How we solve problems defines our success. Ray Zinn discusses problem solving as a life and business skill.
Guy Smith: Hello everyone and welcome again to another edition of the Tough Things First podcast. My name is Guy Smith. I’m your guest host for today and this is going to be one of my favorite podcasts because not only do we have Ray Zinn who this podcast centers around but his delightful wife Delona is here with us as well and we are going to be talking about problem solving and as you know here in Silicon Valley we like trying to solve problems and Ray has cracked a few nuts in his career and his lifetime and Delona has also shared in the problem solving melee. So we’re going to jump right into it. First, good morning to everybody.
Delona Zinn: Good morning Guy.
Ray Zinn: Hi Guy. Glad to have you here with us.
Guy Smith: Hey. Glad to be here. Glad to be here in Silicon Valley. That’s one of the things that I like about this turf is that everyone seems to be interested in looking at problems and trying to find some solution to the big ones and the small ones alike. Ray, you have some interesting thoughts about the nature of problems themselves and what really is and isn’t a problem?
Ray Zinn: That’s the purpose of it is just to … You first of all have to say what is the problem? The problem is the problem, meaning that the problem that you’re trying to solve has to be one that’s gonna be actually realized as the one you’re gonna work on, not something you think is the problem when it really isn’t. I like that saying the problem is the problem, trying to come up with the right problem to solve and not trying to solve a problem that really isn’t a problem. Because we all like to solve problems and we think [inaudible 00:02:21], if we don’t have a problem to solve we’re not contributing to society as you would. We don’t want to create problems either. We want to be a problem solver, not a problem creator.
Delona Zinn: That brings me to mind an incident that we had one time. We have a place in Montana and we were in California at the time and we got a call from our daughter and she says, “Dad, we’ve got a great big limb that fell off the tree across the row from us. What am I gonna do about it? Who do I call?” My husband said, “Well, just treat it like it would be if it was your own property and go in and find somebody in the phone book or whatever. Just take care of it yourself. I can’t do anything from here. You have control of it there.”
I think she got the idea on that one because we haven’t heard back from her on other problems but it’s interesting how people kind of think that if they bring a problem to you that they could actually take care of themself that somehow it’s going to be not their problem.
Ray Zinn: They’re a problem creator, not a problem solver. In that case, you create a problem for us by saying, “Oh, what do we do? There’s a limb down in the yard.” That becomes a problem for me.
Delona Zinn: Exactly.
Ray Zinn: We were on the way to the airport and our driver … Our chauffeur was telling us that he ran into a situation where he picked up a client … In fact it was a client out of Facebook, and as soon as he started driving, she says, “Oh, I got this phone call.” So she took the call and it was one of her employees saying, “There’s a snake in the office. What do we do?” The client says, “I don’t know. I’m on my way to the airport.”
Delona Zinn: What do you want me to do?
Ray Zinn: [inaudible 00:04:15], right, so, anyway.
Guy Smith: It’s like the transference of the problem. In the case of your daughter, the limb was laying across the road, it was obviously going to be an obstruction for her but she didn’t handle the problem that was immediately her difficulty, she transferred it to somebody else. You ran your own company for 37 years, Ray. Did you see a lot of that [inaudible 00:04:43] work environment?
Ray Zinn: Sure. We often talked about being a problem solver, not a problem creator. I don’t want to be the problem. I want to be a problem solver. I even make the comment sometimes that pray for problems because that’s how we grow. Adversity is like manure. It stinks but it helps us grow. I don’t mind a problem. I enjoy them because it helps me grow but I want to solve it. I don’t want to just create it. So that’s the big difference and so my people would understand and know that what I expect them is to bring me solutions. I love solutions. So don’t bring me your problem, bring me a solution. They have this idea, this concept to fix this particular issue, that’s what I want to hear, not, “Oh, boss, we have this big problem we gotta handle.”
Guy Smith: Some people seem to be like automatic problem generation machines. They are the ones who view the world as a series of problems and keep spitting them out to their co-workers, their bosses. How does a good manager address somebody like that? How do you help them become a problem solver instead of a problem generator?
Ray Zinn: Well, like I talk about in my book Tough Things First, if you learn to take care of the difficult tasks, then those difficult tasks don’t become onerous to you. You get used to it because the first thing you want to do is deal with those … Eating that ugly frog as they say first and get rid of that problem first thing rather than wait and solve it later or pass it on to someone else. When we talk about delegation, we’re not talking about just delegating responsibility to manager to run a group. We’re talking about delegating them to solve problems. That’s what delegation is. It’s not just I’m gonna delegate authority to run a department because part of running a department is solving problems. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what happens every single day when I go into work is I have to solve some problems. I know that when I wake up in the morning and so I’m getting that mindset in my head that I’m a problem solver and so bring me your tired, your weary and whatever, I’ll solve it. That’s kinda what … If you teach the employees that, if you can get them to understand the concept, doing the tough things first, then they’ll love it. They’ll enjoy solving problems because that’s learning to love the things you hate as I mentioned also in the book.
Guy Smith: Speaking of the book, for those in the audience who have not read Tough Things First, you’ve been cheating yourself out of both an enjoyable read but also a manual for life almost. In this book Ray has basically distilled all of the wisdom that he achieved in not only his working career but 37 years of founding and running Micrel Corporation, the most consistently profitable semiconductor company in Silicon Valley as best as my recordkeeping can tell. So by all means drop by Amazon today, get yourself a copy of that book. Now Delona, you mentioned the ranch, and of course that captivates my attention given my history of having been on a little family ranch in my youth. A lot of situations come up on a ranch and I’ve got to imagine that you’ve seen people on the ranch handle and not handle problems effectively. What is the biggest problem generation or maybe the better question is what is the best thing you’ve seen people do on the ranch in terms of getting to the root of the problem and addressing it right away.
Delona Zinn: Well, we do have a little problem with that because we do have a lot of problems brought to us but luckily enough we do have a good caretaker that when we tell him that there is a problem or a lot of times he’ll jump on a problem himself. He’ll see a problem and he’ll go ahead and just take care of it. You really have to have a mentality of thinking how am I gonna take care of this situation and assume that responsibility yourself. Sometimes that works out good and sometimes it doesn’t work out good but for the most part it will work out good. If you just think in your head, “Okay, how can I do this without bothering somebody else?” We’ve been very fortunate with a good caretaker that is able to follow through on a lot of that stuff and take care of it for us.
Guy Smith: You’ve been married 57 years, at least this August you’ll be married 57 years. You have 22 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren and so I’m sure in that period of time you’ve dealt with a lot of issues. So to our listeners now who are listening to this podcast, they’d like to know how did you do that? How were you able to not just the problem off to someone else or to just ignore it. How did you manage to survive being married to only one person for 57 years and to handle your four children, your twenty-two grand children, your seven great-grandchildren. What’s your advice to them as to how they can more effectively deal with problems or be a problem solver?
Delona Zinn: I think you have to have a positive attitude.
Ray Zinn: [inaudible 00:10:24]
Delona Zinn: The way you do things. I’ve always tried to be a cheerful, positive person because I know that that solves a lot of problems within a marriage. If you can have one spouse that tries to be happy and positive all the time, then it kind of levels out any other feelings that … Because I know you would come home really stressed and tired and I wanted to make sure that I provided an environment that would counteract that particular problem that you were having because of the things that happened during the day. Most of the time you did come home very upbeat but there were times that you really needed to have that positive, happy atmosphere within the home. A lot of the things that I would do to make it more pleasant for you to come home was that I would make sure that … I knew that you were an orderly person and I am too to some degree but not quite as much as you, not to the point that you are.
I would make sure that there was an organized environment when you got home. It was close to dinnertime so we would have the kids get all of the stuff picked up that they’d been playing with, get it put back where it was supposed to be, and I always made sure that I provided a nice dinner for you to come home to because I knew that you needed to have that stress release. So when you came home, the kids had their stuff picked up and I always like to look nice myself anyway but I always felt that it was a key component to our marriage for me to look nice for you so I didn’t create a want for you to go outside the home and seek something better. I wasn’t gonna let anybody else take that advantage of you. I always made sure I looked the best I could when you came home. My hair was fixed, I had lipstick on, and I was dressed fairly decent. Again, I was doing work around the home but I still made myself look presentable and desirable to you. So those were some of the things that I found that I needed to create as I was raising the children and I’ve always tried to create a happy, positive environment.
Ray Zinn: Well again, I think what you’re talking about is that you didn’t want to become part of the problem.
Delona Zinn: Absolutely.
Ray Zinn: So you wanted to make sure that you minimized that and that’s the key for employees too is that they don’t want to be part of the problem. They want to be a problem solver and being kind and understanding and friendly will definitely help reduce the normal tension that exists in an office anyway. So I think that your point about the way you dealt with your marriage is that you wanted to make sure that you had a kind, loving home and that could be translated into the workplace. Have a kind, loving workplace and you will have fewer problems because what happens is unfriendly or unkind workplaces just create tension and that in itself creates problems and then the real problems don’t get solved because we’re working on those humanistic problems that are not fun to do nor are they something that need to be done if we have the right kind of environment that we’re in.
Guy Smith: Delona, you said something which triggered a thought because you were talking about positive outlook, positive nature. Negativity in and of itself is almost a problem because it presents to other people a wall, a barrier, a pushback or something like that. Is this one of the reasons Washington, D.C. is so lousy at solving problems? Because they seem to be a negativity generating city. There’s perpetual conflict, perpetual opposition. There is more negativity with inside of the Beltway than I see in the rest of the country. Is this possibly part of the overall political problem?
Delona Zinn: I think so and it’s a lot of selfishness too. It’s what I want and not being willing to work with the other person and see that person’s point of view. I think that a lot of that could be eliminated if people would just sit back and as my husband always says, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. If you would just use them proportionately, then you could solve a lot of problems.
Ray Zinn: I think if there was a kinder, loving, gentler mentality in Washington, I think we’d get a whole lot more done and hopefully our listeners can understand that and support us in trying to have a kinder, gentler relationship with each other and also encourage our government officials to do the same.
Guy Smith: That’s an interesting observation, if we as citizens are kinder and gentler with one another, our disposition that we want our representatives kind of then has to follow suit. So the solution begin with us and then us presenting it to our elected officials. Well, Ray, Delona, thank you so very much. This has been enlightening, invigorating, and definitely positive and I appreciate you for taking the time and you guys have a wonderful day and for all of our listeners, make sure that you subscribe to the Tough Things First podcast. You can do that on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Attic, all the normal places where you like to obtain your podcast content and by all means, rate and review this podcast and tell all of your friends because they will benefit from it too.