Zinn: Well, when we say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” doesn’t mean try the same thing again and again and again. What we’re saying is, “Maybe I should change that.” If at first you don’t succeed, try something different again. But don’t give up. Keep trying something different. Revise your plan. As you said that military saying, you never succeed on the first attack on the enemy. You got to revise your plan. And so that’s the same thing. If at first you don’t succeed, and then usually you don’t on your first shot, then you try something different. That’s how we improve. That’s how things get better. I mean, if you look at the first automobile, I mean the first automobile was kind of a … The Model T Ford was kind of a rickety thing. It had wooden wheels and little spindly tires. And it had a kind of a funny shifting mechanism. And it was open. There was no cover to it. And now compare that to our vehicles today.
So what we did is we just kept trying, trying, trying, trying. And so over the last 100 years we have significantly improved the automobile because we kept trying, but we kept improving as we tried.
Rob Artigo: If memory serves, on a previous podcast you had talked a little bit about the practice that you had at Micrel, which you ran for 38 years in the Silicon Valley. When you asked people for plans or projections, you would say, “I want to know the good and the bad.” And if I recall correctly, you said you emphasized how much you wanted to hear the bad part, because you wanted to be able to make the appropriate preparations for the eventuality that that went sideways on you.
Ray Zinn: So when you develop a plan, you have the pros and the cons. Okay? So the pros are this is why I’m doing it. The cons is why I shouldn’t do it. And so you should have as equal number of cons as you do pros. Because if you just have a list of 10 pros and only one con, that tells me you really haven’t thought through your plan very well. And so you want an equal number of pros and cons. And so the pros we all can get excited about. The cons, we have to add ourselves, “What do we need to do to minimize the impact of those cons?” The cons are going to be there. There is no plan that does not have a downside. And so what we want to do is minimize the downside. You will, you will have downsides. I promise you that. So what you want to do though is minimize the impact of the downside. Not that you can eliminate it, but what you want to do is minimize its impact.
Rob Artigo: It’s a good way to explain over the course of this podcast, episode two, as we discuss essential leadership here on the Tough Things First Podcast, is from Zen of Zinn 2 we pulled this topic. So Zen of Zinn 2 being your latest book. And if you want to find out more about that, of course, pick up that book. Also pick up the book Tough Things First. The moral of the story today on leadership, of course, repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result is insanity. So when you try, try again, learn from your mistakes. Not to repeat them, but make sure that you know if you were … you were just talking about the lists. So you have the pros and cons. You want to be able to track those cons. Go, “Okay. So when something drops through the con hole on one of the subjects, one of the areas where there’s a weakness, if your plan falls through that hole, make sure you’ve covered up that hole for the next time through so that mistake isn’t made again. I mean, that’s how I read what you were saying.
Ray Zinn: That’s a good point. Fill that hole in. Don’t just leave it open so you trip and fall into it. Make sure you cover that hole.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. Because you may forget that it’s there. If enough time goes by, you’ll forget that it’s there. And then all of a sudden it’s a gaping hole again. So as always, you can Ray Zinn with your questions at toughthingsfirst.com. Continue education and the conversation with all of the podcasts, blogs, the links to information about the book, Tough Things First, Ray’s other books, the Zen of Zinn and the Zen of Zinn 2, which is brand new. These are collections of writings on interrelated topics of entrepreneurship, leadership, management, discipline, determination, society, people in life. I mean, it covers just the gamut. Join us next time for episode three in this series, essential leadership. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Oh, you’re welcome, Rob. Good to be with you again.